Festive Greetings!
So, 2014. Fictional Cities coasted a bit, I have to admit, as far as content and hit rate went. Not many new novels set in Venice this year and me broadening my horizons both being factors. But The Churches of Venice continues to become more of draw, with me having to buy a bigger hosting package to cope with the strain on the bandwidth. What this means in maths is that visits to Fictional Cities were about 7000 a month, up by around 1500 on 2013, but hits were 125,000, down from 150,000 in 2013. Confusing. But in the whole of both 2012 and 2013 it had around 1,800,000 hits, with 2014 looking to be holding around 1,700,000. And carrying on with those comfortingly big annual numbers The Churches of Venice went from 5,000,000 in 2012 to 6,000,000 in 2013, with 2014 looking set to show a levelling off.

More organic developments saw the Venice Films page taking the lion’s share of hits, with searches continuing to find my secret London tunnels page - my most read/least updated page. (A weird thing I’ve just noticed is that the News archive for 2007-8 has been oddly popular since the summer.) Most of my readers continue to hail from the US and the UK, but The Churches of Venice is attracting an almost equal number of visitors from Italy now, which is gratifying. In 2012, its first full year and still unfinished, The Churches of Florence got 73,000 hits, in 2013 it got 402,000, with 2014 looking to top 700,000. And it's also nearly finished now. So that’s all good.

My good life of art-history courses and trips to major European capitals, and their art galleries and exhibitions, continued in 2014 too. Ravenna and Bologna saw me introduced to the joys of mosaic and early Christian art, with the latter broadening my horizons generally with regard to the development of the imagery of religious art, with a course called Art and the City at the V&A in the Autumn continuing this concentration on the early, and even ancient civilisations. Trips to Bruges and Verona were full of the more usual renaissance thrills, and the discovery of how much I like Memling. Summer courses did more of the horizon-broadening thing with close contact with drawings and illuminated manuscripts (at the British Museum and the British Library respectively) providing memorable moments and new enthusiasms. All this education can only improve the quality of my sites, I'm hoping, but it does have a downside. In general the more I'm learning, the more I'm being exposed to further complexity, and the less certain things seem. In particular I've learned that after years of referring to the area around the high altar in a church as the apse that this word only refers to the curved back of said structure, if it has one. So I've either got to go back and edit three websites, or leave it be and hope no-ones notices.

A recurring theme of these bulletins is the -promised book of The Churches of Venice. It’s looking no nearer this year but bear with me. I started writing about the churches in Verona this year, with a view to adding an eccentrically unconnected page to The Churches of Venice. But now I’m thinking that I could do a book of The Churches of Verona as a shorter dry run for the Venice churches book. It will plug an equal gap in the market and give me a better idea of what I’m up against. Also it gives me an excuse to go back to Verona a couple more times. We’ll see. Summer trips to Verona and Madrid have been booked, as well as two Spring art-history tours - Mantua & Ferrara and Assisi, Piero & Signorelli.

It just remains for me to thank you all for your continued support and encouragement and to wish us all a Joyous Yule and a happy and successful 2014.

Any Simon Raven fans out there? On my Venice page I've long had listed a book of his called The Survivors but I've only just discovered that this is the last in a 10-novel sequence called Alms for Oblivion, and that these novels are compared to Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time series, as an equal! Spookily both series have literary conferences in Venice late in their narratives. Looks like a series in need of a read.

It is a cliché, though not one without foundation, that with advancing age comes a tendency to pessimism and cynicism. In my country extreme cases lead to the reading, and even the believing, of the Daily Mail newspaper and its depressing website. Now I pride myself on being a chap who naturally tends away from such negativity. However, following on from last year's worrying downer, the news that next year's (24th!) Brunetti novel features the return of the opera singer from the first and that the plot involves a stalker does not fill me with anticipation of originality and the return of the spark. But we shall see - it's called Falling in Love and it's due in early April, of course.

Fans of Christobel Kent's Sandro Cellini series of crime novels will be pleased to learn that she plans to write a 6th. Her claiming that this will be the last, and that her new novel The Crooked House, out on the 5th of January 2015, is not set in Florence at all and has a danker and more English setting might be the cause of less immediate pleasure.

Ciao, Carpaccio!
is a new book by Jan Morris about the Venetian painter and I hope to be reviewing soon. She's saying that it will be her last. The slim and well illustrated volume is published by Pallas Athene, a publishing house I'd hitherto not been very aware of but which has some tasty books on its list, some of which seem up this website's street, as it were. They seem to be riding the current Effie and Ruskin wave, for example, with a new edition of the Effie Letters (which I reviewed in a previous edition here) and a new book about the whole affair called Marriage of Inconvenience, which seems to be refreshingly less anti-Ruskin than usual.

Been home a couple of days now. The rib pain is no trouble as long as I don't breath, bend down, lift anything, get into bed, get out of bed or feed the cats...and as for coughing or sneezing! Actually the painkillers are working a treat, and the arm grazes are looking much less vivid. The moral of this story - look where you're putting your feet in major European art centres. No more trips now, until Mantua & Ferrara in March and Assisi etc. in April.

