Donna Leon’s ‘Acqua Alta’ paints a pretty good picture of high waters in Venice

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 13, 2019

I was at work today when I read about Venice under water, its walkable streets flooded, tables and chairs set out for touristy aperitifs bobbing along alleyways, and the gangways of hotels along the Grand Canal washed away.

It’s the “acqua alta” or high waters, but an exceptionally intense one. This one has peaked at six feet. (The record is 6 ft 3 in., in 1966.)

I thought back to Donna Leon’s ‘Acqua Alta’ (or Death in High Water). It’s the fifth book in Ms Leon’s  Commissario Brunetti mystery series, which is set in Venice, and in which the city is an important character.

In ‘Acqua Alta’, Inspector Brunetti has to brave typically Venetian winter woes – a tempest and the acqua alta – and leave his warm house to investigate an assault on Dotoressa Brett Lynch. The academic had been savagely beaten in the palazzo home she shared with Flavia Petrelli, one of the world’s finest sopranos.

There hung a mysterious tale, and Brunetti sets out to solve it, even as the waters rose higher and higher in Venice.

It was a good book, and brought home the effects of the acqua alta pretty well.  Ms Leon’s Venice series makes the city a real one – with people who live there all year around, including in the acqua alta season – and less the gilded view from tourist brochures. (Full disclosure: I’m one of those who clogged up the streets of Venice as a gawking tourist. Read my blogs on Venice here, here, here, here, here, and here.)