Life Crime of

HE­ROES OF CRIME WRIT­ING RE­VEAL THEIR IN­FLU­ENCES AND IN­SPI­RA­TIONS THIS IS­SUE Venice-based US au­thor of the Com­mis­sario Brunetti se­ries, DONNA LEON

Crime Scene - - CASE NOTES -

What is the very first crime story you can ever re­mem­ber read­ing?

It was prob­a­bly Edgar Al­lan Poe, “The Tell-tale Heart” or “The Cask of Amon­til­lado”, be­cause that’s how peo­ple were in­tro­duced to the idea of the de­tec­tive. He’s re­ally good, and to think that he didn’t have pre­de­ces­sors makes him even more wor­thy of credit.

What is your all-time favourite crime novel and why?

Ruth Ren­dell’s A Judge­ment In Stone is ge­nius from the first to the last sen­tence. It’s su­per creepy. I’ve taught it a num­ber of times and peo­ple have a love-hate re­la­tion­ship [ with it]. They love it be­cause it’s so beau­ti­fully plot­ted and writ­ten, but they hate it be­cause of their help­less­ness. This is the ge­nius of the book – I’ve read it four or five times, and each time I read it I still want to in­ter­vene to save those good peo­ple.

Who has been your role model?

I’ve been re-read­ing Ross Macdon­ald – God, he’s good! I re­alised that if there is an in­flu­ence on my books, it is Macdon­ald. My char­ac­ter [ Com­mis­sario Brunetti] is very much like Lew Archer – not in terms of the fam­ily sit­u­a­tion be­cause he is hap­pily mar­ried. But some­where Archer says he likes peo­ple and likes to be of help, and I think this is as true of Brunetti as it is of Archer.

How im­por­tant is Venice to your writ­ing ca­reer?

I was in the dress­ing room at the opera house in Venice, La Fenice, with a friend who was a conduc­tor, and he and his wife were talk­ing about an­other conduc­tor whom they did not like, ad­mire or re­spect. We found our­selves talk­ing about killing him there, in the dress­ing room. I thought that would be a great idea for a mur­der mys­tery.

I first went to Venice in ’68 or ’69 and I was lucky enough to make Vene­tian friends then. I love it, it’s the most beau­ti­ful place I’ve ever been, but it has been ugli­fied in many ways. The next book, Earthly Re­mains, is set al­most ex­clu­sively in the la­guna [ the la­goon sur­round­ing Venice].

What would you be do­ing now if you weren’t an au­thor?

I’d still be teach­ing English lit­er­a­ture. I spent 30 years as a pro­fes­sor.

What ad­vice would you give to your 14-year-old self?

Most of my life I’ve been pretty cheer­ful be­cause I have no am­bi­tion. Luck­ily, my par­ents raised me and my brother with­out am­bi­tion.

What’s your favourite TV crime show, past or present?

I’ve never had a tele­vi­sion in my life. While I was in London, I spoke to Caro­line Skin­ner at the BBC, who will be the pro­ducer of a Brunetti TV se­ries. They will make three and they will be shown some­time next year. The Ger­mans have made a se­ries that’s re­ally not ter­ri­bly faith­ful to the books, from what I’ve been told by peo­ple who watch them, but peo­ple love them.

As an es­tab­lished writer, who do you now most ad­mire among your peers

I don’t read [ con­tem­po­rary] crime. I read his­tory so I ad­mire Mary Beard, Tom Hol­land and Robert Harris – Dic­ta­tor is just breath­tak­ing.

Which fic­tional char­ac­ter do you wish you’d cre­ated?

I like Pip in Great Ex­pec­ta­tions, Lizzie Bennet in Pride And Prej­u­dice and Philip Mar­lowe be­cause he’s such a clever guy. But my star is al­ways Lew Archer, Ross Macdon­ald’s char­ac­ter. I think he’s the most in­ter­est­ing.

What’s the cra­zi­est let­ter you’ve ever had from a fan?

I’ve never had a bad one. I have had let­ters telling me that, dur­ing his or her last ill­ness, some­one read my books and took great com­fort from them. Those let­ters have moved me be­yond words.

If you could com­mit a per­fect mur­der, how would it be done?

Well, I’m a com­mit­ted ecol­o­gist and I’m an old leftie. So were I to think about com­mit­ting a crime, it would be an eco­log­i­cal crime. But I couldn’t do it be­cause I know it would only be counter-pro­duc­tive.

The Wa­ters Of Eternal Youth (Wil­liam Heine­mann) is out now.

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