Blimey, he's never home!
Jeff in Florence


Reading the novella by Somerset Maugham I've just reviewed set me to pondering the relative numbers of novels set in Florence and Venice written by big-name 'literary' authors. Venice clocks up 21: Balzac, Brodkey, Wilkie Collins, Coover, D'Annunzio, DuMaurier, Geoff Dyer, L.P. Hartley, Patricia Highsmith, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan,
Thomas Mann, Anthony Powell, Proust, Rolfe, Lisa St Aubin de Terán, George Sand, Schiller, Vikram Seth, Muriel Spark, and Barry Unsworth. But Florence also manages a reputable 8, from a much shorter list: Boccaccio, Congreve, Dante, George Eliot, E.M.Forster, W. Somerset Maugham, Pratolini, and Rushdie. (Henry James, Michael Dibdin, and Sarah Dunant are not counted as the have novels set in both cities.) And yes I know that my choice is partial and full of value judgements!

 I just did one of my periodic searches on Amazon for new Florence- andVenice-set fiction and there's really nothing exciting on the horizon. What few I've found give the impression that a good majority of visitors to these cities are women with boring names looking to be tied up and spanked by tall dark men with seductive scowls and aristocratic backgrounds, but not much else. Except it seems that Michelle Lovric has another book for YAs set in Venice out next August, called The Hotel of What You Want. But confusingly it already has almost twenty review quotes up. Presumably they are for her previous books, but it doesn't say so and the quotes cunningly contain no mention of events or characters. Very odd.

Jeff in Verona

Much reading pleasure is being got from working through the new novels from  the first four authors I mentioned on 10.8. The final few names on the list have their juicy new books published later in October or early in November. I've also spent the summer watching blu-rays of Twin Peaks. Not a whole lotta reviewing or writing going on, consequently, but a week on Sunday I'm off to Verona, to go see their version of the Veronese exhibition, wander around churches, eat ice cream - you know the scenario.

None of the novels mentioned below have plot connections with this site, not even the Ali Smith, the blurb for which says that it's half about a renaissance artist of the 1460s and is written in a way imitating the technique of fresco-painting, whatever that may mean, and so looked promising. I've just read that the inspirational fresco in question is in Ferrara. Whilst I am booked on a trip to have look at it next Spring, that doesn't qualify it for review here, I think. I have just discovered Inamorata by Megan Chance, which is set in Venice but is reported to contain much of the supernatural, the erotic and incest, so I'm not hopeful of excellence.

So many big-name novels coming out this autumn! Just sticking to the ones I'm looking forward to the list is long - Haruki Murakami, Sarah Waters, Ali Smith, David Mitchell, Jeff Vandermeer, Colm Tóibín, Michel Faber, William Gibson and Peter Carey. None have plotly connections with this site, except maybe for the Ali Smith.

I've only just discovered The Fat Woodcarver, quite a famous short story written in the 15th Century by Antonio Manetti, which recounts the, evidently true, story of a practical joke played on a woodcarver called Grasso by a bunch of his mates, led by Brunelleschi and Donatello. They conspire to make him doubt his own identity, basically, by pretending that he's someone else, even getting him locked in jail as his alter-ego. Brunelleschi even manages to get inside Grasso's house and shout out to him to go away in an impersonation of his voice. It's more cruel than funny, as the woodcarver starts to doubt his sanity, but thereby shows what passed for humour in renaissance Florence. More when I've read it. Also it's at once perplexing and heartening that such a strange and tempting book should've passed me by all these years.

Blimey now there's another reviewable, which looked like a tempting prospect even before I discovered that it's set in Florence - In Love and War
by Alex Preston. And I've just discovered The Monster of Florence, a 1986 Italian filming of the story of the famous (and somewhat over-exposed) serial killer, but it does not come any higher than politely recommended. There's been talk of a Hollywood version of journalists Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi's investigations for a while, with George Clooney said to have signed up to play Preston in 2011, but no news since then. Maybe the serial killer thing has run its course.

After a slow beginning to the year June and July have seen a fair old flurry of reviewables. Also I've been clearing the decks a bit for the rush of new classy fiction I mentioned below. But the deck-clearing hasn't extended to The Serpent of Venice, the humourous novel featuring the sexually deviant monkey called Jeff. I started it but it disappointingly did not appeal. It had a flavour of the Terry Pratchetts about it, but this flavour was strongly overpowered by the excessive and blokeish bandying of words like fuck and twat far too many times. Some words need rationing, I think, to remain effective.


My Books of 2014
Jeff VanderMeer The Southern Reach Trilogy
Katharine Grant Sedition
Robin Sloan Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore
Meg Wolitzer The Interestings
Nick Harkaway Tigerman
Antonia Hodgson The Devil in the Marshalsea
Heather Redding Stealing Venice
Laura Morelli The Gondola Maker
Jessie Burton The Miniaturist
Haruki Murakami Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and
His Years of Pilgrimage

Sarah Waters The Paying Guests
David Mitchell The Bone Clocks
Ali Smith How to be Both
Emily St. John Mandel Station Eleven
Michel Faber The Book of Strange New Things
Louise Welsh A Lovely Way to Burn

My CDs of 2014
Owen Pallet In Conflict
Sohn Tremors
Orenda Fink Blue Dream
Alt-J This is All Yours
Caribou Our Love
 The Twilight Sad Nobody Wants to be Here and
Nobody Wants to Leave

