I recently finished, Earthly Remains, another book in the crime series by Donna Leon. She is an expatriate American who fell in love with Venice, lives there when the tourist season tolerates it, and has made a career of writing about its modern political quirks through the character of Commissario Brunetti. I, too, fell in love with Venice after a typical daytripper visit and have been back for longer stays on several occasions. That alone would explain my devotion to Brunetti even though he shows little regard for typical American methods. Leon omits the features that characterize most American crime fiction with which I am familiar: on the page sex, multiple acts of violence, machismo language, and lots of head-butting. Instead she presents a cerebral man with a healthy appreciation for Italian food, knowing affection for his two children, and devotion to his opinionated, professorial wife--an expert on Henry James. He is obsequious with a boss for whom he has a dim regard and connives with the elegant Signorina Elettra secretary to Vice-Questore Patta to investigate matters he would rather avoid. With those "failings" it makes no sense why the BBC, hence PBS, has never produced a series for Masterpiece Mystery. If they can do it for Kurt Wallander, why not Guido Brunetti? The Germans did a series years ago. I don't get it.
The political observations are always biting which explains why Leon refuses to publish in Italian. She doesn't want to wear out her welcome in what is a remarkably small city given its historical significance. To Americans, of course, Venice has no historical significance at all. Even as a graduate student in modern European history, we totally ignored Venice. It was a nonentity that surrendered to Napoleon without a fight and which he contemptuously gave away to Austria...part of a wedding exchange I supposed. If you look further back in time, however, Venice was a major player in commercial and political affairs in Europe and Italy, in particular. For over a thousand years, 787 to 1797, Venice was a commercial republic in a world of monarchs. We could learn something from the ways the Grand Council prevented the Doge from usurping legislative power.
The issues in the series, however local they may first appear, are actually universal, and Leon's/Brunetti's observations resonate in the good ole US of A with every crime, whether resolved or not. That is another feature of Leon's series. Sometimes the criminals are too well-connected to suffer for their misdeeds. Brunetti may get to the bottom of a murder, but the culprits may not be brought to justice. That seems down right unAmerican until you come to grips with, well, Trump's America. Self-serving corruption has always been a problem, but catastrophic is insufficient a term to describe the new normal. Still, that is not entirely fair. I could compare the dumping of poisonous chemicals into the lagoon by the industries of Margheera with my own recollection of days spent on the Smith River. I can remember it running red on occasion with fish kills too. No, it wasn't from divine intervention either...more like dyes from...take your choice. But, those days are gone, along with the industries. Taking a water taxi from the da Vinci airport to a hotel in Cannaregio, however, one can still see the smoke stacks of Margheera and anticipate new opportunities for Brunetti to apply his skills.