Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

The Venetian Game

Book front cover

A thriller about contemporary Venice. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by being given the chance to read about thrills and thuggery in La Serenissima? So I took the bait and bought a copy of the book by Philip Gwynne Jones. It starts innocently enough, with Nathan Sutherland, honorary British consul in Venice doing his best to fulfil his mission of helping British tourists whose passports and/or money have been stolen and youngsters who have committed minor criminal offences. He also engages in translating lawn-mower manuals (Italian to English), which rather endeared him to me. In the process of dealing with the various routine tasks he has to fend off the attentions of his rather aggressive cat, Gramsci, and is asked by a perfect stranger to keep a mysterious package in the safe for a few days.

Sutherland refuses the request, but is summoned the next day to the Academmia Gallery, where he was informed that he had left a package and was obliged to collect it. This turned out to be the very package he had avoided accepting the previous day, but now had no choice in the matter. When he opened it he found it to contain a small book with illustrations depicting the life of he Virgin. Consultation with an art historian friend leads to the conclusion that the illustrations are by Giovanni Bellini. All kinds of twists and turns ensue as Sutherland together with his friend, a beautiful half-Italian art restorer, and various other characters who live in Venice and know it well enough to engage in heart-stopping races through the city, whether by boat or on foot, crossing any number of bridges and canals, making my head spin in the process.

As a typical Englishman, Sutherland devotes an inordinate amount of time and energy to drinking, and we learn about his favoured spots for engaging in that activity, though whether they actually exist or not I haven’t yet had the chance to ascertain. I have learned, however, that Prosecco is considered too weak to be actually considered an alcoholic drink, that a ‘proper’ drink is something called a Negroni, which is oone third gin, one third vermouth, and one third Campari, and is adorned with orange peel. In addition, various bottles of wine (mainly red) are consumed on various occasions with various companions (of which there are many).

The request to translate a legal document brings him to the home of a mysterious wealthy client, whose house is filled with priceless art works and claims that the Bellini booklet is his, and then invites him to accompany him to the opera. Thus, Sutherland is able to enter the famous La Fenice opera house and attend a performance of ‘Madame Butterfly,’ but this brings him no nearer solving the mystery of who is the rightful owner of the Bellini book, to which another individual, the person who asked him to keep it for a few days, also lays claim. Sutherland takes his laptop along and translates the document, but when the text describes him sorting out the papers my mind began boggling. Where was the printer? Was there a printer? An unsolved (and unlikely) mystery.

If you’re not confused by now, you should be. I certainly am, and was while reading the book. All sorts of characters appear, some more or less unsavoury, others simply sinister, often with no good reason, and leaving the reader reeling at the unlikelihood of it all. Although a sketchy map of Venice is provided, I was left confused by all the journeys taken by Sutherland and others in and around the city.

Of course, by the end of the book some characters have been killed off, and an attempt has been made on Sutherland’s life, but all’s well that ends well, the Bellini booklet becomes the property of the Italian bank that owns a huge art collection, Sutherland is paid well for his exertions, and is invited to a meal at the exclusive Le Bistrot de Venise. Plenty of good wine will inevitably be consumed there, I’m sure.

About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.
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