Barokksolistene/Bjarte Eike The Image of Melancholy
Robert Barto Weiss Lute Sonatas vols 1-11
La Reverdie Jacopo da Bologna - Madrigali e Cacce
Rose Consort Of Viols Serenissima - Music from
Renaissance Europe on Venetian viols





Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) has been both a highlight in my recent film-watching and an inspiration for me to broaden my listening by following up artists featured on its fine soundtrack. I even like his previous film This Must Be the Place, the one where Sean Penn looks like Robert Smith from The Cure and plays a rock star in search of something or other. So you can imagine my joy at learning that he's been filming his new one in Venice. Youth tells the story of two old geezers Fred and Mick (played by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel) one a director and the other a conductor, who decide to go on a holiday together. It supposedly deals with Sorrentino's trademark concerns - ageing, art and desire. Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda are also in it, and it's due to be released in the spring of 2015.

Fans of Christobel Kent's always-involving Sandro Cellini novels, set in Florence, will be pleased to know that there's a new one, the fifth, called The Killing Room out next Thursday. It was due out tomorrow but has been put back a week. And in the UK the Kindle version is only £2.48!

News of some new German Brunetti TV episodes. Episode 20, called Reiches Erbe, presumably Drawing Conclusions, was broadcast in Germany on the 1st of April. And news has just reached me of the filming of the next two episodes, some of it at the Ca' Zenobio. My correspondent also shocks me with the fact that Uwe Kockisch, the actor who plays Brunetti, has just turned 70. The imdb confirms this, but I find it very hard to believe.

The phrase 'So many books, so little time' is a not underused one and is one of the least sympathy-generating complaints in the modern world, I'd suggest. However, I have returned from Bruges with two books set there to add to my pile, The Master of Bruges by Terence Morgan, which is all about Memling, and Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach, a strange and ripe old thing, by all accounts. Then there are the Venice/Florence-set reviewables mentioned below, and I've just discovered something called The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore which is that rare thing - a humourous novel set in Venice, and it even features a character called Jeff, who is a sexually deviant monkey. And looking forward to August and September David Mitchell, Sarah Waters and Haruki Murakami, three of my favourite authors, have new novels out, the last one having been looked forward to most impatiently since its Japanese publication in April 2013. So it's looking like starting on À la recherche... and rereading War and Peace might have to wait a bit longer.

Tomorrow we're off to Bruges. This year's non-Italian destination is inspired by the two considerable courses in Northern Renaissance art I took last year, and the subsequent need to go see Memlings, Rogiers, Van Eycks, and the like. Also the Ghent altarpiece. On the food front there's the lure of chips and chocolate. And the need to find out just what Belgian buns are called in Belgium. The burning question - raised on my London Cakes page - seems to be whether what they call a couque aux raisins is even close to what we know as a Belgian Bun. Mission accepted!
Jeff in Bruges

But it's not all Florence - an email from an author I'd given some assistance to a while back speaks of a novel finally published and soon to be winging its way to my letterbox. Stealing Venice by Heather Redding has been out a couple of weeks, and I'll be reviewing in a couple more, I hope.

My Florence trip this year was one of the best, not least for it seeming to coincide with my getting the hang of getting into a good unstressy and non-compulsed frame of mind, so useful for the solo traveller. And I've returned to a pair of tempting new novels set in Florence. I've just started Appetite by Philip Kazan, which is shaping up as a sensually evocative treat, with much authentic Florentine detailing. And an email from Graham McKenzie, the author of  A Florentine Influence, published just last week, promises something Florence-flavoured but not set during the renaissance.

And I've just booked myself a trip to Verona in September, to extend and embellish my year-of-Veronese, as there's another big exhibition devoted to him coming on there, with some overlap with the London show, but more besides, including drawings.

Jeff in Florence

I've added some snippets to the Florence films page, not worth listing in updates for various reasons. I've found myself a copy of Roberto Rossellini's 1946 portmanteau war film Paisa and added a screen grab, but I've not yet watched it. I've also acquired La Viaccia a 1961 film starring a young Claudia Cardinale and Jean Paul Belmondo, but the lack of English subtitles is a big drawback to comprehension, and a review, so only a screen grab again. And then there's the second series of Da Vinci's Demons just started, and looking like the usual entertaining bunk. I've written about the first two episodes but the series is set to depart for Peru soon. On the Venetian front are two discoveries not yet watched: The Anonymous Venetian and Shun Li and the Poet, the latter set on Chioggia, and one I probably won't watch: Agostino, which has some deeply creepy paedophile content. Then there's Hero, a novel by Shallow Sister, the author of which has been in touch. It promises to explore the 'sexual abyss of the clandestine world beneath the frivolous splendour of Carnival.'



You remember that film about Effie Gray and John Ruskin, which did much filming in Venice in 2011, the Emma Thompson one, which has had several release dates, and scheduled film festival screenings, all cancelled due to legal challenges and the like? Well it was due out next month, but it is now tentatively set for September 2014 release. Our Emma has been interviewed a lot lately, about other films just released, but she seems not to have mentioned Effie even once. It has been shown, though, privately as part of a symposium at the Barbican in March and the scant reports from that showing have been positive.

Just back from a sociable and stimulating guided trip around
Ravenna and Bologna
click on the link above for the whole shebang.

