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Midnight on the Canals 

Berendt in Venice

It's been more than 10 years since we traveled to Savannah with author John Berendt via his record-breaking bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

This time he takes us to Venice, another city of light and dark, a city of volatile and quirky personalities, deeply rooted in history and -- just as he arrives -- the scene of a tragic fire. In the beginning of The City of Falling Angels, Berendt writes he'd already planned an extended, off-season stay in Venice in 1996, when three days before he arrived, the Fenice, the city's world-renowned opera house, burned to the ground.

Berendt follows the investigation in much the same manner as he did in Savannah as the saga of Jim Williams and the murder of Danny Hansford unfolded. Also, as he did in Midnight, Berendt goes off on a tangent or two, mostly short and entertaining, as much to help the reader understand the personality of Venice as to further the story. No one stands out quite the way The Lady Chablis does in Midnight, though there is a son of one prominent expatriate family who calls his palazzo a "starship" and watches videos of Apollo missions.

As a journalist, Berendt is careful with details and he uses them to take the reader along as he talks to people and delves into the eccentricities of Venetian society. It's not an easy task -- one problem is that there are so many people in this story, it's hard to keep them straight. A handy list of people and places is provided, though, as is an index of Italian words.

Reading The City of Falling Angels might make you want to go to Venice -- before the sea level rises even more. As in Savannah, Berendt moves freely in and around Venice's palazzos and apartments, talking to natives, officials, expatriates from various countries and others in his quest. I kept wondering if the fact that he was John Berendt helped him gain entry to some of these drawing rooms. Perhaps. Falling Angels doesn't have as strong a central plot as Midnight, but it's still a treat to explore Venice with a master storyteller.

The City of Falling Angels

by John Berendt (The Penguin Press, 416 pages, $29.95)

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