Friends in high places

by Donna Leon

Hardcover, 2000




London : Heinemann, 2000


Investigating the lack of a building permit for Commissioner Brunetti's apartment, a young bureaucrat uncovers a frightening secret and promptly dies from an apparently accidental fall; investigating his death in turn, Brunetti is drawn into a world of drugs, loan-sharking, and corruption.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Smiler69
Friends in High Places took me a long time to warm to. The plot centres around some tedious bureaucratic business involving Commissario Brunetti's place of residence. A young government employee is found dead; Brunetti suspects foul play and eventually uncovers a conspiracy the likes of which could only happen in Venice. The story was convoluted and the pace fairly slow, and it was only towards the very end that I began to appreciate Leon's construction, which in reality is more of a character-driven observation on ethics and moral integrity than a suspense-filled thriller. I can see the value in this book as part of a series, and can appreciate it as such in retrospect, but would definitely not recommend that someone new to Donna Leon start with this one. Not my favourite so far.… (more)
LibraryThing member abbottthomas
Other reviewers have suggested that this would not be a good book to start a reader's acquaintance with Brunetti: I go along with that. The endemic corruption and bureaucratic incompetence in Italian life provide the ground-bass to all Leon's work but in this book these are the main players. Given the threat to Brunetti's home in the first chapter and his reluctance to call on his father-in-law to use his influenza to remove the worry, it is unsurprising that he is moodier than usual. He manages a fairly significant spat with Paola and even puts Signorina Elettra potentially in harm's way to further his investigations.

The violent death of possibly the only honest bureaucrat in the Ufficio Catasto (the land registry office) is at the centre of the plot but there is a sub-plot involving drug dealing and the associated deaths of young people which strikes at Brunetti's Achilles heel, his deep concern for his children. The son of the awful Vice Questore, Patta, seems involved in dealing leaving Brunetti with a conflict between his usual disdain for his chief's self-serving attitudes and his sympathy for a very worried father. The death of a young student of architecture, apparently from a drug overdose, leads to a perfect piece of writing from Leon describing the visit of the dead man's parents to Venice to identify the body. Thrown into this mix are very unpleasant money-lenders and scarcely less unpleasant descendants of a medieval Doge, arrogantly carrying the family name and nothing else.

This is one of those books where you feel you have got about half way through when you find that there are only a couple of short chapters left. Sometimes this is a reflection of the author's poor organisation or lack of imagination but Leon can't be accused of either. True, there are some loose ends but I was left with the impression that she was getting a lot of baggage off her chest concerning human failings and, having done so, she ended the story. The final pages allow Brunetti to exhibit uncharacteristic malice. I am sure he will be back to normal after some fegato alla Veneziana, a glass or two of Prosecco and a cuddle from Paola.

As an aside, we are told that, as well as enjoying Henry James, Paola is a fan of the Aubrey / Maturin stories of Patrick O'Brian.
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LibraryThing member Talbin
Friends in High Places, the ninth installment in Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series, tells the story of real estate corruption in Venice. One Saturday, Brunetti is visited by Franco Rossi, a building official who tells Brunetti that his apartment does not exist in city records. A few weeks later, Rossi is found dead, supposedly having fallen off a building scaffolding. Brunetti is immediately suspicious, because while Rossi was in his apartment earlier, Rossi had shown obvious signs of being terrified of heights. Meanwhile, Vice-Questore Patta comes to Brunetti to discuss the arrest of Patta's son for drug dealing. Brunetti pulls a few strings and keeps the news quiet for his supervisor. These two seemingly unrelated events draw Brunetti into an investigation of how real estate and money moves around his city.

As events unfold, we learn of how things are "done" in Venice - pulling strings, calling in (and performing) favors, looking the other way. No one is exempt, including Brunetti. None of Leon's novels shy away from the corruption she sees in Venice's political and bureaucratic offices, but the mysteries in Friends in High Places stem directly from this corruption. Additionally, there is a small subplot about old families and the sometimes misplaced pride they have in themselves that I enjoyed.