Upcoming reviews news - I've nearly finished the new Brunetti, so expect that in the next day or so, a copy of La Venexiana, a 1986 Italian film best described as erotica, has come my way, and I've chanced the purchase of a couple of newish Venice-set e-books. The film has Jason Connery as its male lead, with two actresses not known for their ability to remain clothed in the lead female parts.

I've been back from Venice almost a week now, but still the ankle-twist pain twinges on. It's not all honey being a middle-aged post-early-retirement art junky and serial trip-taker, I can tell you. But positivity and looking forward are our things so...we're mere days away from this year's Donna Leon Brunetti novel, called By Its Cover, hot cross bun and simnel cake season is upon us, the weather's warming up, and a new series of Da Vinci's Demons has just started, with everyone's favourite womanising bed-hopping hunk doing what he can to survive in post-Pazzi Conspiracy Florence. Expect the usual quota of swell bosoms, plush gowns, gore and frown-inducing historical inaccuracy.


click here for the exciting trip reporting

Guess who's flying off to Venice on Tuesday, for a sudden week of art and cultural wandering? Give up? Me! My inspirations and promptings have been many. Firstly there's a tempting exhibition at the Ca'Rezzonico, devoted to Pietro Bellotti, another member of the Canaletto/Bellotto clan. There's also a tasty-looking show of images of The European city from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment on at the Correr. Additionally I want to check out the recently spruced-up-and-opened rooms of the Scuola di San Marco just by San Zanipolo, and the new rooms in the Accademia. Plus my recent infatuation with Padua means I'll be spending at least one day there again, photographing and scribbling with a view to covering the churches of Padua on an offshoot page of The Churches of Venice. Expect some exciting daily trip reporting!

OK, I'm sorry I doubted you regarding the Philippa Gregory book (see below). I had thought that she was more your Rose Tremain than your slushy romance, but I was wrong. Just a few pages in and already there's more blushing at the mention of the handsome boy's name and pressing together of the lengths of lithe bodies than this boy can take. Not for me. But I have just bought The Mirror, mentioned below, so I hope that that will break my run of Venice-set stories that I can't get further than a few pages into.

A decided feel of spring in the air this morning, raising hopes of an end to the fallow stop-at-home winter months, and making a (not so) young man's fancy turn to trips and gelato replacing redbush tea and art books. Ravenna and Bologna in April, Florence in May, and Bruges in June are booked. But just look at those empty weeks in March. Maybe I should...

I know it's a broadly a no-blame culture around here, but you might have told me. It seems that Philippa Gregory - far from an obscure author - has just published a novel set in Venice called Fools' Gold. I suppose we can put our not spotting it until now down to it not having the word  'Venice' in the title, but still.

It's been a while, so how about some book news? Well, more of a book ramble actually. Firstly, whilst searching for information on Venice's various earthquakes, making sure I had the right years, seeing how many churches each one damaged, that sort of thing, I happened upon The Mirror a book containing two novellas by one Richard Skinner, one of which concerns a girl about to take the veil in Venice, in Sant'Alvise, when her world is shaken by literal and spiritual earthquakes. And then she agrees to sit for a portrait. Sounds possible, so I have requested a review copy from Faber, without much hope - the last time I managed to wangle a review copy out of a mainstream publisher was...long ago.
Meantime, having tired of some recent fripperous reading matter, I have decided to begin again Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time series, which I read and loved in the early 1990s. A later book in the series does contain a Venice episode, brief as I remember, but I'll report on it when I get to it.

You might remember that I reported last month that I'd bought an old hardback of Gabriele d'Annunzio's Venice-set novel The Flame of Life, enthused and motivated as I'd been by reading The Pike. Well, if you're interested and waiting for my review I'd say, in all honesty, that maybe you shouldn't expect it soon. I tried to read it, I really did but it's just so darn ... well I don't mind books where the characters occasionally say things to each other like, after asserting his affinity to the pomegranate tree, 'You see now Perdita, what the true benefit is. By affinity I myself am led on to develop myself in accordance with the magnificent genius of the tree by which I chose to signify my aspirations to rich and ardent life. It seems as if this vegetating effigy of myself were sufficient to reassure me that my powers are conforming to Nature in their development so as to obtain in a natural way the effect for which they were destined'. But it's all like that. Exhausting!

The new Donna Leon book which I discovered in December My Venice and other essays has duly been purchased and turns out to contain many short pieces, only a third of which are concerned with Venice, which is disappointing. But you can't judge a book by its contents page, as they say, so I'll report back again when I've actually read it.


The weekend papers had articles about the new books to look forward to in 2014 but few of them majorly floated my boat. In the immediate future for Venice-related reviewables, though,  I have been promised a copy of a new edition of the Venetian section of Thomas Coryate's Crudities of 1608, a book I've long longed to read. I've also bought me an old hardback of Gabriele d'Annunzio's novel The Flame of Life, which tells the transparently-veiled story of the author's fraught relationship with Eleonora Duse, and has an episode set in the Garden of Eden. I decided to look for a nice old hardback rather than shell out for one of those horrible big print-to-order paperbacks with the nasty generic covers. The book was bought via Alibris and is currently making its way to me from a shop in Des Moines, Iowa.

