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In Venice, dirty business for a thoughtful cop

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(Read caption) Venice is a small city (population 60,000), says Donna Leon of the setting of her mystery novels. "Venetians "tend to know one another, which means they know history and gossip."

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If your job requires you to endlessly struggle against a dysfunctional system, you've got some company in a Venice police detective named Commissario Guido Brunetti.

He must deal with ineptness both above and below. On top of that, he has to convince skeptical Italians to cough up the truth.

Brunetti's challenges make for scintillating reading in the best-selling mystery novels of American expatriate Donna Leon. In the latest, "Beastly Things," Brunetti must dip into the horrific world of meat processing to solve a ghastly murder. 

In an interview from Italy, Leon spoke about the annoying conductor who inspired her writing career, the moral codes of Italians, and her fears about her storied city's future.
Q: How did you begin to write mysteries?

About 20 years ago, I was in the dressing room with a friend of mine, who was then conducting at La Fenice, and his wife, both Sicilian.  We started to talk about another conductor, and there followed an escalation. We soon found ourselves discussing his murder, there in the dressing room.

I thought it might be an interesting subject for a crime novel, something I'd never thought of writing, and decided to try to write a book.

Q: For people who aren't familiar with him, could you describe Commissario Guido Brunetti?

He's a commissario of police and has been a policeman for some time. He's married to a university professor – happily, it seems – has two teenaged children, and is a cultured man who reads and reflects upon Greek and Roman history. He has a sense of irony, is seldom judgmental, and – luckily – is connected to many strata of society in the city.

Q: What special obstacles and challenges do detectives in Venice face?

Italians tend to be less rigidly moral and law-abiding than do Anglo-Saxons. They also have a profound suspicion of the state and most of its agencies.


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