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Ten Great Books set in Venice

3rd April 2020


Venice is the latest place for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in VENICE.

“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” ― Truman Capote

Ten Great Books set in VeniceThe City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

Taking the fire that destroyed the Fenice theatre in 1996 as his starting point, John Berendt creates a unique and unforgettable portrait of Venice and its extraordinary inhabitants. Beneath the exquisite facade of the world’s most beautiful historic city, scandal, corruption and venality are rampant, and John Berendt is a master at seeking them out. Ezra Pound and his mistress, Olga: poet Mario Stefani: the Rat Man of Treviso: or Mario Moro – self-styled carabiniere, fireman, soldier or airman, depending on the day of the week.

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A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen

When Nick Brink and his boyfriend Clay Guillory meet up on the Grand Canal in Venice, they have a plan in mind–and it doesn’t involve a vacation. Nick and Clay are running away from their turbulent lives in New York City, each desperate for a happier, freer future someplace else. Their method of escape? Selling a collection of counterfeit antiques to a brash, unsuspecting American living out his retirement years in a grand palazzo. With Clay’s smarts and Nick’s charm, their scheme is sure to succeed.

As it turns out, tricking a millionaire out of money isn’t as easy as it seems, especially when Clay and Nick let greed get the best of them. As Nick falls under the spell of the city’s decrepit magic, Clay comes to terms with personal loss and the price of letting go of the past. Their future awaits, but it is built on disastrous deceits, and more than one life stands in the way of their dreams.

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A Year At the Hotel Gondola by Nicky Pellegrino

Kat has never wanted to live a small life. She’s an adventurer, a food writer who travels the world visiting far-flung places and eating unusual things. Now she is about to embark on her biggest adventure yet – a relationship.

She has fallen in love with an Italian man and is moving to live with him in Venice where she will help him run his small guesthouse, Hotel Gondola. Kat has lined up a book deal and will write about the first year of her new adventure, the food she eats, the recipes she collects, the people she meets, the man she doesn’t really know all that well but is going to make a life with.

But as Kat ought to know by now, the thing about adventures is that they never go exactly the way you expect them to…

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In The Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

1527. While the Papal city of Rome burns – brutally sacked by an invading army including Protestant heretics – two of her most interesting and wily citizens slip away, their stomachs churning on the jewels they have swallowed as the enemy breaks down their doors. Though almost as damaged as their beloved city, Fiammetta Bianchini and Bucino Teodoldi – a fabulous courtesan and her dwarf companion – are already planning their future. They head for the shimmering beauty of Venice, a honey pot of wealth and trade where they start to rebuild their business. As a partnership they are invincible: Bucino, clever with a sharp eye and a wicked tongue and Fiammetta, beautiful and shrewd, trained from birth to charm, entertain and satisfy men who have the money to support her. Venice, however, is a city which holds its own temptations. From the admiring Turk in search of human novelties for his Sultan’s court, to the searing passion of a young lover who wants more than his allotted nights. But the greatest challenge comes from a young blind woman, a purveyor of health and beauty, who insinuates her way into their lives with devastating consequences for them all.

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The Cemetery of Secrets by David Hewson

In the ancient burial ground of San Michele on an island off Venice, a young woman’s casket is prised open, an object wrenched from her hands, and an extraordinary story begins. Young academic Daniel Forster arrives in Venice working for the summer in the library of a private collector. When his employer sends him to buy a stolen violin from a petty thief, he ignites a chain of violence, deception, intrigue and murder. Daniel is drawn into the police investigation surrounding a beautiful woman, a mysterious palazzo and a lost musical masterpiece dating back to 1733. Separated by centuries, two tales of passion, betrayal and danger collide transporting the reader from the intrigue of Vivaldi’s Venice to the gritty world of a modern detective. From the genius of prodigy to the greed of a killer, The Cemetery of Secrets builds to a shattering crescendo – and one last, breathtaking surprise. ‘Richly enjoyable . . . sophisticated and beguiling’ Sunday Times

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The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

Twenty-one years ago, when a conductor was poisoned and the Questura sent a man to investigate, readers first met Commissario Guido Brunetti. Since 1992’s Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon and her shrewd, sophisticated, and compassionate investigator have been delighting readers around the world. For her millions of fans, Leon’s novels have opened a window into the private Venice of her citizens, a world of incomparable beauty, family intimacy, shocking crime, and insidious corruption. This internationally acclaimed, bestselling series is widely considered one of the best ever written, and William Heinemann is thrilled to be publishing the twenty-second installment, The Golden Egg, in April 2013.