On a more personal note I have to reveal that I've been pretty much housebound since Christmas Eve with immense pain at the base of my left toe. The pain has prevented me from getting to a doctor but it's looking like the most likely diagnosis is gout. Now as a light-drinking vegetarian this seems both incomprehensible and unfair. Added to this is the fact that the things you are supposed to eat to prevent it (coffee, vitamin C and dairy products) are not unknown constituents of my diet. Oh well, if you're going to suffer from a historically resonant affliction ('the disease of kings'!) better this than syphilis, I suppose, or the Black Death.

Due to technical frustrations beyond my control and ken my Christmas e-mail bulletin couldn't get sent this year, so I'm posting it here and on the sites' facebook page.

So - 2013.

This was the year in which traffic to The Churches of Venice rose alarmingly (and gratifyingly), which resulted in some service interruptions before I got my bandwidth sorted out. There was also a sharp spike is the number of encouraging emails. A fair few of these emails came from Canadians this year, for some reason, and there were even a couple from famous authors! More enquiries from people trying to identify churches in paintings and photos too. All very heartening.

The hit rate levelled off a bit for Fictional Cities, though, as the dearth of new fiction set in Venice or Florence continued. Which may be the reason why the pages devoted to Venice films and the Brunetti TV series did the briskest business. That and the publication of the book on scenes from films set in Venice that I contributed to. Probably.

It was another great year for trips, though, with Padua, Verona and Munich added to my list, and the same old Paris, Florence and Venice visited too. The Venice trip, maybe because I'd missed a year, was my most enjoyed in a long while, with much freshening of the entries on The Churches of Venice, so I'm sure to be visiting V again in 2014. Next year there's a guided trip taking in Ravenna and Bologna and trips to Florence and Bruges already booked.

The book of the Churches of Venice site is still a firm intention but is not exactly galloping towards completion. I prepared some book-suitable text files, but as my last trip resulted in the considerable revision of many entries I'm going to have to transfer these revisions to the text files. And the entry-refreshing bug has bit, so I want to do more, as I've learned lots since I wrote the original texts, what with all the art-history course I've been going on and all. It'll be worth waiting for!

Looking into the future, my trips to Padua and Verona, and reading about the other Veneto cities, has made me think about The Churches of Venice maybe becoming The Churches of Venice and the Veneto. Such a lot of the architects and artists that make the Venetian churches such a joy to visit worked in these other cities too, so this step seems eminently logical. I need to get more content onto The Churches of Florence first, I think, but it's always good to have something new to plan for and look forward to, is it not?

Just like 2014 - may it contain all you wish for.


My Books of 2013
Hugh Howey Wool/Shift
Rupert Thomson Secrecy
David Adams Cleveland Love's Attraction
Gavin Extence The Universe Versus Alex Woods
Chris Beckett Dark Eden
John Williams Stoner
Tinney Sue Heath A Thing Done
Jim Crace Harvest
Donna Tartt The Goldfinch
Lucy Hughes-Hallett The Pike - Gabriele d'Annunzio
Eleanor Catton The Luminaries

Another not-big year for novels set in Venice and Florence, but boy did I fall for the prize-winners and the column-inch monopolisers this year.
Zeitgeisty, moi?
My CDs of 2013
Local Natives Hummingbird
Anne Janelle Beauty Remains
John Grant Pale Green Ghosts
Hem Departure and Farewell
Jim Guthrie Takes Time
Essie Jain All Became Golden
The District Lights Resolution
Tired Pony The Ghost of the Mountain
London Grammar If You Wait
Son Lux Lanterns
Tanya Donelly Swan Song Series vols 1-4
Paolo Pandolfo Forqueray: Pièces de viole

My early music smotement continued, but was diffused over more CDs...of choral, lute, viol,
and troubadour tunes, with some creeping into the baroque period too, at least as far as viols were concerned.
 Donna Leon's next Brunetti novel is going to be entitled By its Cover and is concerned with books, we are told. Also out next spring, in line with her recent habit of publishing books about other things, is a book of essays called The Gondola, with an accompanying CD. And I've only just discovered another book by her, just out, called My Venice and other essays. Blimey!

The Francesco da Mosto novel set in Venice, called The Black King, which has been announced and postponed many times, now has a new publication date on Amazon. This date is the 1st of  January 1960 - a year before the author was born.

Q. When is a new book about Venice not a new book about Venice?
A. When it's The Venetians: A New History: From Marco Polo to Casanova by Paul Strathern, published in the US this Christmas Eve, nearly 18 months after the original UK appearance of The Spirit of Venice: From Marco Polo to Casanova by Paul Strathern, which is the same book. I'm just warning you.

One of the more neglected corners of this site is the Related Works page. I made it so that I could review books related to works reviewed on the main pages but not set in one of my three cities. A bit of dusting and cobweb clearing is in prospect, though, as a strong case in point just dropped through my letterbox. We liked The Midwife of Venice a lot, for its sensuality and its gynaecological educationalness, and now Roberta Rich has written a sequel set in Constantinople, called The Sultan's Midwife. The winter is otherwise proving, as is ever the case, a pretty lean period for fresh fiction, as publishers concentrate on gift books and celebrity (or 'celebrity') biographies.

