‘Acqua Alta’ by Donna Leon


Fiction – paperback; Pan Books; 399 pages; 1996.

Acqua Alta is the fifth book in Donna Leon’s series of crime novels set in Venice starring Commissario Guido Brunetti.

In this book we are re-acquainted with American art historian Brett Lynch, who appeared in Leon’s first book Death at La Fenice, and her lesbian lover, the beautiful operatic diva Flavia Petrelli.

Brett, who organised a recent exhibition of Chinese pottery in Venice, is brutally attacked by two men, who warn her off keeping an appointment with Dottor Semenzato, the director of the museum at the Doges Palace.

While Brett recovers in hospital, Guido Brunetti launches an investigation, seeking a motive for the crime. Amid the winter rains that lead to acqua-alta (high tide), he slowly unravels a network of lies and corruption in the art world…

Once again Leon delivers a wonderfully evocative novel in which Venice plays a central — and memorable — role. In many ways the city itself is like a main character, complete with its own distinct and quirky personality.

And while her characterisation and story-telling abilities are good, the writing itself is fairly mundane — this is no literary masterpiece. Nonetheless it’s an exciting read, with enough surprises and action-packed drama to keep the reader turning the pages.

The violence is restrained, so if you like your crime novels to be a little more hard-hitting and realistic, this book will only appeal as a ‘light’ read. Personally, I would not recommend these books to crime fiction aficionados, but if you rarely read crime books I expect they will appeal enormously.

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