Unlike most of Leon's novels I've read so far, this one ends with some justice, albeit not official justice, but perhaps a bit of human justice. Another good entry to the Brunetti canon.
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LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
I put this book down with a strong sense of unfinished business - there are several plot lines that are not tied up by the conclusion of the novel. Although that is all part of the bleak picture of corruption and futility that makes up Brunetti's world, it still left me feeling unsatisfied.… (more)
LibraryThing member janglen
Enjoyable and well-written, with Leon's usual insights into the seamier side of life in Venice. I was a little bothered by the plot threads that weren't tidied up.
LibraryThing member FicusFan
Another good story in the Brunetti series. Set in modern day Venice the story is as much about life in Venice and his family as it is about a murder mystery.

I love the characters from his family to his co-workers and friends. The ins and outs of trying to live in Venice/Italy, along with their customs and culture. Great setting and just a wonderful warm feeling.

The crimes and the criminals are painted as sad and human, and not just evil baddies. The victims are people, and this book had incredibly wrenching portrayals of the survivors, without being maudlin or exploitive.

The only problem is the ending. Leon never has a neat happy Hollywood ending with everything tied up. And that is fine, its like real life. But this time she seemed to not even really connect the crime to the suspects. We have some dead people, we have some ideas, and we have some who may have been the perpetrators or puppet masters, but nothing concrete. Because this isn't the newspaper, or real life, I do want a bit of entertainment type closure. But other than the ending it was one of her better ones. Can't wait for the next one.
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LibraryThing member Condorena
Brunetti faces the reality of the slowly increasing disillusionment that has crept into his life as he tries to the next right thing in the policing of Venice.
The series continues to be strong.
LibraryThing member cyderry
The 9th installment of the Commissario Brunetti series begins with Guido being confronted by a member of the Officio Castrato, the Registration Office, that controls permits and titles to all property in Venice. According to Signor Rossi, the proper papers for Brunetti's apartment are not on file, and so city records say that his apartment does not exist. Consequences could be a huge fine and possible demolition of his residence.

Brunetti immediately begins to concentrate on who can be of assistance to him in clearing up this matter. Hearing nothing for several months, he is surprised to hear from Rossi who appears to be nervous about something that he wishes to discuss with the Commissario. Before they can meet, Rossi's body is found, apparently having fallen from a scaffolding. Brunetti is suspicious since on their short acquaintance, Rossi had shown definite signs of acrophobia.

Investigating the incident, leads Brunetti into a world of real estate corruption, drug abuse and loan-sharking. The apparent murder of two drug users links high officials to the drug world and shows what having Friends in High Places can do for you in Venice.
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LibraryThing member Joycepa
Friends in High Places
Donna Leon

9th in the Commisario Brunetti series, set in Venice, Italy.

Brunetti receives a visitor from the Officio Castato, the Registration Office, that controls permits and titles to all property in Venice. The visitor, Franco Rossi, tells a totally panicked Brunetti that because there is no record of the renovations that constitute his apartment to the building, the best he can hope for is a huge fine but the possibility exists that the apartment will be torn down.

Later, Brunetti receives a phone call from Rossi, clearly uneasy, who wants to talk with him in person. But before Brunetti can make the meeting, Rossi dies in a fall from a third floor window. It seems like an accident, but Brunetti, having witnessed the terror on Rossi’s face when confronted with heights, believes that Rossi has been murdered.

The main protagonist in this book is Italian corruption, specifically the way it plays out in Venice. In all her books, Leon is unsparing in her criticism of corruption in all dealings that Venetians have with officialdom; this is nowhere more true than in real estate, and she at least mentions it from time to time in other books. But this is a close look at a major way that illegal money flows into the hands of corrupt officials.

There is a subplot involving Patta that is very well done, showing yet another way that the justice system is corrupted and efforts by law enforcement officials frustrated.

The end of the book, which is the climax, not usual for Leon, is hair-raising.

As usual, the comprimario characters, such as Paola, Signorina Elettra, and Sgt. Vianello make large contributions to the strength of the plot.

Another excellent installment. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member ecw0647
I'm surprised to see some of the negative ratings here. Perhaps it's because you need to get to know the characters and appreciate the interplay between Guido, his wife, Paula, and his children. Or, it could be that some folks just prefer action-packed shoot-em-ups rather (I can appreciate those too) than character and place studies. I suspect if you like DeKok and Maigret these will really appeal to you.

