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Originally published Sunday, December 22, 2013 at 5:09 AM

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‘My Venice:’ Donna Leon writes true stories about her home turf

“My Venice” collects mystery writer Donna Leon’s essays about her hometown of Venice, about real events that turned into stories for her Commissario Brunetti series and about her stimulating lunch with fellow mystery author Ruth Rendell.


Special to The Seattle Times

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“My Venice and Other Essays”

by Donna Leon

Atlantic Monthly Press, 222 pp., $26

Donna Leon’s novels about Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice police are steeped in the charms and vexations of that enchanting, imperfect city. (Leon, an American, has lived there for 20 years.)

Roughly a third of this cheerfully opinionated book is devoted to her beloved Venice and her “cool, anonymous” life there. (One aspect of Leon’s anonymity is that she’s not published in Italy — she doesn’t want neighbors and casual acquaintances knowing she’s a writer.)

But the essays also roam well beyond Venice. Among them are pieces on Leon’s passion for music and for her mountain retreat, where she can avoid the summer crush of tourists. And some pieces invoke Leon’s career as a teacher on American military bases.

The writer also describes real events that turned into fictional ones in her Brunetti books (like the hateful old lady who blasted her TV day and night, refusing to mute it despite pleas from Leon and other neighbors. In the writer’s fictional fantasy, the obnoxious woman gruesomely gets what’s coming to her.)

Some pieces are dryly funny, as in “My First Time Eating Sheep’s Eyeball” (in Iran, and she didn’t really do it). There’s also a charming, funny vignette of lunch with crime novelist Ruth Rendell, spent discussing presumably theoretical ways of committing murder.

Sometimes she’s full of praise (notably for animals and, of course, Venice). But sometimes she expresses outrage, as in her irate contempt for hunters who invade her summer retreat or how women are often treated (in, among other places, ancient China and modern Saudi Arabia).

Some pieces here are short — snapshots, really — and feel too thin. But overall “My Venice and Other Essays” is an intriguing glimpse at the strong views of an exceptionally interesting and entertaining novelist.

Adam Woog reviews mysteries and crime fiction for The Seattle Times.



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