Thursday, June 25, 2015

Murder Mystery Month

Murder mysteries were coincidentally the June selection of both my book clubs.

Death at La Fenice was set in modern Venice, and a pleasure to read just for the scenery. The author, Donna Leon, lives in the Veneto capital, and knows the city’s crags and nooks intimately.

The vivid descriptions of the streets took me back to many of the corners I’d visited as a tourist, but  the familiarity of a true citizen’s eye gave me new appreciation for what it would be like to live and work in this historic centre.  I didn’t really try to solve the who-done-it as the plot unfolded, however, the murderer isn’t as much a surprise as the motive.

Grace picked the title for the BPYC book club, and one of the interesting turns the conversation took was the difference between real justice and the legal system; whether it is ever right to “take the law into your own hands.” Commissario Guido Brunetti walks a fine line between the two.

The book is the first of a franchise and was made into a TV series. The Commissario Brunetti novels are all situated in or around Venice. They are written in English and translated into many foreign languages, but not into Italian, at Leon's request.  

I recommended The Luminaries to the Book Babes. A story of intrigue during the Gold Rush in New Zealand, it got rave international reviews and won both the Man Booker Prize and Governor General’s Award. 

At more than 800 pages I thought it would make an engrossing and extravagant  summer read. Instead, it turned into a feat of endurance: I first opened the cover in June 2014; continued reading in July but put it aside; picked it up again in the fall; read over the Christmas holidays; and finally finished in the spring. Since it was my pick,  I felt obligated to finish.

There were eight of us at the meeting, but only Nicki and I actually finished the book. There were no  arguments about whether  the novel itself was brilliant, because it definitely is... but brilliant doesn't mean it's engaging for  ‘regular’ readers. The same responses are noted again and again at Good Reads, a reliable gage of popular tastes.

The Luminaries may be one of those books that improves with a second or third reading, but I’m not motivated to return to it for at least a couple summers! 

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