I am not being fickle when I say I am in love with both these gentlemen.
IT MAKES ME FEEL BETTER JUST TO KNOW THAT THERE ARE PEOPLE LIKE THEM IN THIS WORLD. Of course they're not really in this world at all, but since I've lived in Italy, they have become part of the interior world of my head.
It's true that as an adolescent I went through a crime novel phase, mostly delving for the sex scenes ("And when she took off her clothes, I realized she was a REAL blonde..."). Yes, at age 14, I thought Mike Hammer in "I, the Jury," was a very sexy dude. But once I was a so-called adult, I never went near mystery lit. Until now, that is.
I am currently pondering the mystery of how I fell under the spell of Donna Leon's Brunetti, whose "beat" is Venice. At first I resisted, since my heart already belonged to Commissario Montalbano, from exotic-to-me Sicily. But this summer I have worked my way through 22 Brunetti novels, and am already in mourning that I'm just one away from having caught up with Leon's latest, slated to come out in 2015. I'd almost murder someone in order not to have to wait that long.
Just why is Brunetti so seductive? He's not supposed to be super handsome or especially tall or especially anything, but kind and just. And as a lover of fine food--especially that cooked by his wife-- he is at risk of having a paunch. Food, in fact, gets a lot of loving attention in Brunetti novels. Ditto for those that star Montalbano, but his bachelor meals are prepared by his housekeeper or favorite seaside restaurant.
Back to Brunetti. Although his high-born wife, Paola, was raised in a palazzo full of servants and mostly demonstrates tough love with him, she admits that she learned to cook because she knew it mattered to him. She was quite a "catch," so that proves that he, a policeman/ancient history afficionado of humble birth, had what it took to win her hand. Further, she really seems to wear the pants at home, where she keeps him and their two teenage kids in line, all of which might interfere with his allure, but...not so much.
So what's so special about Brunetti (in addition to my wanting to eat at his house)? And how could he be poised to depose from the top of my list Commissario Salvo Montalbano, who, thanks to the TV shows, even has a face and a bald head to go with the mystique?
Well, it doesn't happen often, but I just love it when ever-decent, psychologically sensitive Brunetti shows he's no pushover and plays hard ball with a villain. It's a surprising additional attraction that he's a family man in love with his challenging wife--a Henry James scholar, no less--even though she's kind of mean to him, and often acts as if she'd prefer to cuddle up in bed with Henry. (What could she be thinking??)
On two previous occasions, I've written about my teenage love affair with the 50's tv police show, "Dragnet." (See ADDENDUM TO MY EARLIER "DUM DA DUM DUM" DISCLAIMER...) One was to muse about how a not-so-attractive man as star Jack Webb managed to be married, at least for a few years, to sexy songstress, Julie "Cry-Me-a-River" London. The other time (MORE “DRAGNET”? AND IN “VANITY FAIR” ? AND ANOTHER...) was when an article in "Vanity Fair" about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn hotel maid scandal showed that I wasn't the only one to have been enthralled by "Dragnet":
The author of the Vanity Fair article said: "So accustomed are we to the privileges of rank and authority conferring Royal immunity that seeing the long arm of law enforcement snag a high-ranker, like an outfielder reaching over the fence to rob a home run, restored one's faith in the virtues taught us by Jack Webb and 'Dragnet.'"
But when it comes to justice, the corrupt worlds of Brunetti and Montalbano are nowhere nearly as neat as that of Jack Webb. (And despite what looked like an open-shut case against Strauss-Kahn that probably cost him an important election, the plot later thickened, and maybe initial appearances were deceptive.) Knowing as they do how their respective systems of "justice" operate and whether a criminal can actually be successfully prosecuted, Brunetti and Montalbano, perhaps more philosophers than detectives, often have to make hard decisions about when to leave bad enough alone.
In both Brunetti and Montalbano novels, a truly satisfying resolution often remains elusive. Sometimes we can't even be sure what happened, which ought to feel frustrating. And yet, what would life be without a bit of mystery?