Most homeowners have at some point dealt with the trials and tribulations of getting permits for an addition or other work on their house. It can be a Byzantine process in the best of situations. Imagine the stress though if one day a housing inspector arrived and told you that your entire apartment appeared to have been built without the proper permits and forms, and that he thought you might have to tear the structure down. This is how Donna Leon’s Friends in High Places begins. Police Commisarrio Guido Brunetti receives a visit from an inspector from the Venetian housing authorities. What seems like a typical bureaucratic nightmare turns much darker when the inspector is later found dead, having apparently fallen from the second story of a building site. The story builds from there (and no, Brunetti did not save his apartment by bumping off the inspector), and as is typical in Leon’s books, the plot involves corruption at high levels of the government.
Leon excels at creating a sense of place, and her knowledge of Venice is encyclopedic. With a good map, you could use these novels as a guide to places to visit (or to stay away from). She not only has a strong grasp on the canals and streets, but Leon also understands the Venetian culture, and you come away from her books knowing about food, social strata, music, and more.
Over the past couple of years I have become very fond of Donna Leon’s Commisarrio Brunetti, his wife and children, and his colleagues in the police division in Venice, Italy. Brunetti is one of the most ethical and compassionate policemen in the crime fiction literature, and this entry in the series is fascinating as Brunetti faces personal as well as professional challenges.
Check the WRL catalog for Friends in High Places