Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Two Mysteries and Some Italy. . .

You know I love my mystery novels. . .
I made sure to download a few to my Kobo eReader for the long plane rides to and from Paris.

Peter Robinson's Abattoir Blues is his 22nd DCI Banks book, and it satisfies those who like the series for setting, adding in some gnarly images of the Yorkshire moors in snow and hail, as well as taking us into some of the area's caves. Inspector Banks has just enjoyed a pleasant weekend with his new romantic interest in her family home in Italy, but there's a sense this relationship (with a considerably younger woman) may not last. We have some hope, then, that he and DS Annie Cabot may eventually do something about their obvious chemistry. Annie is healing well from psychological trauma which, along with serious physical injury, was sustained several books ago. And a new character is introduced who may or may not recur, but who, meanwhile, provides some interest for Winsome Jackman. No, don't ask me any more. My lips are sealed. You'll have to read it yourself. . .

While Abattoir Blues is the most recent in Peter Robinson's  DCI Banks' series, I've gone back to the beginning of Donna Leon's Commisario Brunetti mysteries after reading About Face last year. I started with Death at La Fenice towards the end of 2014, and then moved on to the second in the series, Death in a Strange Country, on the plane back home. We've been thinking quite a bit about Italy since our trip there last summer, and now that our daughter has moved to Rome with her family, we're keen to find out as much as we can about La Bella Vita! To that end, I've just finished Anthony Doerr's splendid Four Seasons in Rome (the author of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, he spent a year on fellowship in Rome with his wife and infant twins). Donna Leon's books, of course, are set in Venice, not Rome, and they're fiction, not non-fiction, but they nonetheless give a strong sense of the bureaucracy, corruption, and inefficiency of many institutions and much infrastructure while simultaneously focusing on the importance of family, the appreciation of beauty in its many facets, and, always, the central significance of food.

As did About Face, written much later, Death in a Strange Country points a particularly harsh light at Italy's tolerance (whether legal or illegal, deliberate or passive) of gross environmental damage in its disposal of industrial by-products. Leon goes further, though, and indicts a wider sweep of First World countries as complicit in this practice. The novels never, to me at least, become overly pedantic on the issue, but the two I've read so far that address the problem certainly don't pull any punches. And, as I suggest above, these novels balance their environmental message with an emphasis on Brunetti's family life. We're happy voyeurs when Guido visits his wife's parents in their very old, privileged, luxe home, looking at the paintings and sculpture and antiques that decorate the rooms he enters, marvelling at the ice bucket that the Count so often has his favourite drink, Champagne, already open and ready to share -- as Guido notes, this is not a pretension. If the Count's favourite drink were Coke, he'd have that on ice, ready to pour. He just happens to prefer Champagne!

Perhaps the greatest pleasure of reading this series is/will be following the relationship between Guido and his wife, who has willingly abandoned the wealthier lifestyle of her parents to share a much more modest one with Guido. Their quarrels are recognizable ones, as are their concerns over their teen-aged children, and their enjoyment of, and pride in those children as well. And always, Paola's wonderful meals, lovingly described . . .

I'm going to try and stall a bit before I gobble up the 3rd book in the series -- I haven't even looked up what it is yet. We'll see how long I resist. Meanwhile, do you know these books? Like/love them? Or? And do you have other favourite books/mysteries about or set in Italy?  (I also highly recommend Tim Parks' Italian Ways, a memoir by an ex-pat who's lived there for decades.)

Two posts in a week? I'd better be careful, setting expectations I may not live up to. . . Thanks for reading!


  1. Hi Mater, came over from the other blog. Thanks so much for the book recommendations - I love mysteries, especially ones set on foreign soil. I'm sure you have heard of the Inspector Zen books, by Michael Dibdin? I think he is based in Rome, but some of the books are set in other parts of Italy. I read a couple of the books a few years ago, and enjoyed them, but I LOVED the British tv series starring Rufus Sewell - beautifully shot, characters beautifully shod (and dressed), and did I mention that Rufus Sewell starred? I was so disappointed that they only made a few.

    I've also read some of the Inspector Banks series, but, again, I'm enamoured with the tv series - the countryside is so lovely, a friend lives in that general area (but Lancashire, not Yorkshire) and it is truly beautiful.

  2. Dear Mater,enjoy your posts ( found it recently) and adore books. Dona Leon is one of my favorites in Mystery departement,have read all Brunetti books and love them very much,am very sorry that she writes in English and there are even no translations in italian( it is authors wish,as I heard),it will be even more interesting. So,I envy you,you have so much to enjoy!
    I still have one to go,but without Guido and Paola,it Waits my summer holidays!
    I am going to look for inspector Zen
    I have just bought All the light ...and Goldfinch
    Have you read C.J.Sansom mysteries?
    And,for the other blog(I missed the discussion,and now is passe),always is the most important thing what we do and who we are(while trying to look our best :-)),I like to behave as I live in the City I visit and try to be as elegant as possible,inspired by the City and the people who live there,but it is always my personallity
    Looking forward for your recommendations,thank you for your tips and sorry for my English

  3. Patricia, glad to see you over here, and hope you like the recommendations. I must read the Inspector Zen books which I have heard about over the years, might even have read one long, long ago -- Aurelio Zen, right? And maybe after I read a few I'll be able to find the series somewhere online to watch. Haven't watched Inspector Banks on TV -- my dad's from Yorkshire (the north, on the coast) so I suspect I'd recognize the countryside and fall in love with it all over again.

    Dottoressa, I'm so pleased that you've begun reading here and that you left a comment. I can imagine how frustrating it is waiting for a book you love to be translated, but your English is obviously good enough that you can enjoy Donna Leon in English. We are the same about waiting for a new Fred Vargas (French author) -- we read her books in translation first, but now we pick up the latest in French when we're in Europe and then practice our French while enjoying a wonderful mystery. (I wonder if Vargas gets translated to Italian).
    I don't know the C.J. Sansom mysteries -- I'll have to investigate.
    I agree with your comments about how to dress in a new city, although for me, I'm not sure I'd use the word "elegant." It doesn't seem to suit my personality, somehow. But yes, trying to look my best while living as if I belonged, enjoying the City but maintaining my own sense of self.
    No need to apologize for your English -- it's very good!

  4. Thank you very much,I'm actually Croat from Croatia:-),but like you, love to read originals!
    And I am always delighted to find new authors.
    I read one book from F.Vargas and liked it,but my french is very,very bad so it's waiting for translation in this case...

  5. Sorry, Dottoressa! Not sure why I assumed you were Italian, except that we were chatting about books to do with Italy. Glad to hear you like Vargas' mysteries as well -- quite a few have been translated. I just bought her latest, in French, when I was in Paris last month -- can't wait to read it!

  6. No,no,it is quite logical, with italian nickname,you are right:-),it was false hint!

    Lucky you,with Vargas! Enjoy,


  7. I am not familiar with these books but will have to look into them. I must also admit that I was never a lover of mysteries until I started reading your blog, but now I am a fan, as I seem to be broadening my horizons in many directions. Lifetime learning, no?

  8. Hmmm, so will we say I inspired you to love mysteries, or would some consider that a corruption?!
    Lifetime learning indeed.
    Vargas' books are wonderfully rich, a touch of the supernatural always, but just a touch. The most interesting characters and great relationships emerging between them through the series. Plus the Paris background doesn't hurt, and it's done in a manner that makes it very much the background -- i.e. it's not deliberately hyped up to sell to those who want books with a Paris setting.
    Let me know if you do begin reading them -- I'd love to know what you think