Read Sea of Troubles Online

Authors: Donna Leon

Sea of Troubles

BOOK: Sea of Troubles
8.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Sea of Troubles
Book Jacket

Commissario Brunetti finds himself adrift in his tenth investigation-available for the first time in the United States Dona Leon has amased devoted fans around the world for her atmospheric and intelligent Commissario Brunetti series. "A Sea of Troubles" offers a rare glimpse into the scrupulous Commissario's personal life. When Brunetti investigates the murder of two local fishermen on the island of Pellestrina, the small community closes ranks, forcing him to accept Signorina Elettra's offer to visit her relatives there to search for clues. Though loyal to his beloved wife, Paola, he must admit that less-than-platonic emotions underlie his concern for his boss's beautiful secretary. Suspenseful, provocative, and deeply unsettling, "A Sea of Troubles" is an explosive and irresistible addition to Leon's marvelous series.

Donna Leon

A Sea of Troubles


Published in the United Kingdom in 2002 by Arrow Books


Copyright © Donna Leon and Diogenes Vcrlag AG, Zurich 2001

Donna Leon has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published in the United Kingdom in 21)01 by William Heinemann

Arrow Uooks The Random House Group Limited 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V 2SA

Random House Australia (Ply) Limited 20 Alfred Street, Milsoas Point, Sydney, New South Wales 2061, Australia

Random House New Zealand Limited 18 Poland Road, Glenfield Auckland 10, New Zealand

Random House (Pty) Limited Endulini, 5a Jubilee Road, Parktown 2193, South Africa

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Papers used by Random House are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin

ISBN 009 941516 X

Typeset by SX Composing DTP, Rayleigh, Essex Printed and bound in Germany by Elsnerdruck, Berlin

for Rudolf C. Bettschart and Daniel Keel

Soave sia il vento Tranquilla sia Vonda Ed ogni elemento Benigno risponda Ai vostri desir.

Gentle be the breeze,

calm be the waves,

and every element respond kindly

to your desires.

Cost fan tutte


A Sea of Troubles

Donna Leon has lived in Venice for many years and previously lived in Switzerland, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China, where she worked as a teacher. Her previous novels featuring Commissario Brunetti have all been highly acclaimed, most recently
A Noble Radiance, Fatal Remedies
Friends in High Places,
which won the 2000 Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagger for Fiction.

By the same author

Death at La Fenice

Death in a Strange Country

The Anonymous Venetian

A Venetian Reckoning

Acqua Alta

The Death of Faith

A Noble Radiance

Fatal Remedies

Friends in High Places


Pellestrina is a long, narrow peninsula of sand that has, over the course of the centuries, been turned into habitable ground. Running north and south from San Pietro in Volta to Ca' Roman, Pellestrina is about ten kilometres long, but never more than a couple of hundred metres wide. To the east, it faces the Adriatic, a sea not known for the sweetness of its temper, but the west side rests in the Lagoon of Venice and is thus protected from wind, storm and wave. The earth is sandy and infertile, so the people of Pellestrina, though they sow, are able to reap little. This makes small difference to them; indeed, most of them would no doubt scoff at the very idea of earning a living, however rich, from the earth, for the people of

Pellestrina have always taken theirs from the sea.

Many stories are told about the men of Pellestrina, the endurance and strength that have been forced upon them in their attempt to wrest a living from the sea. Old people in Venice remember a time when the men of Pellestrina were said to spend the nights, winter or summer, sleeping on the dirt floors of their cottages instead of in their beds so as to more easily push themselves out into the early morning and make the tide that would carry them into the Adriatic and thus to the fish. Like most stories that are told about how much tougher people were in the olden days, this is probably apocryphal. What is true, however, is the fact that most people who hear it, if they are Venetian, believe it, just as they would believe any tale that spoke of the toughness of the men of Pellestrina or of their indifference to pain or suffering, their own or that of others.

During the summer Pellestrina comes alive, as tourists arrive from Venice and its Lido or across from Chioggia on the mainland to eat fresh seafood and drink the crisp white wine, just short of sparkling, that is served in the bars and restaurants. Instead of bread, they are served
hard oval pretzels whose name, perhaps, comes from the
or compass, that has the same shape. Along with the
there is fish, often so fresh it was still alive when the tourists set out to make the long and inconvenient trip to Pellestrina. As the tourists

pulled themselves from their hotel beds, the gills of the
still fought against the alien element, the air; as the tourists filed on to an early morning vaporetto at Rialto, the
still thrashed in the nets; as they climbed down from the vaporetto and crossed Piazzale Santa Maria Elisabetta, looking for the bus that would take them to Malamocco and the Alberoni, the
was just being hauled out of the sea. The tourists often leave the bus for a while at Malamocco or the Alberoni, have a coffee, then walk on the sandy beach for a while and look at the enormous jetties that stretch out into the waters of the Adriatic in an attempt to prevent the waters from sweeping into the

The fish are all dead by then, though the tourists could not be expected to know that, or much care, so they get back on the bus, sit in it for the short ferry ride across the narrow canal, then continue by bus or on foot down toward Pellestrina and their lunch.

