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Acqua Alta    by Donna Leon order for
Acqua Alta
by Donna Leon
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2009 (1996)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Once more it is time to celebrate the opportunity to read another first-rate entertainment from Donna Leon. Also known by the alternate title Death in High Water, and originally published in 1996, Acqua Alta, the fifth of seventeen in Donna Leon's superb Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series has been reissued by Penguin. So, without further preliminaries, here is a sneak peek into what you can expect from the highly recommended Acqua Alta.

First, what should we make of the curious title, Acqua Alta? When you remember that Venice is surrounded by water (i.e., what other city can you think of where automobiles are absolutely useless?), imagine what happens when the tides are unusually high, the rains are annoyingly incessant, and the waters begin to rise ominously. Venice, with high water threatening, becomes a treacherous, unpleasant environment.

That treachery and unpleasantness spills over (pardon the pun) and affects more than a few people - including Guido Brunetti - when an opera diva, her archeologist lover, the lover's on-site assistant (and lover) in China, and a museum director with a reputation for questionable ethics are caught up in a very dangerous game of hide-and-seek. At the center of the game are mysteriously missing ancient artifacts that have been replaced by well-made fakes, and - because the game is deadly serious - some of those involved either at the center or on the periphery of the case find themselves the targets of vicious threats, brutal beatings, and - of course - gruesome murder.

Assigned to the puzzling case because of highly placed political interest, and motivated by his prior familiarity with the diva and the archeologist, Brunetti soon begins to wonder about who might be involved in the shady shenanigans: Could it be an Italian politician or bureaucrat? Could it be someone from a foreign government? Could it be someone in the Church, or - and Brunetti certainly hopes this isn't the case - could it be someone in the Mafia?

The bottom line is this: Fans of Guido Brunetti mysteries will not be disappointed because Leon's trademark rendering of Venetian locales and personalities is - as always - superb. Readers will especially admire the compelling plot and the careful characterizations (especially of Brunetti and his family). More particularly, Acqua Alta sizzles as a thoughtful examination of the not-so-clear differences between reality and illusion, especially as those deceptive differences manifest themselves in art and in life.

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