Since her trip had a stop in Venice, I added some weight to her luggage. I also gave her several copies of Donna Leon’s lovely novels about Venice’s Commissario Guido Brunetti to get her in the vacation mood – as if she had to be prompted for that – and a copy of the tour guide Brunetti’s Venice, written by Toni Sepeda, a professor of literature and art history in Northern Italy who for years has conducted tours of Venetian sites visited by Leon’s hero Commissario Guido Brunetti.
Brunetti’s Venice (Grove Press, $16.95). features description and history of the actual place mentioned in excerpts from Leon’s novels.
This year, I would probably give Doreen, who is an excellent cook, a copy of Brunetti’s Cookbook featuring recipes by Roberta Pianaro and culinary stories by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.95). Her birthday is coming up.
Brunetti’s Cookbook is more than a lovely cookbook filled with more than 90 Italian recipes and whimsical color illustrations. It also is a tour of Venice, with Leon’s original essays on food and life in Venice.
Leon talks about sumptuous meals with family and friends, about fish stalls, wine shops, and restaurants, including one that was briefly Chinese.
But she also talks about how fast food has invaded. “…when you come out of Il Fornaio with your fresh-baked bread, you are greeted by the smell coming from McDonald’s.” There also are excerpts from Leon’s novels that fit certain recipes.
Recipes are concise and easy to understand with clear instructions. No nutritional information is included, but these are clearly made for those who love to eat and want to put calorie counting on hold. (Hey, you think I only review mysteries? I also have reviewed cookbooks for more than 20 years.)
While the recipes are easy to follow, most are not quick dishes. But patience is clearly rewarded.
Fusilli With Green Olives is a lovely, savory side dish as is Penne Rigate With Beans and Bacon, which comes together with a minimum of time. Chicken Breast With Artichokes is an elegant dish. Almond Cake makes a sweet ending.
On second thought, I am keeping this cookbook. Doreen needs another pair of earrings for her birthday.
But Rizzoli & Isles, based on the novels by Tess Gerritsen, has one major twist: the respect and friendship of the two female leads.
As in Gerritsen’s novels, Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles respect each other’s insights and skills. They don’t always agree and sometimes are at odds, but that doesn’t affect their relationship. The two characters genuinely like each other.
Call it the female buddy syndrome, or a realistic glimpse at women’s friendships. Whatever.
This relationship is paramount to the inner workings of Rizzoli & Isles, which airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET and PT; 9 p.m. EST.
Angie Harmon as Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as Isles make the viewers believe that these two women would bond over a crime scene, talk about their personal lives in the morgue and, if time ever permits, get together for drinks, dinner, or to help clean up a trashed apartment.
During a recent conference telephone interview with several journalists around the country, the actresses’ chemistry with each other was one of the first subjects that cropped up.
“When we were trying to find the woman to play Maura, it was kind of like a no-brainer when Sasha came in [to audition],” said Harmon. “We just knew it was her right then.”
Alexander agreed: “From the moment we read together, it just sort of clicked.”
Part of the appeal for both actresses also were the surface differences between the characters – the blue-collar Rizzoli is more comfortable in jeans and a sloppy shirt while blue-blood Isles’ ideas of dressing down is flat shoes.
“I really loved the friendship between these two women and watching these two very different women working in this environment, on this kind of gritty male environment,” said Alexander. “That was really the reason that I wanted to be a part of it.”
Both actresses are more than a little familiar with crime drama. Harmon became a household name playing ADA Abbie Carmichael on Law & Order from 1998-2001. Alexander played Special Agent Caitlin Todd on NCIS from 2003 to 2005.
“What stands out [in Rizzoli & Isles] the most is that there’s a lot to these characters,” said Harmon.
“We see their back stories. We see their present situations. To me, that was a lot more interesting than just the regular procedure with four heads standing around a body spelling it out for you. Rizzoli & Isles definitely has got a lot more grit to it. It’s not just a typical procedural show. Our cast will show the different colors of the characters,” said Harmon, who added she spent time preparing for her role by spending time with the actual homicide unit in Boston.
Alexander echoed those sentiments.
"I really love Maura Isles; she’s very fascinating to me,” said Alexander. “I was very compelled by a woman who would choose this profession. [She] came from a very highly educated wealthy background and could have chosen to do a lot of other things. She is this uber-feminine kind of modern woman [who chose] to work this job."
Gerritsen’s novels not only provide the foundation for the series but they also inspire Harmon, who says she is a fan of mystery fiction.
“I hadn’t read Tess’ books until we started playing the characters and now I’m obsessed. I come home, I’m exhausted, but I am ready to read more. I just finished The Sinner, and I’m getting ready to start The Keepsake,” said Harmon.
In a way, the novels are enhancing the way Harmon approaches her character.
“It’s like I’m getting a prequel and a history to these people in the book,” Harmon said. “Here I am shooting the history of these two characters and I’m reading their future. You’re sitting here watching these two characters live, but if you know the books you know what happens to them before they know what happens to them,” said Harmon, who added that the series does not always follow the novels’ storylines.
“I’ve never actually had that happen before in a character that I play. I am shooting a scene with Billie Burke (who plays Gabrielle Dean) and here I am reading about our future.”
Although Harmon has had many roles in the past decade, including a year on The Women’s Murder Club, she will always been Abbie Carmichael, thanks to the endless reruns of Law & Order. Indeed, most of us said we were also watching an episode of that recently canceled drama during the interview. Harmon looks back on those days with fondness.
“I learned some wonderful things from that show. I learned it doesn’t matter how tired you are, you always hang up your wardrobe. I learned from Sam [Waterston] that you never come to the set without your ties. [The Law & Order set] was a wonderful, wonderful place for me. I really thought that the revolving door of Law & Order would sort of going.”
“I would sit in my dressing room and stuff my envelopes with my save the date cards and my wedding invitations,” said Harmon who is married to former football player Jason Sehorn; the couple has three daughters.
But now there is Jane Rizzoli for Harmon to concentrate on.
“Jane is witty, she’s funny. It’s been a fun time playing her humor and playing her attitude. She’s also very serious about her work. And you know she’s a complete tomboy and that’s very different from me. I love playing her.”
Rizzoli & Isles airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET and PT; 9 p.m. EST.