Readers who loved John Berendt’s first book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will find The City of Falling Angels equally as fascinating. In Midnight his book opened with a mysterious murder and Berendt then went on to explore the city of Savannah , its colourful history and many of its most eccentric inhabitants who were somehow involved in the crime. In The City of Falling Angels he follows a similar formula as it also begins with a violent act but this time it is the burning of the Fenice Opera House in Venice in January 1996.
Berendt arrives in Venice three days after the fire that totally destroyed one of the most beautiful buildings in the island city. Venice is full of rumours as the authorities try to determine whether the fire was an act of arson or an unfortunate accident. Berendt, who has always loved Venice , decides to stay on in the city and do some investigations of his own. First he rents an apartment in a 17th century palazzo and then he moves on to a cottage that once belonged to Olga Rudge, the mistress of disgraced American poet Ezra Pound.
As in Midnight Berendt is irresistibly attracted to local eccentrics, many of whom are the descendants of people who were the patrons of famous literary figures like Robert Barrett Browning and Henry James. He introduces us to Ludovico De Luigi, a surrealist artist; Archimede Seguso, one of the last master glassblowers in Venice ; and the decidedly unusual Ralph Curtis who is obsessed with aliens and space travel, despite being one of the heirs to a magnificent palazzo. American and English ex-patriates abound, all of whom are eager to share their “truth is stranger than fiction” stories of Venice with Berendt.
This book is a must read if you have ever been to Venice and wondered about what really went on behind those awe-inspiring facades. Clearly falling angels can take many forms and Venice is home to them all.