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Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon. Arrow Books 2009. 304 pp.

This book is one of many in a series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti who lives in Venice – a city he loves – with his wife and two children, and solves crimes.

This latest crime involves a young American found floating in the canal, apparently murdered. There is an American army base not too far away and they eventually learn that he was an enlisted man from that base. A woman who is an officer and a doctor from that base comes to identify him and seems especially upset, indicating that there was a special relationship between them. And then she too is found dead. These crimes take a lot of investigating with all sorts of conspiracy theories thrown into the mix.

I have read several of these books and they are especially interesting because there is also a lot written about Venice, his family and colleagues, particularly,his boss who is very self-important. Commissario Guido has to work around his interference which is never helpful.

I read this book a few weeks ago and sadly this city that the Commissario so lovingly describes is now in the real world suffering with rising water and the damage that is being inflicted on Venice with its irreplaceable historical buildings.

— C.M

River of Doubt by Candice Millard. Anchor Books/Random House Inc. 2006. 353 pp. 

In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt ran for a third term for president as a “Progressive” against both republicans and democrats. He was defeated by Woodrow Wilson overwhelmingly. Although he was expecting it, he was still disappointed. Throughout his life there had been a number of difficult events, some very tragic, but he always managed to rebound.

In January 1913 he was invited to give some lectures in Argentina. He gladly accepted because it gave him the opportunity to get away for a while, but also he would get to see his son, Kermit, who was working in South America. While he was there he was visited by Condido Rondon, the most famous explorer in Brazil. On one of Rondon’s expeditions a very strange tributary of the Amazon was discovered. Rondon named it “River of Doubt”.The name was appropriate as it was unmapped, with many rapids. Roosevelt was impressed by Rondon. He was the kind of man he admired. So plans were made for an expedition to explore this great and mysterious river. His son Kermit would go too. He was concerned about his father

The trip down the river was unbelievable. There are dangerous rapids over and over again, many so impossible to pass over that they must carry their canoes overland to the next calmer spot. Often after only a few miles an even greater drop would appear. The jungle was very dense. The Indians were a threat, and they were losing their canoes in the roaring river.

Also, their supplies were running out and starvation was getting close. Roosevelt became very ill, and toward the end of the journey he had lost fifty-five pounds. Finally the river seemed a little less threatening. There were some camps along the shore, and the men learned that their trip was near the end.

In May 1914 Roosevelt returned to New York. There was great joy from everyone. Although he had recovered somewhat, his health was never the same. He died in 1919.

— P.M

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