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When Donna Leon, the acclaimed author of the best-selling Commissario Guido Brunetti series, is not conjuring up tales of crime and corruption in Venice, she is listening to opera. Over the years, Leon has noticed that her favourite composer, George Frideric Handel, filled his operas with arias that make reference to animals; rich in symbolism, the perceived virtues and vices of the lion, bee, nightingale, snake, elephant, and tiger, among others, resonate in his works.
In Handel's Bestiary, Leon draws on her love of Handel and her expertise in medieval bestiaries-illustrated collections of animal stories-to assemble a bestiary of her own. Twelve chapters trace twelve animals through history, mythology, and the arias. Each is joined by whimsical original illustrations by German painter Michael Sowa. The accompanying CD includes each aria, expertly recorded by Il Complesso Barocco, Karina Gauvin, Ann Hallenberg, Paul Agnew, and Anicio Zorzi, with Alan Curtis conducting. Fascinating and utterly original, Handel's Bestiary springs to life with Leon's knowledge and wit.
Published: 5 May 2011
Of all the trademarks of Venice – and there are many, from the gilded Basilica of San Marco to the melancholy Bridge of Sighs – none is more ubiquitous than the gondola. In Gondola, the internationally acclaimed 'American with the Venetian heart', Donna Leon, tells its fascinating story.
First used in medieval Venice as a deftly manoeuverable getaway boat, the gondola evolved over the centuries into a floating pleasure palace, bedecked in silk, that facilitated the romantic escapades of the Venetian elite. Today, the gondola wears black – a gleaming, elegant hue, and is manned by robust gondolieri in black-and-white-striped shirts and straw hats.
A tourist favourite, the gondola has never ceased to be a part of authentic Venice. Each boat’s 280 pieces are carefully fashioned in a maestro’s workshop – though Leon also recounts a tale of an American friend who attempted to make a gondola all on his own. The feat took five years and countless do-overs. But the gondola is a work of art well worth the labour. And once its arched prow pushes off from the dock, the single Venetian at its oar just might break out in a barcarole, a popular Italian boat song. The best of these songs, as timeless as the allure of the gondola itself, are compiled into an accompanying CD.
Published: 11 Dec 2014
Food plays an important role in Donna Leon's bestselling Commissario Brunetti novels. In A Taste of Venice, Roberta Pianaro invites readers into the Brunettis' kitchen to learn how to prepare for themselves the delicious meals Paola Brunetti cooks for her family. We are given the secrets to Brunetti's favourite pasta (penne rigate), Paola's famous apple cake, a lasagne recipe from Brunetti's mother, Donna Leon's favourite meal (risotto di zucca), and a host of other sumptuous and authentic Italian classics.
Beautifully illustrated with vignettes by Tatjana Hauptmann, and with culinary stories by Donna Leon and extracts from the Brunetti novels, this is so much more than a cooking guide - it is a wonderful journey, full of ideas for recreating the delights of Venetian cuisine in your own home. So whether you want to eat spaghetti with clams, aubergine and prosciutto roulades or baked omelette with courgettes, you'll find all you need here to create the perfect Venetian feast.
In a city as ancient as Venice, myths and legends passed down from generation to generation record more than just love or murder. They are the storehouse of a city's mores, emblems of its identity. In Venetian Curiosities, acclaimed novelist Donna Leon recounts some of Venice's most intriguing tales: an elephant brought in for Carnival wreaks havoc upon the city before seeking refuge in a church, the city employs prostitutes in an attempt to prevent homosexuality, innocent men are mistakenly condemned to death, a gambler bets the family palazzo. In an introduction and seven essays, Leon offers enchanting details and astute insights into Venetian customs of the past and present.
Venetian Curiosities is beautifully illustrated and, like Handel's Bestiary, it comes with a CD. Here the music is by Antonio Vivaldi, with tracks for each section of the book, expertly played by Il Complesso Barocco. With the splendid music, the delightful images, and the perceptive, amusing words of Donna Leon, Venetian Curiosities is a harmonious exploration of one of the world's most beloved cities.
From the bestselling author of the Brunetti crime series comes The Jewels of Paradise, a gripping tale of intrigue, music, history and greed and Donna Leon's first stand-alone novel.
Caterina Pellegrini is a young Venetian musicologist hired to find the rightful heir to an alleged treasure concealed by a once-famous, but now almost forgotten, baroque composer. Sworn to secrecy, Caterina can solve the mystery only by searching through the papers contained in two chests that have not been opened for centuries.
As she delves into all quarters of his life, she is drawn into one of the most scandalous affairs of the baroque era. What dark secrets do these chests hold, and just whom can she trust?
One rainy morning Commissario Brunetti and Ispettore Vianello respond to an emergency call reporting a body floating near some steps on the Grand Canal. Reaching down to pull it out, Brunetti's wrist is caught by the silkiness of golden hair, and he sees a small foot - together he and Vianello lift a dead girl from the water.
But, inconceivably, no one has reported a missing child, nor the theft of the gold jewellery that she carries. Brunetti is drawn into a search not only for the cause of her death but also for her identity, her family, and for the secrets that people will keep in order to protect their children - be they innocent or guilty.
From the canals and palazzi of Venice to a gypsy encampment on the mainland, Brunetti struggles with institutional prejudice and entrenched criminality to try to unravel the fate of the dead child.
At a dinner party given by his parents-in-law, Commissario Brunetti meets Franca Marinello, the wife of a prosperous Venetian businessman. He's charmed - perhaps too charmed, suggests his wife Paola - by her love of Virgil and Cicero, but shocked by her appearance.
