A New Vice

As a kid, growing up, I always swapped books with my grandma. Together, we devoured Agatha Christie, especially her books with Miss Marple as the clever leading lady. Then, I fell for Perry Mason. With more than ninety published cases, I still haven’t managed to read all of him.The same goes for J.B. Fletcher and the murders she stumbled into in Cabot Cove. Now, a new character has won my heart: Guido Brunetti, the refined and sightly Commissario. Venice, his daily companion, is the distinctive home for his family, his friends and cases. A place more than an attraction swarmed by millions of tourists each year, pestered by oversized cruise ships and aqua alta. A town as unique as Brunetti himself, used by his creator as a main character. Venice, La Serenissima, the trading town crossed by canals and surrounded by water. A decaying beauty built on logs and land. A lagoon and setting donna-leon_bwthat has inspired many authors, from Shakespeare to Thomas Mann. And, for twenty-two years now, also Donna Leon.

It was a streak of luck that brought Brunetti on paper and into our lives as readers. Donna Leon, once an English professor, has lived in Venice for more than a quarter century. Her passion for literature, opera and Venezia jumps out on every page of her bestselling novels now available in many languages but Italian (upon the author’s insistence). She never expected to write more than one, a crime novel set in Venice with a character she genuinely liked. Twenty-three books later, she’s now a grande dame of mystery and crime. A writer whose protagonists are erudite, sophisticated and often angry at the world and its crimes. It is an intoxicating mix for anyone who enjoys authenticity and reliable characters, for anyone who has a heart for history and critical thinking. Brunetti’s cases are never as grim and gloomy as many Scandinavian novels, but neither are they la dolce vita and cotton candy. For anyone who likes a descriptive style, Italian food and a dash of philosophy, Leon’s books are the perfect pastime told in a pleasant pace. But be warned, once you’ve picked up the first volume, you may never want spend another day without Brunetti and his Venetian life.

Hungry now for more on Donna Leon?! Follow the links below to dive into her world.

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Murder, She Wrote

TV classics: Murder, She Wrote

USA 1984-96, 264 episodes, 12 seasons, 45 minutes each, CBS. Created by Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, William Link, Producer: Angela Lansbury, Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, William Link, David Moessinger, Music by John Addison. Cast: Angela Lansbury, William Windom, Tom Bosley, Ron Masak, Guest Stars: Julie Adams, June Allyson, Barbara Babcock, Gene Barry, Polly Bergen, Len Cariou, George Clooney, James Coburn, Courtney Cox, Marcia Cross, Mike Farrell, Michael Horton, Kim Hunter, Shirley Jones, Brian Keith, Dorothy Lamour, Martin Landau, Keith Michell, Kate Mulgrew, Leslie Nielsen, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Nixon, Richard Paul, John Rhys-Davies, Wayne Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Jean Simmons, David Ogden Stiers, Loretta Swit et al.

Plot summary: JB Fletcher is a retired English teacher gone bestselling author who writes mysteries for a living and solves real murders after hours.

Review: Already looking back on a renowned career in Hollywood and on the Broadway stage, Angela Lansbury became a household name when she entered America’s living rooms in the fall of 1984. As former English teacher gone mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, she won the hearts of audiences worldwide, solving crimes on paper and in person while sometimes butting heads with the police outside of her hometown Cabot Cove in Maine. Inquisitive by nature, Mrs. F found it hard to resist investigating the crimes she stumbled into, often bringing her own life in danger when she got too close to the truth.

Supported by some recurring characters, Jessica worked with her hometown sheriffs, Doctor Hazlitt, Scotland Yard and an agent from MI6. She solved murders on vacation and on book tours, found crimes that hit close to home but never got gritty. Her way of investigating was suspenseful yet family friendly. Murder, She Wrote was not CSI or Law & Order_ SVU.¬† The show relied on strong performances and a whodunit story rather than violence and exaggerated action. JB Fletcher was a widow and retired teacher, she didn’t carry a gun or used science jargon. She used her eyes and ears to observe and connect the dots – much like Miss Marple had, solving crimes a different way.

Always savvy, warm and assertive, Jessica Fletcher was a respected member of her community and extended family, always eager to expose the truth behind the crimes she got involved with. Angela Lansbury did a fine job creating one of TV’s most beloved characters, a part that put four Golden Globes on her resum√© and a record of twelve consecutive Emmy nominations.

Canceled due to time slot changes in 1996, Murder, She Wrote has remained a popular program in reruns and on DVD. Living on in a franchise that includes mystery novels, games and four TV movies, JB Fletcher is still a beloved member of many households around the world and continues to entertain her fans both young and old.

Murder, She Wrote opening theme

Whodunits

So hands up: who’s as addicted to whodunits as I am?! In writing or on screen – doesn’t matter. To me, the appeal is just the same. When I say whodunits, I mean classic gems like The Thin Man series or Perry Mason, the kind of stories that focus on suspense rather than gore. Not the kind of murder mystery we have seen on worldwide bestseller lists for many years now or the numerous police shows, no matter how successful or gripping they may be.

See, I grew up exchanging Miss Marple novels with my grandma, watching all of Perry Mason and reading Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, as well as The Famous Five. My mom introduced me to The Father Brown Mysteries and I remember falling in love with Hart to Hart when I was peek-a-booing from behind my (grand)parents’ couch. I always loved the hilariously witty dialogue, the thrilling stories and most of all, the shrewd but darling characters, which is why I was probably destined to also fall for Murder, She Wrote in my teens, another show I still greatly enjoy as an adult today. I find myself every bit as drawn to the classic tales of an infallible investigating hero as back in the days when I was as a girl who loved to play detective wherever she went with whomever would humor me. And I find a sparkle of innocence I often miss in a lot of today’s mystery shows paired with a usually clear message of right versus wrong.

One of the few recent shows I feel picks up on my favorite genre and storylines is Castle with its disarmingly charming male lead and love interest policewoman. The show does a beautiful job at never getting too dark, it’s always entertaining and it is simply terrifically cast. Another program I greatly enjoyed was the Lifetime TV movie adaptations of Ellen Byerrum’s A Crime of Fashion novels Hostile Makeover and Killer Hair. Same groundwork on the suspense-minus-gore front with an addition of a vintage-addicted female lead, and yes, you’ve already guessed it, a love interest policeman in that case.

So all right, now may be the time to admit it, I have a rather pronounced weakness for a strong touch of classy romance sprinkled on top of all the investigating and the suspense. But what’s wrong with that?! Isn’t that what makes the characters so appealing after all, that glimpse of an amorous private life in addition to their gritty adventures? I mean, can you really imagine Nick Charles without his Nora or Perry Mason without his Della Street? I surely can’t and gladly confess to preferring Margaret Rutherford’s four Miss Marple stints from the 1960s over any other adaptation because Mr. Stringer was so loyal to her in his admiration. Always a romantic even in the most tenuous of storylines…