Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

John Berendt and City of Falling Angels

When AdventureMan brought home City of Falling Angels for me, I thought it was another mystery by the author of the famous Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I had loved that book, full of unforgettable characters living in Savannah, Georgia, so I was a little puzzled with the immediacy and real-life feeling of this new mystery when I started it.

It’s set in Venice. The main “character” observes – much like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – Venice, and its population. He arrives just after the horrendous fire that totally destroys La Fenice, the opera house, and we meet a wide variety of characters right off, experience the fire through their first hand experiences. We smell the smoke, we feel their horror as the fire grows, and spreads. We are depressed when the fireboats cannot quell the flames because the waters in the canal have been emptied, and are too low in the others.

I kept waiting for Commissario Guido Brunetti, Donna Leon’s Venetian detective, to show up.

I was about half way through the book when I realized – this wasn’t fiction. It was John Berendt living in Venice, meeting with and interviewing all these fabulously interesting people. Yeh, sometimes I am so SLOW!

But I was hooked. I kept reading. The mystery is how did the fire at La Fenice start, who started it and why. In the end – and believe me this is not a spoiler, because this book is really only peripherally about the fire at La Fenice – people are convicted, but you are never really sure these are the right people, or if, indeed, there was really a crime, or if the crime was negligence – but how can negligence be a crime if it is part of the culture?

One thing Berent says that Donna Leon also implies – don’t go to Venice during tourist season! Go when tourists are not there – after carnival, when it is cold, when it is raining. Stay in Venice, and walk, off the paths the tourists on their one-day-in-Venice travel. Visit the small markets, drop in for a coffee where the locals are drinking, but most of all – walk. And walk. and walk.

This is not an exciting book. It will not hold you on the edge of your seat like some horror thriller, turning pages because you are afraid to turn out the lights. The horrors in this book are the gossip, the strivings of various people to enter into Venetian society, the cut-throat competition for invitations, and who gets the prime seats at the opening night at La Fenice.

On the other hand, I loved his attention to detail, the ease with which Berendt got people to talk to him, the clarity with which he captures their personalities. I loved his description of the interiors, and how he uses the voices of others to paint in a detailed picture of Venice today. I loved being inside the Venetian community, and hearing their innermost thoughts. This was a book I looked forward to at the end of a long day, it took me to another – and fascinating – world. I just wish Commissario Brunetti had showed up. 🙂

May 4, 2009 - Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, ExPat Life, Italy, NonFiction


  1. Note-Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil took place in Savannah, Georgia–about 70 miles from Charleston. You can even go on a MGGE tour there and they show where all the characters live and where the events took place. The book did great things for their tourist industry, which was pretty good before. It is a wonderful little southern town.

    We did Venice in the cold and rain between Christmas and New Years and it was fabulous. You really could feel where Poe got his inspiration for “The Mask of the Red Death”. The funniest thing was we had lunch in a little bistro and the music playing was Dean Martin singing “That’s Amore” and all the waiters were singing along. It was great!

    Comment by momcat | May 4, 2009 | Reply

  2. Ooops! Serious brain-fahrt! Thanks Momcat, I corrected the entry!

    Comment by intlxpatr | May 4, 2009 | Reply

  3. I loved this book! Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil kept me company during a long layover in Casablanca a decade ago, and City of Falling Angels kept me equally good company on another long ME stint several years later.

    (One of my happiest opera memories is of seeing an alternative “Turandot” production at the pre-fire La Fenice with Owlfish, in summer 1994. I can’t claim to remember much about the details of the opera house, but it did add a personal note to my interest in the book!)

    Comment by adiamondinsunlight | May 4, 2009 | Reply

  4. I totally agree with your comments about this book. We also did Venice this Christmas in the rain and water. It was great to know a little bit about the history of this great city after reading the book. Got any suggestions for the long airplane rides home in June? Take Care and keep bloggin’

    Comment by NWBrown | May 5, 2009 | Reply

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