When making routine enquiries into a possible bribery case that could embarrass the mayor – a humiliation Vice-Questore Patta is very keen to avoid – Commissario Brunetti receives a call from his wife, Paola, who is evidently very upset. The middle-aged deaf mute with the mental age of a child who helped out at the Brunetti’s dry cleaners has been found dead – an ‘accidental’ overdose of his mother’s sleeping pills – and for some reason Paola is distraught by the news. To the neighbourhood he was just the ‘boy’ who helped out, but nobody knew much about him – not even his name. That a soul could have lived such a joyless life is too much for Paola to bear, and she asks Guido if he can find out what happened.

It is a surprise to Brunetti just how little was known about this man-child – there are no official records to show he even existed. The man’s mother is angry and contradictory when questioned about his death, and Brunetti senses that there much more to the story than she is willing to tell. With the help of Inspector Vianello and the ever-resourceful Signorina Elettra, perhaps Brunetti can get to the truth and find some measure of solace.

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Vengeance in Venice by Philip Gwynne Jones

Murder is the deadliest art . . .

An invitation to an exclusive event during the Venetian Biennale gives Honorary Consul Nathan Sutherland the perfect chance to drink prosecco in the sunshine and meet some of the greats of the art world.

And then a world-famous critic is decapitated by one of the installations in the British Pavilion. A terrible accident, it seems, until a postcard is discovered in the victim’s pocket: an image of Judith beheading Holofernes.

But this is not just a one-off. Before long, three more postcards have been sent out with deadly results. As the bodies pile up, Nathan finds himself getting closer and closer to the truth, but when he himself receives an image of Death bearing a scythe, it becomes a race against time to save his own life.

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The Four Horsemen by Gregory Dowling

Alvise Marangon is a reluctant spy drawn into the grip of Venice’s powerful secret service. After he is arrested in a tavern brawl, he is summoned to meet its head, the Missier Grande. He is coerced into a top-secret investigation of the mysterious death of an agent, which appears to be connected with a mysterious and ancient secret society, The Four Horsemen. When his investigation spooks the authorities, he is forced to go on the run, becoming the seeker and the sought amidst the tangle of Venice’s back-streets, canals and the islands of the lagoon.

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Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers

There is something very old-fashioned and reassuring about Salley Vickers’ novel Miss Garnet’s Angel. The themes, self-discovery and redemption have the air of a bygone age, despite the novel being set in contemporary Venice in a world of holiday apartment lets and Pizza Express-funded restoration works. Julia Garnet is a middle-aged woman who has been practising economies of the spirit for years. Hers is a closed-in world, dusty with Marx’s theories and when her friend and flatmate of 30 years dies Julia decides to spend the six winter months in Venice to recuperate from her loss. Miss Garnet is a dignified, brusque heroine and Salley Vickers’ prose is likewise unruffled and controlled. Miss Garnet’s epiphanies are as quiet and subtle as the “oro pallido” (pale gold) light in early Italian Art because, of course, art plays a part in this Venetian tale of emotional reawakening. Julia is moved by the depiction of Raphael in Guardis Tobias and the Angel: “something rusty and hard shifted deep inside Julia Garnet as she stood absorbing the vivid dewy painting and the unmistakable compassion in the angel’s bright glance.” She falls in love with Carlo, an art historian with crinkly eyes, white hair and a moustache. There are trials and tribulations to be undergone, Julia must unlearn all her old regimented ways of life, and this brings about heart ache and hurt. However, Vickers handles this with delicate sympathy, giving Julia Garnet a new sensitive view of the world, and the reader a resonant story of transformation. –Eithne Farry

