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Recommendation and Reflection

For those of you who have never read Donna Leon's series of detective novels set in modern-day Venice, about Commissario Guido Brunetti, let me recommend them to you. Brunetti is an inordinately compassionate senior detective and the stories are exceptionally well crafted. The richness of the descriptions of life in Venice and of the idiocies of corrupt and hopelessly entangled civic administration are compelling, and her subthemes provide fodder for reflection on the ills of modern society, whether in Italy or closer to home, while at the same time providing a kind of inspiration through characters who understand their world intimately, but are not defeated by it; characters who find ways to do good, who persevere and who have positive impact. I'm currently reading her latest, Blood from a Stone.

However, what specifically stimulated this note was her introduction of a minor character, a man who had been a priest who helped the unfortunate regardless of race, creed, colour or culture. When castigated by his superior for doing so, to the effect that 'some of these people worship stones', the man chose to reply, 'that he saw no other course open to him than to renounce his vocation, for to continue to live it as he thought it should be lived was clearly to create perpetual strife with his superiors. In closing, he added, in the most respectful terms, that he would prefer the company of people who worshipped stones to that of people who had them in place of hearts.'

Later, this man (now a kind of social worker with the poor and indigent, those officialdom sees 'as problems' and he sees as 'people with problems') is described as someone very short, who grips the elbows of his friend and has to rise up on his toes to kiss Brunetti's cheeks in affectionate welcome. He is at least a head shorter than Brunetti, is further stooped by age, and his 'mop of gray hair looked a stranger to comb and barber, lopped off unevenly on the sides and growing well below his collar at the back ...' and he wears glasses to further his similarities (aside from his age) to a character near and dear to our hearts. But it was this next paragraph that really caught and held my attention:

'His appearance would have made him faintly ridiculous, even grotesque, were it not for the aura of sweetness that radiated from his every word and glance. He seemed a man who gazed on all he saw with approval and affection, who began every interchange with deep and abiding regard for the person in front of him.'

Not much further in the text, the character is shown to need to think about whether he can share information with the police -- not from the perspective of rules, regulations, or socially determined criteria of whether it's right or wrong, but simply in terms of whether the sharing of information would hurt someone else and, if so, decide if the larger issue is worth causing that hurt to another vulnerable human being.

And I thought ... that's how I see Blair. Not just in terms of appearance (though the parallels of characterization are there) but more in terms of the kind of man I see him as being. The kind of worldview he holds. I wish I had written this, could use this to launch a kind of AU. And then I found myself wondering if Ms Leon had ever seen The Sentinel or if, perhaps more likely, the character is a kind of archetype that inspired GM's interpretation of Blair Sandburg: an apparently ingenuous, engaging, affectionate, innocence that is a choice rather than happenstance, grounded on integrity and respect for others -- a deliberate 'way of being' in the world regardless of circumstance. I've rarely seen another character described in a way that illuminates what I most appreciate in Blair. Does that make Blair an 'archetype'?

Now, this may only be because I've spent the last few days suffering from cold and fever, my own company relieved only by the telephone conversations with family and friends ::waves at Jess:: throughout the day; an unusual Christmas in that respect, but this virus is too potentially 'contagious' to impose my company on anyone else this year. Still, I found this characterization evocative enough to want to share it and to wonder if it's just me? Or does her description resonate with others as well, in terms of the passages being so apparently descriptive of Blair Sandburg?


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 26th, 2005 05:20 am (UTC)
Well, from what you quote and what you say about it, I'd very much agree! (And now I want to read this book, both with that thought in mind but also because your description overall is very appealing. I'll pass it on as a gift to my best friend, a great fan and aspiring writer of mysteries--so thank you on her behalf, as well.)
Dec. 27th, 2005 01:35 am (UTC)
Donna Leon's books
Cinder, If you and/or your friend are going to explore Donna Leon's world of Venice, I'd suggest beginning with the first novel in the series, Death at La Fenice (the concert hall in Venice), as characters recur and one story builds from another in terms of the personal and family subthemes. It can be difficult to find some editions, as a number are out of print, but the Mystery Lovers Bookshop (online at www.mysterylovers.com) has copies of all her books at normal prices. Honestly? I suggest ordering the whole series and then enjoying them at leisure (though I think you'll find the tendency is to read them one right after another; like popcorn or peanuts, they can be hard to resist). Two other writers I'd recommend to your friend are Lindsey Davis (Marcus Didius Falco series, a detective in Rome and the Empire circa 70 AD) and Peter Tremayne (Sister Fidelma series, Ireland, I think around 400 AD, or perhaps 700 AD). Again, the books in these series build in terms of relationships and character history/development, so I'd begin at the beginning, lol. Happy Reading!
Dec. 27th, 2005 03:00 am (UTC)
Re: Donna Leon's books
Wonderful! Thanks so much for the additional information and the additional recs! She and I no longer exchange gifts (we are trying to get rid of things as we get older!), but we share these kinds of tips, so this is just the perfect thing for both of us. We've got a delightful independent bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy, which does mystery/sci fi/fantasy, and if they don't have these, they'll gladly order them. I like to support them that way, since they are my source for lots of books that the big chains don't carry. But it helps to have the online info, just in case! Again, many thanks, and happy holiday season!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )



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