In winter things are vastly different. Too often the wind tears across the Adriatic from the former Yugoslavia, carrying before it rain or light snow, biting into the bones of anyone who tries to stay out in it for any length of time. The crowded restaurants of the summer are closed and will remain that way until late spring, leaving the tourists to fend for and feed themselves.

What remain unchanged, lined up in long rows on the inner side of the thin peninsula, are scores of
the clam-fishing boats that work all year, regardless of tourists, rain, cold and heat, regardless too of all the legends told about the noble, hard-working men of Pellestrina and their constant battle to win a living for their wives and children from the merciless sea. Their names sing out:
Concordia, Serena, Assunta.
They sit there, fat and high-nosed, looking very much like the boats painted in picture books for children. One longs, walking past in the bright summer sun, to reach up and pat them, stroke their noses, as it were, just as one would with a particularly winsome pony or an especially endearing Labrador.

To the unschooled eye the boats all look much the same, with their iron masts and the metal scoop at the prow that protrudes up into the air when the boat is docked. Rectangular and framed, these scoops all have the same grade of what looks like chicken wire strung across them, though it is far stronger than any chicken wire ever made, as it has to resist the pressure of rocks dug up on the seabed or chance encounters with the heavy and unforeseen obstacles that litter the bottom of the
They also have, of course, to resist the seabed itself as they ram into and then under the nesting clams, dragging along the sea bottom and then to the surface kilos of shells, large and small, trapped within the rectangular tray, water and sand cascading out and back into the

The observable differences between the boats are insignificant: a clam scoop smaller or larger than that on the next boat; life buoys in need of paint or shining bright and smooth; decks so clean they gleam in the sunlight or stained with rust in the corners, where they touch the sides of the boat. The Pellestrina boats, during the day, ride in pleasant promiscuity one beside the next; their owners live in similar propinquity in the low houses that stretch from one side of the village to the other, from the
to the sea.

At about 3.30 on a morning in early May, a small fire broke out in the cabin of one of these boats, the
owned and captained by Giulio Bottin, resident at number 242 Via Santa Giustina. The men of Pellestrina are no longer solely dependent upon the power of the tides and winds and thus are no longer obliged to sail only when they are favourable, but the habits of centuries die hard, and so most fishermen rise and sail at dawn, as if the early morning breezes still made some difference to their speed. There remained two hours before the fishermen of Pellestrina - who now sleep in their homes and in their beds - had to get up, so they were at their deepest point of sleep when the fire broke out on the
The flames moved, at quite a leisurely pace, along the floor of the boat's cabin to the wooden sides and the teak control panel at the front. Teak, a hard wood, burns slowly, but it also burns at a higher temperature than softer woods, and so the fire that spread up the control panel and from it to the roof of the cabin and out on to the deck moved with frightening speed once it reached those softer woods. The fire burned a hole in the deck of the cabin, and burning pieces of wood fell below into the engine room where one fell on to a pile of oil-damp rags, which flared instantly into life and passed the fire gracefully towards the fuel line.

Slowly, the fire worked at the area around the narrow tube; slowly it burned away the surrounding wood and then, as the wood turned to ash and fell away, a small piece of solder melted, opening a gap that allowed the flame to enter the pipe and move with blinding speed down towards the engines and to the dual fuel tanks which supplied them.

None of the people sleeping in Pellestrina that night had any idea of the motion of the flames, but all of them were rocked awake when the fuel tanks on the
exploded, filling the night air with a glaring burst of light and, seconds later, with a thud so loud that, the next day, people as far away as Chioggia claimed they heard it.

Fire is terrifying anywhere, but for some reason it seems more so at sea or, at least, on the water. The first people who looked out of their bedroom windows said later that they saw the boat shrouded in heavy, oily smoke that rose up as the fire was extinguished by the water. But by then the flames had had time to slip through the
to the boats moored on either side of it and set them smouldering, and the exploding fuel had splashed in deadly arcs, not only to the decks of the boats moored beside it, but out on to the levee in front, where it set three wooden benches ablaze.

After the blast from the
fuel tanks, there followed a moment of stunned silence, then Pellestrina exploded into noise and action. Doors flew open and men ran out into the night; some of them wore trousers pulled on over pyjamas, some wore only pyjamas, some had taken the time to dress, two were entirely naked, though no one paid any attention to that fact, so urgent was the need to save the boats. The owners of the boats moored alongside the
jumped from the dock on to the decks at almost the same instant, though one had had to pull himself from the bed of his cousin's wife and had come twice as far as the other. Both of them yanked fire extinguishers from their stanchions on the deck and began to spray at the flames that had followed the burning oil.

The owners of boats moored further from the now empty space where the
had once floated churned their engines to life and began frantically backing away from the burning boats. One of them, in his panic, forgot to cast off the mooring rope and yanked a metre-long strip of wood from the railing of his boat. But even as he looked back and saw the splintered wood floating where he had been moored, he didn't stop until his boat was a hundred metres from land and safe from the flames. .

