Few authors get to see their characters become icons of literature, but Donna Leon finds herself in the esteemed company of authors such as Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. Like Holmes, Poirot and Marple, her Italian detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti – “a surprisingly neat man, tie carefully knotted, hair shorter than was the fashion,” as Leon first described him in her first novel – was, until 2022, the subject of 30 crime novels and a German TV film series. Now, it’s 31.
This week, Leon is releasing Give Unto Others, in which the iconic Venetian detective must negotiate where the line is between criminal and non-criminal, throwing into question not just right and wrong but on which side, exactly, the character of his police colleagues – and his own scruples – fall.
To mark its release, we asked Leon our 21 Questions about life and literature. Below, she explains why Trollope trumps Dickens, passes along the best writing advice she’s ever received, and reveals the ‘inspiration’ behind her latest book.
The Wind in the Willows. I still, after all these years, feel a strong admiration for badgers.
Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States was the first book I read to suggest that the US was not the disinterested, selfless homeland of the free.
I spent four years supposedly teaching Iranian air force cadets to speak English but, in truth, playing tennis.
“Read novels, and read them carefully.”
Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution, because of the savagery with which he treats academia.
There are many books I feel relieved at having not read; no guilt.
An impoverished, retired academic.
Listening to Baroque opera, well sung and played.
Making blackcurrant jam.
A flat surface upon which to rest my computer.
Because I’ve never watched them, it is always embarrassing to hear people tell me how much they enjoy the films made of my books. But like – I think it’s Wemmick’s Aged P – I smile and nod.
Judith Flanders, and she would, I hope, cook.
Falling down stairs.
A time machine to take me back to the first performances of Handel’s operas.
Six heavyset men with large moustaches, fedoras, and a decidedly menacing aura lined up outside the door to my home. As I emerged one sunny lilac-scented day, the tallest one lumbered over to me and, bending down, whispered into my ear, “We don’t want you to forget the deadline for the new manuscript, sweetie,” placing, it seemed to me, special emphasis on “dead” in “deadline.”
Give Unto Others is out now.
Donna Leon photo by Diogenes Verlag
Other photos: iStock.com/Jamakosy / iStock.com/-Ivinst / iStock.com/YakobchukOlena
Image design by Flynn Shore / Penguin
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