In the 11 years since his bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was published, John Berendt has been living part-time in Venice, whose eccentricity matches Savannah's. Berendt's Venice is filled with quirky natives, secretive aristocrats and rich expats who gossip while dashing between masked balls. After Berendt arrives in 1996, the destruction of the opera house in a mysterious fire prompts him to launch an informal investigation that slowly reveals the secrets of high society. The best bits are his portraits of characters such as an outrageous painter and an American who talks to aliens from his luxe palazzo. But the book seriously bogs down when Berendt begins examining politicking among his odd and wealthy acquaintances. Until then, it's truly a magical mystery tour.