As he watched, those flames gradually lessened on the decks of the other boats. Two more men, each carrying a fire extinguisher, arrived from the nearby houses. Jumping on to the deck of one of the boats, they began spraying the flames, which were quickly controlled and then finally quelled. At about the same time the owner of the other boat, which had not been as heavily sprayed with fuel, managed to get the flames under control and then extinguished them with the thick white froth. Long after there was no more sign of fire, he continued spraying back and forth, back and forth, until the froth was gone and he lowered the empty fire extinguisher to the deck.

By then, more than a hundred people were clustered along the levee, shouting to the men on the boats that had managed to back out into the harbour, to one another, and to the men who had conquered the flames on their boats. Expressions of shock and concern flew from every lip, anxious questions about what had been seen, what could have started the fire.

The first to ask the question that was to silence them all, the silence slowly rippling out from her like infection from a uncleaned wound, was Chiara Petulli, the ne
xt-door neighbour of Giulio Bott
in. She was standing at the front of the crowd, not more than two metres from the large metal stanchion from which dangled the scorched cable that had once held the
safely in place. She turned to the woman next to her, the widow of a fisherman who had died in an accident only the year before, and asked, 'Where's Giulio?'

The widow looked around. She repeated the question. The person next to her picked it up and passed it on until, in a matter of moments the question had been passed through the entire crowd, asked but not answered.

'Arid Marco?' Chiara Petulli added. This time everyone heard her question. Though his boat lay in the shallow waters, its scorched masts just breaking the surface, Giulio Bottin was not there, nor was his son Marco, eighteen years old and already part owner of the
which lay burnt and dead at the bottom of the harbour of Pellestrina on this suddenly chill springtime morning.


The whispers started then, as people tried to remember when they had last seen Giulio or Marco. Giulio usually played cards in the bar after dinner; had anyone seen him last night? Marco had a girlfriend down in S. Pietro in Volta, but the girl's brother was in the crowd and said she'd gone to the movies on the Lido with her sisters. No one could think of a woman who would be with Giulio Bottin. Someone thought to look in the courtyard beside the Bottin house; both their cars were there, though the house was dark.

A curious reluctance, a kind of delicacy in the face of possibility, kept the people in the crowd from speculating where they might be. Renzo Marolo, who had lived next door for more than
thirty years, found the courage to do what no one else was willing to do and took the spare key from where everyone in the village knew it to be, under the pot of pink geraniums on the windowsill to the right of the front door. Calling ahead of him, he opened the door and stepped into the familiar house. He switched on the lights in the small living room and, seeing no one there, went and looked in the kitchen, though he couldn't have explained why he did so, as the room was dark, and he didn't bother to turn the light on. Then, still calling out the names of the two men in a kind of unmusical voluntary, he went up the single flight of steps to the upper floor and down the hall to the larger of the two bedrooms.

'Giulio, it's me, Renzo,' he called, paused a moment, then stepped into the bedroom and switched on the light. The bed was empty and unslept in. Unsettled by this, he went across the hall and turned on the light in Marco's room. Here, too, though a pair of jeans and a light sweater lay folded on a chair, both bed and room were empty.

Marolo went back downstairs and outside, closing the door quietly behind him and replacing the key. To the waiting people, he said, 'They aren't here.'

As a group, somehow comforted by the fact that there were a number of them, they moved back towards the water, where most of the inhabitants of Pellestrina were gathered on the edge of the pier. Some of the boats that had found safety in the deeper water pulled slowly back, taking their accustomed places. When all of them were again moored to the
the single empty space left by the sunken
seemed larger than it had when there had been only the two damaged boats on either side. From the middle of the empty slot, the masts of the
poked through the water at a crazy angle.

Marolo's son, sixteen-year-old Luciano, came and stood beside his father. Off in the distance, a waterfowl cried out. 'Well,
the boy asked.

Renzo had watched his son grow up in the shadow or, to use a more nautical metaphor, in the wake of Marco Bottin, who had always been two years ahead of him at school and was thus to be admired and emulated.

Luciano had thrown on a pair of cut-off jeans when his father's shouts woke him but had had no time to put on a shirt. He stepped closer to the water, turned and signalled to his cousin Franco, who stood at the front of the crowd, an enormous flashlight in his left hand. Franco stepped forward reluctantly, shy about putting himself so conspicuously under the scrutiny of the assembled Pellestrinotti.

Luciano kicked off his sandals and knifed into the water just to the left of the sunken prow of the
Franco stepped forward and played the light into the water below, where his cousin's body moved with fishlike ease. A woman stepped forward, then another, and then the entire first rank of people moved to the edge of the pier and stared down. Two men holding flashlights pushed their way through and added their beams to Franco's.

After what was little more than a minute but seemed an eternity, Luciano's head broke the surface of the water. Shaking his hair back out of his eyes, he shouted up to his cousin, 'Shine it back towards the cabin,' and was gone, ducking under the water as quickly as a seal.

BOOK: Sea of Troubles
8.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Underbelly by John Silvester
The Other Side of Anne by Kelly Stuart
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
Time to Pretend by Michele Zurlo
AdriannasCowboy by Savannah Stuart
Fever Season by Barbara Hambly
Shady Lady by Aguirre, Ann
The Playboy's Baby by Stewart, JM