In Friends in High Places by Donna Leon, we go to the city of Venice with Commissario Guido Brunetti. One Saturday morning Guido gets a visit from Franco Rossi, an official who is investigating Brunetti’s apartment, which the man indicates might have to be torn down because there is no record of the existence of any approved plans for this top floor apartment. That seems to be the end of any contact with Rossi when the young man calls Brunetti at his work because he has found corruption in his government office. Concerned that any telefonino (cell phone) could easily be bugged, Brunetti tells Rossi to call him back from a public telephone, and that is the last that he hears from Rossi. A couple days later, Brunetti sees an article in the paper that Rossi has fallen from a building in the course of his work and is in a coma, something that greatly disturbs Brunetti because Rossi was terrified of heights and should never have been so high in the first place. When Brunetti gets to the hospital to investigate, he finds Rossi dead and the hospital treatment questionable at best, but likely a result of malpractice.
The book takes a turn as Brunetti gets pulled into several cases related to drugs. He faces a really sad case when a building superintendent reports to the police the discovery of a 20-year-old student who has overdosed on heroin. He has only been discovered due to complaints about the bad odor, which becomes almost unbearable inside the room with the body. Heartbreakingly, the young man got clean earlier, causing the previously standard dosage to become too strong for him. The body sits with an expression on his face showing recognition of his having made an error, and the needle still remains in his arm. The grief of the young man’s parents inspires Brunetti to look into the drug problem in Venice, which fortunately the major dealers consider not lucrative enough to invest any effort in. This also crosses into a sideline investigation into exorbitant money lenders.
While the book focuses overtly on the theme of drug abuse, the subtext is the issue of class and how people of all classes can get into drugs and other crime. Being rich does not exempt a family from facing drug or criminal problems, neither does being poor. In addition, no one should be exempt from the law, not due to wealth or position.
This book does an excellent job of making Brunetti’s life and trails of investigation become truly real to life. We become part of his family and grieve with him as he mourns the waste of young lives with drugs. We also feel the love Brunetti experiences for his family and enjoy seeing the back and forth between him and his wife, Paola.
And speaking of Paola, I appreciate the illustration of a strong, intelligent, and independent woman who is still capable of being a good mother and wife. She shows that being a professor does not prohibit her from being an effective family woman, instead rearing two capable children with strong values.
David Colacci provides a strong performance in his reading of this book. He has a great accent and voice for this role, sounding legitimately Italian to my American ears. He does a good job of interpreting Leon’s work that transports us to the city of Venice.
Leon does a powerful job of introducing us not only to strong mysteries but also vividly takes us to the city where she has lived for multiple decades. With frequent smatterings of Italian, especially police positions, and descriptions of food in Venice, her books contain a whole lot of flavor. Friends in High Places also takes us to Venice, but not as vividly as most other books by Leon have read. Further, the mystery was interesting, but not as compelling as the other books either. I give this book 3 stars.
To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.