Death in a Strange Country is the second in Donna Leon’s mystery series set in contemporary Venice, featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. When the body of an American soldier, who was a public health inspector, from a military base near Venice is found in a canal, the police think at first that the man was the victim of a robbery. But Brunetti soon realizes something much more dangerous is going on when the man’s commanding officer, a female doctor who was also his lover, acts frightened when she comes to identify his body, and then the people at the military base don’t want to tell him anything. When Brunetti finds two bags of cocaine in the victim’s apartment, and the doctor is found dead of an apparent drug overdose, even though Brunetti is sure it was murder, he uncovers a conspiracy involving the Italian government, the American military, and the Mafia. The two murder victims had discovered that toxic waste was being dumped near the military base. But powerful forces are at work to prevent Brunetti from discovering the truth. His politically-minded boss takes him off the case and orders him to investigate a robbery at the home of a wealthy businessman. Even Brunetti’s own father-in-law, a Venetian count, warns him not to examine certain people in high places too closely. Will Brunetti find the truth, even if it means offending the rich and powerful?
As usual with this series, Death in a Strange Country is rich in details of life in Venice. This particular book is especially interesting because Leon writes about the tensions between Italians and Americans, and how the two cultures see each other. Leon is an American who has lived in Venice for a long time, so I’m sure she writes from experience. One of the highlights of the series is Brunetti’s home life with his wife Paola, a literature professor, and two teenage children. Paola cooks delicious meals for the family, and Leon’s descriptions of the food are mouth-watering. In fact, Leon and another author have compiled a cookbook, called Brunetti’s Cookbook, with recipes featured in the series.
Death in a Strange Country is available from the Browsing Collection in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library: http://mirlyn.lib.umich.edu/Record/006082600 .