OK, I've sampled and scanned a bit through Casanova & Co and my promise to watch it so that you don't have to is looking pretty shaky. I'm sorry, but it looks like some badly-acted and badly-dubbed god-awful crap. My somewhat fallow period as far as Venetian content is ending, though, as I'm currently reading a tantalising ebook of spooky Venice, domestic violence, murder and time-jumping called White Phantom City by Christopher Jones.

I've just found another 'new' film set in Venice! But before you let that exclamation mark get you all excited I have to add that it's called Casanova & Co, it stars Tony Curtis (that actorly guarantee of historical accuracy - ‘Yonder lies the castle of my fodda’ (which he didn't actually say)) and is reported to be little more than soft porn. Oh well, as ever I'll have to watch it so that you don't have to. Lots to read at the moment, but none of it set in Venice. Or London or Florence for that matter.


I've just become aware of an interesting-looking now book called The Image of Venice: Fialetti's View and Sir Henry Wotton, and to become aware is to politely request a review copy. It's about one of those nice detailed isometric-view maps of Venice, but one new to me. Requests for a review copy of Death in Florence, the most recent Marco Vichi novel in the Inspector Bordelli series, have fallen on deaf publisher's inboxes, though. But as the e-book version is only around a fiver, and it's temptingly set around the 1966 flood, I'm sure I'll get around to buying it sooner or laterish.

The trip was a good one and so I'm back loving Venice; some tempting books are in the offing, to review and otherwise; my new round of art history courses begins next week; and I'm currently getting encouraging feedback emails at a truly heartening rate. Life is good!


  click here for all the juicy details

Ah, September! The new seasons of the TV series we've been waiting for begin, the publishing houses and record companies start releasing stuff we want to read and listen to again, the kids go back to school, new terms full of art-history courses start, and a man's fancy turns to weeklong trips to Venice, a week from today.

I've still not got around to watching Redhead. Maybe tonight. And in more future review news: Tinney Sue Heath writes to tell me about  A Thing Done, a novel set in 13th Century Florence that she published last year. A review ebook has been promised. (I'm fast realising that the books and films that are most likely to slip under my radar are the ones that don't have the name of the city of their setting in the title.) And Robert from Canada writes to suggest I give Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May series a try. The author is one I've enjoyed books by in the past and this series does indeed look up my street. I seem have been almost starting reading them for a while -  there are now 10 of the buggers. Soon.

I've found another 'new' film set in Venice! It's a black and white German film from 1962 called The Redhead. It features Rossano Brazzi from Venice-film-fan favourite Summertime and Gert Frobe, a.k.a. Goldfinger. It is said that it depicts 'melancholy landscapes of the soul' but I still intend to watch it soon and report/review back.

I finally got to watch Inside the Mind of Leonardo, a documentary featuring Peter Capaldi (who was just yesterday announced as the next Dr Who) as Leonardo da Vinci, broadcast earlier this year on Sky. Happily it isn't one of those films which rely on (usually badly) dramatised episodes (almost always with gratuitous blood and nudity). Capaldi speaks Leonardo's thoughts, and surprisingly human and touching they sometimes are. The presentation is arty, with many slow and lingering shots of walls and fields, but I found it very true to his life and personality, inasmuch as I've gleaned from some scant reading.  Some very pretty animations too, of inventions and drawings. Good stuff, in a nutshell, and a recommended watch for clued-up fans and those wishing to learn more, as I did. I remember reviewing David Tennant's turn as Casanova on the BBC on this very website just before he became Dr Who too. Spooky.

One of the joys of this 'job' are the appreciative emails I get from people. I sometimes contemplate listing them here, in a not-entirely-serious attempt at promotion. Top of any such list would come the one I just got, I think: "...your brilliant and wonderful website -- full of juicy, informative, intelligent goodness". That's me!

But all is not honey and roses on the interweb. Another correspondent has pointed out to me a website using content from churchesofvenice.com without acknowledgement, a link, or asking my permission. It’s on gloria.tv a weird ultra-Catholic site. They seem to like pouring scorn on their perceived enemies – pro-lifers, supporters of gay marriage and of women in the church – but their arguments seem to be low-key and ranged against what seem somewhat negligible threats. The best thing, though,  is that when you click on the Contact link it takes you to an email form to fill in, but the smilicons are all monks and nuns! Not sure what the fag-smoking nun symbolises.

A piece in yesterday's Guardian book supplement interested me in The Balloonist by MacDonald Harris, a neglected author now being championed by Phillip Pullman. After a swift purchase and download I read in Pullman's introduction that amongst Harris's various fictions is a novel set in 18th Century Venice. After a bit of a search I find that it was called Pandora's Galley, and looks promising. Looking to add it to my list I find that I already had a listing for a book by Harris, M. called Pandora's Gallery, presumably dating from my original list, which was compiled from various volumes of the Cumulative Book Index, an old librarian's tool, if you'll pardon the expression. It's good to attain correctness, even if it did take 15 years. Anyroad, The Balloonist is proving a rare gem, so I've ordered a not-too-expensive used copy of Pandora's Galley - prices range from £3 to £331.

