Welcome to my Italy by PHILIP GWYNNE JONES

Written by Philip Gwynne Jones



It’s five years now since Nathan Sutherland, British Honorary Consul in Venice and accidental crimefighter, made his debut in The Venetian Game. From his office on the Street of the Assassins he helps British tourists in difficulty, whether that be missing passports, robbery, or perhaps even trouble with the police. Sometimes, however, things take a darker turn…

In previous books, Nathan has had to deal with art theft, the discovery of a missing score by Claudio Monteverdi and an empty grave on the cemetery island of San Michele. He even had his honeymoon interrupted by the Venetian Mafia. But, as I planned out The Angels of Venice, I realised I’d given myself something of a problem in trying to use a devastating real life event as the basis of a novel. Could I really do that in good conscience? Let me explain the background to Nathan’s latest adventure…

Venice had a bad 2019. On 2nd June, the thirteen-deck cruise ship MSC Opera crashed into the wharf at the San Basilio ferry terminal, narrowly avoiding crushing the River Countess tourist boat. A few metres to the right and it would have taken out our apartment as well. A few weeks later, the even larger Costa Deliziosa nearly ran aground during a thunderstorm. Nobody knew it, but things were about to get even worse.

On the night of 12th November the most terrible floods in half a century ripped through Venice, leaving over 80% of the city underwater. Ground floor apartments, restaurants and businesses were devastated. The cost of the damage ran into the hundreds of millions of euros. Repairing the mosaic floors of St Mark’s Basilica  even if possible  will cost over two million euros by itself.

As I walked around the city in the days that followed, looking at the detritus piled up in the campi, and seeing the boats that had broken from their moorings and been swept into the streets, I started to think that this could be the jumping off point for a new adventure for Nathan and friends. But that also left me with a problem.

Italy, and Venice in particular, has been kind to us. Ten years ago we took a chance, sold everything we had, and moved here with ten suitcases, no friends, and no job. The city changed our lives and I hope my love for it comes through in the Nathan Sutherland novels.

And yet, there is also a need to be honest. Virtually free of violent crime it may be, but Venice isn’t Disneyland. Impossibly lovely as it is, it is a city with problems. Choked with visitors for much of the year, and suffering from a culture now almost entirely dependent on the tourist dollar, its population has declined to fewer than 50,000. Property prices and lack of opportunity make it increasingly difficult for young people to live here. After 1600 years, having survived war, invasion and the Black Death, the city may finally be dying. The events of November 12th seemed, to many, to be the final straw.

Did I have the right, then, to base a novel on the greatest tragedy to strike the city in fifty years? Could I be accused of exploiting an event which had cost many residents their livelihoods and in which people had died?

It was a difficult decision to make. But there was hope to be found in the midst of the chaos. Young people, in particular, rose to the occasion magnificently - helping to clear away the debris, checking up on elderly neighbours, delivering food to those who needed it. Some of them were ex-students of mine. I was, and am, so proud of them.

This, then, was my answer. Yes, I could use the devastating events of that November night as the starting point for a thriller, but I could also use it to write honestly about the state of the city, its problems, and its people - particularly its young people. Whether I succeeded or not is, of course, for you to decide. 

And so, when the body of a young British woman is found floating in a flooded antique bookshop on the Calle dei Assassini, Nathan sets out into the dark streets and alleys of a city on its knees in a bid to uncover the truth.

The usual crew are back, of course. As well as Nathan we have Federica and Dario, Ed the barman gets a little subplot of his own, and, of course, Gramsci the Unfriendly Marxist Cat is there as well. Naturally, Nathan still has his fondness for food and drink, and there might even be the occasional bit of nonsense about progressive rock music and a certain British space-rock band.

As to who and what The Angels of Venice actually arewell, you’ll need to read the book for that. There may be more than one answer. Angels, after all, come in many forms…


THE ANGELS OF VENICE published by Constable, Hbk £16.99  July 14, 2023

Philip Gwynne Jones

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor