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Friends in High Places    by Donna Leon order for
Friends in High Places
by Donna Leon
Order:  USA  Can
Arrow, 2001 (2000)
* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

This great mystery by Donna Leon is another in her series featuring Venetian policeman, Commissario Guido Brunetti. Leon has lived in Italy for many years and teaches English at the US Air Force base there. She has done an excellent job of capturing the essence of Venice. It's a fascinating combination of cosmopolitan city and small town. It has the usual big city problems as well as the small town friendliness, so that everyone knows each other and uses social connections to navigate the Venetian bureaucracy.

For mystery fans, more used to British and North American backgrounds, the Venetian setting is a breath of fresh air. There is the somewhat more leisurely Italian lifestyle, a focus on the importance of family and food, as well as the absence of high car chases and indeed of cars at all. Another bonus to this series is the depiction of Brunetti's interesting relationship with his very intelligent, university professor wife Paola along with a description of the not always very efficient Venetian police department.

Friends in High Places begins with the death of Franco Rossi, an apparently harmless young bureaucrat from the housing inspection and permits department. Brunetti first encounters him when Rossi is investigating the permits for Brunetti's apartment. When Rossi is later found dead under suspicious circumstances, Brunetti is not satisfied with the simple explanation of accidental death and starts an investigation that leads to further deaths, drug trading and loan sharking. Along the way, the reader gets a good taste of life in Venice, both public and private, and the problems faced in fighting the endemic corruption and ineffectiveness of the city government.

The title refers to Brunetti's extensive network of friends and acquaintances, on whom he calls for information and help in solving the crime. Leon excels at creating memorable characters, even minor ones, and this gives the book much more depth than the ordinary mystery. Her plotting is also very well-done and the reader will be well-satisfied with the story's resolution. Donna Leon is a new discovery for me and I'll now look for her earlier books and the chance to be once more immersed in Venetian life.

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