Ca’ Garzoni (Ca’ is simply short for Casa or Home and is used with many Venetian palaces, including some of the grandest), is central to the novel. I have to say I enjoyed writing this section of the book and I think the scenes work well. I don’t want to give any spoilers here so I won’t say anything specific about what happens in the building, except to say that it is all entirely imaginary. Nobleman Pietro Garzoni is not a historical figure and I hope no remaining members of the Garzoni family will take offence at the portrait I have drawn of their ancestors in the 18th century. (The current White Pages for Venice lists only one Garzoni and he lives in Mestre.)
The palace lies more or less opposite the gondola ferry of San Tomà, as indicated in the novel. This ferry is still active and is one of the busiest, as it provides a short-cut for people heading from the San Marco area towards the car-park at Piazzale Roma and vice-versa. Passengers disembark at the Calle del Tragetto (Alley of the Ferry), where the land-entrance to Ca’ Garzoni is situated.
There is nothing particularly special about the palace, in terms of either its historical or its artistic importance. It is a good example of 15th-century Venetian Gothic and it was bought by the Garzoni family in the 16th century. There are no memorable anecdotes or legends attached to it, as far as I have been able to ascertain. It is simply a fairly typical palace of a noble family on the Grand Canal, in which a thriller-writer can allow his imagination to run free.
The main reason I chose the building is that for many years it was the seat of the university department where I taught (the department changed names three times, so I won’t be more specific), and so I feel I know it fairly well. The university sold the palace in 2005; a number of stories went around about possible purchasers. Madonna visited the palace but found it too “dispersivo”, according to one newspaper article. Another article says that Johnny Depp climbed onto its balcony in the film The Tourist; I don’t really want to have to sit through that film again to see if that claim is true. In any case, it is an example of yet another palace that has lost a public role (as a university department) in favour of a lucrative private one; it is almost certain that the purchasers, whether Hollywood stars or not, will not be Venetians. Setting part of the novel there was, perhaps, one way to feel I was regaining possession of it.
Unlike Alvise, I have not been on the roof of the palace.