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Lucia by Andrea di Robilant

In 1787, Lucia, the beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter of a prominent Venetian statesman, is married off to Alvise Mocenigo, scion of one of the most powerful Venetian families. But their life as a golden couple will be suddenly transformed when Venice falls to Bonaparte. As the larger events unfolding around Lucia mingle with her most personal concerns, we witness—through her letters to her sister and other primary sources—her painful series of miscarriages and the pressure on her to produce an heir; her impassioned affair with an Austrian officer and its stunning results; the glamour and strain of her career as a hostess in Hapsburg Vienna and lady-in-waiting at the court of Napoleon’s stepson, Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, as well as her intimate relationship with the Empress Joséphine; and her amazing firsthand account of the defeat of Napoleon in Paris in 1814. In her later years, Lucia, regal and still beautiful and a bit battle-hardened herself, was Byron’s landlord during the poet’s stay in Venice. In a fitting finale to this sweeping drama, Lucia stands as a relic of a lost golden age: she created, in part, the aura that gave rise to the Romantic view of Italy and its culture that we still nourish today.

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  1. User: Neal E Robbins

    Posted on: 05/08/2021 at 4:18 pm

    This list of books on Venice misses some recent books of note, including mine, Venice, an Odyssey: Hope, anger and the future of cities, Published in 2021 by La Toletta in Venice, this book profiles the city and updates the story of this great city.

    Here are some reviews of the book:

    “He defines the work as non-fiction, but in reality, it is a gripping narrative that falls between diary and reflection, between the coming-of-age novel and in-depth report… It is an innovative contribution that puts together (with his capacity in exposition as a journalist and creativity in narration) the eyes of a foreigner and the heart of a “Venetian”…, the volume will certainly be of great interest, whether you are Venetian and/or someone who knows the city.”
    Mario Santi, The Venetian foreigner, 19 June 2021, Ytali online magazine

    “A knowledgeable, sensitive analysis of the environmental, social and economic challenges facing Venice today.”
    Cristina Gregorin, Venice guide and novelist, winner of the Italo Calvino special mention 2019

    “An intimate rediscovery of La Serenissima’s magic that sees it not just as a town or a landscape, but a core of stories, and gets to the reality of Venice for the people who live there.”
    Isabella Panfido, poet and author of Venice Noir: The Dark History of the Lagoons

    “…the layers of knowledge and web of revelations Robbins records in these pages is so easy to read. At the end of this immense work, you are a more cultivated, cultured individual than when you began – but the prose flows and hooks you in. This is travel writing at its best.“
    Anne Gravey, The Cambridge Critique – Discerning Views, Thoughts And Debate On The Cultural Scene

    “Nonfiction essay? A guide? An historical text? An autobiographical story? There’s a bit of everything in this accurate, interesting, original work… Neal is the Venetian Ulysses… With wisdom and judiciousness, Neal confronts the fundamental themes — historical, environmental and social — seeking to overcome cliches, invented traditions, and prejudices….“
    Giorgio Crovato, historian and a director of Ateneo Veneto, the foremost cultural institution of Venice, describes Venice, an Odyssey.

    “I would very much like to recommend… “Venice, an Odyssey” by Neal E. Robbins. … in easy-to-read, unacademic English … A research on history, but primarily on the current situation in Venice with all overwhelming problems … Discussions with “all of Venice”… for anyone like me, struggles with the local papers and the unspeakable local politics … you can better understand developments, connections and perspectives here.”
    [Google translation from German original]
    Brigitte Eckert, Unterwegs in Venedig / Out and about in Venice / Venedig Reiseblog /Venice travel blog


  2. User: Bookertalk

    Posted on: 15/04/2020 at 7:48 am

    Don’t Look Now – short story by Daphne du Maurier about a couple who go to Venice after the death of their daughter and experience some mysterious sightings of her. A film version starring Donald Sutherland and Julie. Christie captures the troubling psychological aspect perfectly.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 15/04/2020 at 8:03 am

      I remember that film. The red coat…..