One of my favourite books of last year was Richard Russo's The Bridge of Sighs. I think you can guess why it attracted my attention, but Venice, though often mentioned, is barely visited. But now there's Nate in Venice, a Kindle Single (inexpensive novella) by Russo telling of a dysfunctional pair of brothers visiting the Biennale, and so totally set in Venice. I know that Amazon are the new evil empire, what with their tax-avoidance and all, and that we're now supposed to be boycotting them, but I've coughed up my £1.49, so expect a review this week.

I was intrigued by a computer game called 'Rise of Venice', but this screen
grab suggests a fictional city lacking somewhat in authenticity. And size.

The building that the nastiest modern architectural eyesore in Venice replaced.

And as if that wasn't enough, this morning I find a much more new thing - a new crime series set in Venice from a new author - The Abomination: Book One of the Carnivia Trilogy by Jonathan Holt. Looks very tasty, even if as a series it sounds more like a hand cream. Also it's published by Harper Collins, who need their requests for review copies sent by fax, on headed note paper. Do I have a fax machine? Do I have headed notepaper? Coughing up the cash is looking by far the easier option.

I was most happy to receive recently, from Jacqueline C in New England, an annotated list of novels set in Venice that I'd missed for my list. I was most surprised to find an Ellis Peters novel on it, called Holiday with Violence. I'm not sure if it's more worrying or heartening that after 15 years of gathering and reading there are still books by major authors set in Venice that have gone undiscovered by me and are lurking brownly and dusty in wait on second-hand bookshop shelves. Also on my pile for reading during a trip-free couple of months is a forgotten-but-juicy-looking novel set in 17th Century Florence called The Palace of Wisdom by Robert Marshall-Andrews and the new Michelle Lovric book for young adults - The Fate in the Box, set in Venice of course. These last two coming courtesy of Wandsworth Public Libraries.

OK, I'm also not immune to a little arm twisting, although more would've been even better! I'm going to trip-report from Paris after all.
Paris Trip - June 2013

And in film news, Graham G. writes from Australia to tell me about a Venice-set film I'd previously missed. Venetian Bird (aka The Assassin) is a black and white British thriller set just after WWII. It stars Richard Todd, Eva Bartok and...Sid James! It's based on a novel by (who remembers?) Victor Canning which I have listed but haven't read. The DVD is coincidentally due to be released in the UK in September. And the newest (and third?) date for the release of  Emma Thompson's legally-quagmired film about John Ruskin and Effie (now called Effie Gray) is October 2013. But breath-holding is to be discouraged.

I've just started on the new Dan Brown, which is called Inferno and is set in Florence, as you probably know. I'll be reading it in Florence, because we're off there tomorrow. And will there be a
Florence 2013 Trip Report?
Of course there will.

My spies tell me that a brand new German Brunetti TV episode was broadcast last week. They called it Auf Treu und Glauben (In Good Faith), but we know it as A Question of Belief. The action mostly centred around Cannaregio this time, with a funeral in the Madonna Dell'Orto.

Back from a wonderful week in Munich to wonderful news from Venice - billionaire art collector Francois Pinault's hated statue of the naked boy with the frog has been taken down for the last and final time. Read the story here. And staying with good news: David Adams Cleveland, who wrote With a gem-like flame, a Venice-set novel we liked, writes with news of a new novel, Love's attraction also with a Venice setting. Expect a review very soon.

30.4 - 7.5.2013
I'm spending a week in Munich, and you can follow my
Munich 2013 Trip Report
or not, it's entirely up to you.

Episode 2 of Da Vinci's Demons was less flashy and less spectacular, faked-Florence-wise, but provided enough flavoursome plot-thickening to hold the attention. In recent promotional interviews Tom Riley, the actor who plays Leonardo, has promised that episodes 3 and 4 will deal with our hero's sexuality and the fact of its not being merely hetero. So we'll wait and see how this is handled. Also, it's just been announced that there will be a second season, and that two Marvel comics writers have been hired to write some episodes.

 The slick new series about Leonardo's early life Da Vinci's Demons has just started and it's as historically authentic as you'd imagine, i.e. not very. The creator David S. Goyer has previously been involved in superhero films and video games, which as a keen watcher of superhero films and player of  video games I should not be too sniffy about, I suppose, but the concentration on what's fashionable over what really happened makes this so much a product of its time that one can't help but be quibblesome. Not that I'm not already hooked mind you.  The screen shot from the first episode (see right)  shows attention to authenticity, though, in that there is no Uffizi and no Vasari Corridor, and there are some of the many (long lost) defensive towers.

Keep it to yourself (winks and taps side of nose) but by means nefarious I have obtained an e-copy of the new Donna Leon, The Golden Egg, so expect a review before the week's end. And for after the Donna I've just received The Exiled Blade, the final part of Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Assassini trilogy, printed on actual paper!

 Just so you know - I've just booked a week in Venice in late June. Last year I didn't visit even the once, so this'll be my first trip there since September 2011. As this site's hit rate has gone unprecedentedly down this past year I was thinking that maybe I needed to refocus on Venice, as it's the most popular city and I had maybe allowed my refreshed enthusiasm for Florence to hold too much sway. But yesterday's Guardian had a review by Christobel Kent (whose new book I've just reviewed) of the Rupert Thomson book I reviewed last month. They are the only new books I've reviewed so far this year, and both are set in Florence. Next week there's a new drama-documentary on Sky about Leonardo Da Vinci, starring Peter Capaldi, that's getting very good previews indeed. And there's a new US TV series called Da Vinci's Demons, which premieres in Florence on April 2nd, with its first broadcast later in the month. It was filmed largely in...Swansea Bay and Port Talbot! It stars mostly English actors, though, so it might not be total crap. It looks very Game of Thrones, with very some very HD CG views of Florence and that actress who played Irene Adler in the recent BBC Sherlock. Anyway, bearing all of this in mind, how's a chap to please his Veniceophile fans when all there is on the horizon for them is the new Brunetti?