That being said, I really enjoyed Anna Fields reading this 9th in the series. Again, Italian corruption is prominent. The society seems riddled with bribery and everyone turns a blind eye. One character even says, "This European stuff will be the death of us. Soon no one will even take bribes anymore." [paraphrase]

Guido himself is caught up in the corruption as he is told by an inspector that the plans and permissions for the addition to the building where his apartment is located cannot be found, and if the appropriate documents cannot be located then it will be impossible to verify that the construction (over 20 years old) met the historical guidelines and may have to be torn down.

I have really enjoyed every one of Leon's books. I recommend them highly.
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LibraryThing member clue
This is the ninth title in the Inspector Guido Brunetti series and it's a good one. Commissioner Brunetti is at home on a Saturday enjoining having the house to himself when the bell rings and a young bureaucrat delivers some unsettling news. It seems there are no papers to prove the Brunetti apartment exists. In most cities this would soon be straightened out but in Venice there is no surety the bureaucracy won't have the apartment torn down.

Within days this same young man lies dead after an accidental fall from scaffolding. Or maybe not. Other deaths in that same area, clearly murders, may be connected though Brunetti doesn't know how. To find out he has to enter the dirty Venetian underworld where drug dealing, loan-sharking and governmental corruption all play a part in the answer.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
When an apparently honest official in the corrupt Ufficio Catasto visits Brunetti's home to inform him that his apartment does not exist in the official records, Brunetti wants to solve the problem himself rather than relying upon Paola's father for a favor. When the young man, after learning Brunetti's real position calls him back, Brunetti suggests he needs to call him from a pay phone rather than from the mobile line he's used. The young man does not return the call, and the next day he ends up dead.

In the meantime, Vice Questore Patta's son's involvement in drugs and absence from the absences leaves Brunetti in charge. He begins to unravel a loan scheme which leaves moneylenders rich in lands but paying very little in taxes. When the only potential witnesses end up dead in the same building from which the young man "fell" to his death, Brunetti is certain he's closing in.

I don't want to give away any more of the plot. The ending is probably not the ending those persons who want justice completely served will appreciate. It's rather abrupt, but probably more reflective of what would occur in a situation as corrupt as the one in which Brunetti finds himself. The narrator David Colacci does a commendable job. This is the first time I've listened to one of the Brunetti mysteries, but it will not be the last. They work very well in audio format, holding the reader's attention. This is one of the better installments in the series.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Venice’s Commissario Brunetti is surprised when a young man from the Ufficio Catasto shows up at his apartment. The bureau is converting it records to computer and they’re following up in person with the owners of properties that have documentation problems. After Brunetti’s initial worries about the status of his home, it recedes to the back of his mind when he doesn’t hear any more from the Ufficio Catasto. Then one day he receives a call from Rossi, the young man who had visited him. He’s concerned about something going on at the bureau, but dies in a fall before he can tell Brunetti what’s worrying him. Although the death is ruled accidental, Brunetti suspects murder. He knows something that others do not. Rossi was afraid of heights, and he wouldn’t willingly have put himself in the position to fall to his death.

Brunetti’s investigation is more satisfying than many of the others in the series. With very few initial clues, he and his team manage to solve the crime. However, the plot is weighed down by the very detailed explanation of the bureaucracy of the Ufficio Catasto, the Guardia di Finanza, and other Venetian or Italian government agencies. And once again justice eludes Brunetti, as the perpetrator will not have to pay for his crime.
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LibraryThing member jetangen4571
law-enforcement, family-dynamics, friendship, historic-buildings, murder, murder-investigation, Venice, political-corruption*****

From bureaucratic red tape to cover-up murders in Venice. A young bureaucrat comes to warn Brunetti that his home may be demolished over a paperwork issue, calls Brunetti on a police matter, and is brutally murdered. That is the first murder. In the course of the investigation there are more murders, more corruption, moral dilemmas, and more. Another excellent example of the author's craft!
David Colacci is the voice of Guido Brunetti to my mind. As always, he does a fine job with this series giving personality to each and every character.
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LibraryThing member quondame
Commissario Brunetti first discovers he is living in a grey area of legality and later assigns himself the investigation of probable murder of the young official who brought it to his attention. Also brought and excluded from his attention are many of the darkest areas of legal morass in Venice, and he does not emerge unsmudged, or in fact, entirely emerge. The darkest of these mysteries I've read, and not particularly satisfying.… (more)
LibraryThing member sianpr
Leon in great form. Another great outing for Guido Brunetti.

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