18 February 2008

Favourite Authors - #3 Donna Leon

Imagine this scene. Standing in an airport bookshop looking for a murder mystery to read on the next flight. There are a number of authors who suit me in this situation and Donna Leon is one of them.

In my database I have records for 7 of her titles but I know that over the years I have read many more. I have given an average rating of 4.7.

According to Fantastic Fiction THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS, #17 in her very successful Brunetti series, will be out in April this year. Guido Brunetti and his wife Paola feel so normal, and the novels are populated with such believable characters. As Wikipedia says, domestic warmth of the Brunetti family contrasts with corruption and cruelty that Brunetti encounters at work.

It's an impressive record really. #1 DEATH AT LA FENICE was published in 1992, when Donna Leon was already turning 50. Since then there has been more or less a book a year.
FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES won the UK Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagger in 2000.

I love the way Leon can weave the real issues that are facing Venice such as rising waters, pollution of the lagoon, destruction of the glass industry by flooding of the market with cheap imports, the demographic changes being caused by refugee immigration, corruption in high places, into her stories. In many ways she is not just telling us a story, but also giving us a running social commentary. And she has moved with the times. Brunetti's office assistant, Signora Elettra is a wizz on the internet.

Some sites you might check:
Tours of Guido Brunetti's Venice
Places to visit
Her UK Random House site
Italian Mysteries site

My mini-reviews (in publication order)

A male tranvestite suspected of being a prostitute has been found dead out near an abattoirs at Marghera and the Mestre district is short-staffed. Though he is due to go on holidays in the mountains in a few days, Guido Brunetti has been assigned to take charge of the investigation. It gets him away from Vice Questore Patta and out from his supervision, and already I feel Brunetti enjoying this new freedom, being given a status you don't usually feel he has. Signora Elettra makes her first appearance in this book. US Title was DRESSED FOR DEATH.
My rating: 4.6

A lorry crashes on one of the treacherous bends in the Italian Dolomites, spilling a terrible cargo . . .
A prominent international lawyer is found dead in the carriage of an Intercity train at Santa Lucia . . .
Can the two tragedies possibly be connected?
Commissario Guido Brunetti digs deep into the secret lives of the once great and good for the answer. For in a seedy Venetian bar lies the clue to an evil crime network reaching far beyond the laguna. But it will take another violent death in Venice before the forces of justice can even begin to proceed . . .
This is Donna Leon's fourth novel to feature Guido Brunetti.
My rating: 4.6

University lecturer Paola, Commissario Brunetti's wife, is a person of strong convictions. When she throws a rock through the front window of a Venetian travel agency in the middle of the night, not once but twice, because it arranges sex tours to Thailand, she gets not only herself into trouble but Brunetti as well. The owner of the travel agency's premises, who is also the owner of a pharmaceutical company, seems inordinately interested in having the matter hushed up, at the same time as making Paola pay damages. Brunetti's boss Vice-Questore Patta sends Brunetti home on "administrative leave" until the matters are resolved. And then the owner, Mitri, is discovered murdered, garrotted, and Brunetti is summoned back to work. Once again Leon has chosen, in this #8 in her 17 Brunetti titles, to not only provide the reader with a series of puzzles, but to highlight an issue of international concern, placing Venice on an international stage. Brunetti and Paola are wonderful characters as is Signora Elettra, Patta's secretary and computer sleuth.
My rating: 4.6

Commissario Guido Brunetti once again finds himself pursuing a puzzling case his fellow policemen would rather
leave closed. After a wealthy elderly woman is found brutally murdered in her apartment, the authorities suspect her maid. But when the maid meets an untimely end trying to escape from border police, and it appears that the money she carried may not have been stolen, Commissario Guido Brunetti decides—unofficially—to take the case on himself.
My rating: 4.8

On a cold Venetian night shortly before Christmas, a street vendor is killed in a scuffle in Campo Santo Stefano. The closest witnesses to the event are the American tourists who had been browsing the man's wares—fake designer handbags—before his death. The dead man had been working as a vu cumpra, one of the many African immigrants peddling goods outside normal shop hours and trading without work permits.
Commissario Brunetti's response is that of everybody involved: Why would anyone kill an illegal immigrant? Because these workers have few social connections and little money, infighting seems to be the answer. And yet the killings have all the markings of a professional operation. Once Brunetti begins to investigate this unfamiliar Venetian underworld, he discovers that matters of great value are at stake within the secretive society.
While his wife, Paola, struggles to come to terms with their young daughter's prejudices about the immigrants, Brunetti finds that his own police force shares many of the same biases. Warned by Patta, his superior, to desist from further involvement in the case, Brunetti only becomes more determined to unearth the truth. How far will Brunetti be able to penetrate the murky subculture of Venice's illegal community? And how high does the corruption reach into the upper echelons of Brunetti's own world and the world at large?
My rating: 4.8

#15 in the Brunetti series, set in Venice, with the action mainly centred on Murano, the famous Venetian glass making island. Donna Leon's very human Commissario Guido Brunetti, influenced by the onset of spring, begins an unofficial investigation for a colleague. A friend has been arrested while protesting against the chemical pollution of the Venetian lagoon by the factories of Marghera. The investigation reveals threats by a glass factory owner against his own son-in-law, a father who believes his young daughter's intellectual disability has been caused by chemicals, mystery, a murder, and serious questions about the future of Venice. Donna Leon has lived in Venice for a number of years and her love of the city, knowledge of its history, and concern for its future come through very strongly. If you've ever been to Venice, or even if you haven't, you'll wonder why you haven't read any of this series before. And if you are already a Donna Leon friend, then here is another that will not disappoint.
My rating: 4.8

Just on the edge of sleep, in the middle of the night, Commissario Guido Brunetti gets an urgent phone call from Inspector Vianello. Three policemen who broke into the home of a local paediatrician have assaulted him and snatched his eighteen month old son. Even in his sleep-befuddled state Brunetti can hear the urgency in Vianello’s voice. The doctor has possible brain damage, and, in Vianello’s words “We’ve got a mess”.
On his arrival at the hospital Brunetti learns from the Carabinieri captain who led the raid that the invasion of Doctor Pedrolli’s home is part of a nation wide investigation into baby trafficking. The charge against Doctor Pedrolli is the illegal adoption of his son Alfredo even though his birth registration shows Pedrolli as the father.
As always with Donna Leon’s Brunetti series, this story is set mainly in Venice, but this time there is less focus on Venice and more on an issue that has become prominent in the Western world. SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN is a story set against themes of baby trafficking and surrogacy that have emerged recently in books by other authors. Declining fertility in the Western world is contrasted with the apparent fecundity of refugees and immigrants; and the desire of women for children is set against the apparent willingness of some to sell the only thing they can produce – their child. Brunetti’s investigation takes him out of his comfort zone. His own love for his wife and children is a subtle motivator for him to get to the truth.
My rating: 4.8


Anonymous said...

Donna Leon is great! I accidently discovered the Brunetti series a few months ago and just finished my eleventh book. I fear the day when I will have read them all!

Kerrie said...

I am really glad there is another on the way aren't you? I particularly look forward to them because I know they are so readable - and they are not as long as some of the books these days.

Maxine Clarke said...



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