Tomorrow I'm off to Padua for a few days of frescos and such.
I'll be trip-blogging it on my first ever

Padua Trip Report

Now here's a funny thing. I just noticed on Amazon that the fourth novel in Christobel Kent's most excellent Sandro Cellini series, called A Darkness Descending, is out on 1st May 2013. But the entry for the Kindle version shows the publication date as 8th March, and the price as a very reasonable £2.05. I've just ordered it, so we'll see.
Update 8.3.2013
It has today winged its way through the ether to my Kindle. Magic!

It's nearly Spring, that Donna Leon time of year. The new Brunetti, The Golden Egg, is out on April the 4th, I'll again be whinging for weeks about how Heinemann never send me review copies, and the last three episodes of the German TV adaptations (Suffer the Little Children, The Girl of his Dreams, and About Face) have just been broadcast by MHz in the US. Allowing for the time a DVD takes to cross the Atlantic I'll be reviewing these episodes soon, but it seems them Germans have been taking liberties with the original plots again.

Not meaning to get all techie on your asses but...for the past year I've been travelling with an iPad, which has been fine for watching videos, surfing, checking emails, Facebook and the like, but which has meant that I haven't been able to do daily reports and updates on my sites like I could with my laptop. I thought that this would be possible, but it wasn't. Have no fear, though - I have just now acquired an Asus VivoTab Smart, which is like an iPad but runs Windows 8, and so all Windows programs, so this year I'll be back in business with daily trip reporting and no more having to construct later from Facebook bulletins and such like jiggery-pokery. I'm also toying with using it to type notes in churches, and such, rather than scribbling in notebooks and writing up later. Anyway, in a nutshell: hallelujah!

Things that can brighten the most mundane Thursday morning, no.1. Remember I was saying how one of my favourite authors (Rupert Thomson) had a new novel out in March set in Florence (Secrecy), and how weird it looked and how wonderful it was, all three of these factors coming together? Well, I wrote to Granta requesting a review copy, but my hopes weren't high as the more major the publisher the less likely is it they'll send me books. You can imagine my surprise and ecstasy, then, this morning when the postman came and handed me a parcel with Granta printed on the label. Expect a review soon, as resisting instant gratification is not in my nature.

The DVDs I mentioned after Christmas are slowly arriving, and I've found some more tasty items. Impardonnables only came out last year, and is reportedly not good. But Wer war Edgar Allan is an early Michael Haneke and The Venetian Affair is a 60s spy spoof, starring Robert Vaughn, Elke Sommer, Boris Karloff and Edward Asner. Garden of Earthly Delights is a more arty kettle of fish and, well, we'll see. Something of a Venice Film Festival in the offing for me then.

Making good on my December promise to plunder my bedside backlog has resulted in my reading and reviewing a charming old gem and some rancid rubbish, respectively, by E. Temple Thurston and Dennis Wheatley. I've also established that the Georges Simenon novel long on my list, The Venice Train, doesn't actually contain any scenes in Venice. (If you've read it and I'm wrong I'd appreciate the correction.) And having just been offered the possibility of being shown around some otherwise inaccessible chambers and cloisters in Venice in October has given me a month to focus on, potential-Venice-visit-wise.
Aside from the Venice films I mentioned a couple of entries back, which are now arriving on the doormat, I've also found some episodes of a 1970s TV series called The Protectors. It was one of Gerry Anderson's rare forays into working with non-puppets and is typical of the early 70s post-Bond taste for glamourous consumption and scenes of rich people in foreign hotels. But, as I say, this need for cosmopolitan locations resulted in two episodes filmed in your actual Venice. There's much use of real-life locations, and not just San Marco, with only the interiors looking faked. And the droopy moustaches.

 Most of the novels I get to read and review for the Venice and Florence pages tend to be by new names, or authors who are known for their specialisation in, say, Venice-set crime novels or novels set in renaissance Florence. Books set in Ven and Flo by authors famous in other genres and/or famous authors are rare. Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Assassini series, Geoff Dyer's Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, Kazuo Ishiguro's Nocturnes and Salman Rushdie's sorely disappointing The Enchantress of Florence spring to mind. Imagine my excitement, then, when I read that the new novel by Rupert Thomson, an author whose books I've loved and bought (in hardback!) from the first one, is set in the dark post-renaissance days of Florence and tells the story of a sculptor in wax given a bizarre commission by Cosimo III. It looks juicy, is called Secrecy, and is published on the 7th of March, the day after my birthday. The omens are looking good.

From You're all Just Jealous of my Jetpack, the chortlesome collection of
Tom Gauld's cartoons from the Guardian books supplement.



A screen grab from
Avenger of Venice (Il ponte dei sospiri),
mentioned nearby and reviewed here.


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