'City of Fallen Angels'

John Berendt's first book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," set a record for most weeks on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. So it's not surprising that he chose to replicate his winning recipe. "City of Falling Angels" also stars a picturesque port (Venice, Italy, instead of Savannah, Ga.), a crime, and as many rich eccentrics as Berendt can cram between the covers. The murder at the heart of "Garden," though, proves more engrossing than its Venetian counterpart: the burning of La Fenice Opera House. Perhaps realizing this, Berendt abandons the fire for long stretches to explore other intrigues, such as how the poet Ezra Pound's mistress was cozened out of her literary inheritance. The chronicle has a whiff of social-climbing, but It's easy to forgive Berendt's fondness for palazzo owners, since the book is the only way most of us will ever get through the door.

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