Early one morning Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice Police confronts a grisly sight when the body of a young man is fished out of a fetid canal. All the clues point to a violent mugging, but for Brunetti the motive of robbery seems altogether too convenient. When something is discovered in the victim’s apartment that suggests the existence of a high-level conspiracy, Brunetti becomes convinced that somebody, somewhere, is taking great pains to provide a ready-made solution to the crime.
Rich with atmosphere and marvelous plotting, Death in a Strange Country is a superb novel in Donna Leon’s chilling Venetian mystery series.
The well-fed, muscular body fished from a Venice canal by police Commissario Guido Brunetti's men belongs to an American soldier killed miles away from his base by an expert knife thrust. In seeking motive and murderer, the phlegmatic Brunetti is forced to do end runs around his easily enraged, sycophantic boss Patta, who is more concerned with the tourist trade than with the truth. Patta's bluster increases when Brunetti looks too closely into the theft of artwork belonging to a wealthy and corrupt arms dealer. Stilted dialogue, predictable twists and obvious villains threaten to sink a reasonably intriguing plot linking the Mafia and the U.S. and Italian governments in a massive cover-up of toxic waste dumping. Fortunately, Venice looms large as a well-painted backdrop. Its damp, crumbling beauty and tourist-mobbed sites are as vivid in Leon's ( Death at La Fenice ) depiction as the rich tang of espresso boiling over or the chill of a morgue tucked away on the cemetery island of San Michele.