A few days later, Brunetti is visited by Carabinieri Maggior Filippo Guarino from the nearby city of Marghera. As part of a wider investigation into Mafia takeovers of businesses in the region, Guarino wants information about the owner of a trucking company who was found murdered in his office. He believes the man's death is connected to the illegal transportation of refuse - and more sinister material - in his company's trucks. No stranger to mutual suspicion and competition between rival Italian police departments, Brunetti is nevertheless puzzled by the younger man's behaviour.
Eventually Guarino agrees to email a photo of his suspect, but by the time the photograph arrives, he himself is dead. Was he killed because he got too close? And how is it that Franca Marinello is involved?
Commissario Brunetti is faced with another dark mystery.
In a small village at the foot of the Italian Dolomites, the gardens of a deserted farmhouse have lain untouched for decades. But the new owner, keen for renovations to begin, is summoned urgently to the house when his workmen disturb a macabre grave.
Wild animals have done their grisly work and the human corpse is badly decomposed. Then a valuable signet ring is found close by, providing the first vital clue. It leads Commissario Guido Brunetti right to the heart of aristocratic Venice, to a family still grieving for its abducted son ...
Celebrated by The Times as one of the 50 Greatest Crime Writers, Donna Leon brings Venice to life in the twenty-second Brunetti novel of this bestselling series, where our detective must uncover the mystery surrounding a mute man's murder.
When making routine enquiries into a possible bribery case that could embarrass the mayor – a humiliation Vice-Questore Patta is very keen to avoid – Commissario Brunetti receives a call from his wife, Paola, who is evidently very upset. The middle-aged deaf mute with the mental age of a child who helped out at the Brunetti’s dry cleaners has been found dead – an ‘accidental’ overdose of his mother’s sleeping pills – and Paola is distraught by the news. To the neighbourhood he was just the ‘boy’ who helped out, but nobody knew much about him – not even his name. That a soul could have lived such a joyless life is too much for Paola to bear, and she asks Guido if he can find out what happened.
It is a surprise to Brunetti just how little was known about this man-child – there are no official records to show he even existed. The man’s mother is angry and contradictory when questioned about his death, and Brunetti senses that there much more to the story than she is willing to tell. With the help of Inspector Vianello and the ever-resourceful Signorina Elettra, perhaps Brunetti can get to the truth and find some measure of solace.
Neither Commissario Brunetti nor his wife Paola have ever had much sympathy for the Italian armed forces, so when a young cadet is found hanged, at Venice's elite military academy, Brunetti's emotions are complex: pity and sorrow at the death of a boy close in age to his own son, and contempt and irritation for the arrogance and high-handedness of the boy's teachers and fellow students.
The young man is the son of an ex-politician, a man of an impeccable integrity all too rare in Italian politics. But as Brunetti - and the indispensable Signorina Elettra - investigate further, no one seems willing to talk, as the military protects its own and civilians keep their own counsel. Is this the natural reluctance of Italians to involve themselves with the authorities, or is Brunetti facing a conspiracy of silence?
A young woman returns from holiday to find her elderly neighbour dead on the floor. A heart attack seems the likely cause, but Commissario Brunetti is not so sure and decides to take a closer look. Soon he discovers that she was part of an organization that cares for abused women and that her apartment was a safe-house.
Convinced that this is the lead he has been looking for, Brunetti begins his search for answers. But as he sets out to discover the truth behind her death, he is drawn into a decades-old story of lies and deceit that has blighted love and ruined lives - and has claimed this innocent woman as its newest victim. Brunetti's investigation takes him deep into the dark heart of his beloved Venice.
During the interrogation of an entitled, arrogant man suspected of giving drugs to a young girl who then died, Commissario Guido Brunetti acts rashly, doing something he will quickly come to regret. In the aftermath, he begins to doubt his career choices and realises that he needs a break from the stifling problems of his work.
Granted leave from the Questura, Brunetti is shipped off by his wife, Paola, to a villa owned by a wealthy relative on Sant’Erasmo, one of the largest islands in the Venetian laguna. There he intends to pass his days rowing, and his nights reading Pliny’s Natural History.
The recuperative stay goes according to plan and Brunetti is finally able to relax, until Davide Casati, the caretaker of the house, goes missing following a sudden storm. Nobody can find him – not his daughter, not his friends, and not the woman he’d been secretly visiting. Now, Brunetti feels compelled to investigate, to set aside his holiday and discover what happened to the man who had recently become his friend.
In Earthly Remains, Donna Leon shows Venice through an insider’s eyes. From family meals and vaporetti rides to the never-ending influx of tourists and suffocating political corruption, the details and rhythms of everyday Venetian life are at the core of this thrilling novel, and of the terrible crime at its heart.
When Commissario Brunetti receives a visit from one of his wife's students with a strange and vague interest in investigating the possibility of a pardon for a crime committed by her grandfather many years ago, he thinks little of it, despite being intrigued by the girl's intelligence and moral conscience. But when the girl is found stabbed to death, Claudia Leonardo is no longer Paola's student, but instead becomes Brunetti's case.
Claudia seemed to have no discernible living family, but lived with an elderly Austrian woman. Brunetti is stunned by the extraordinary art collection the old woman keeps, and when she in turn is found dead, the case begins to unlock long buried secrets of collaboration during the war, secrets few in Italy are happy to explore...
In The Waters of Eternal Youth, the twenty-fifth instalment in the bestselling Brunetti series, our Commissario finds himself drawn into a case that may not be a crime at all.
Brunetti is investigating a cold case by request of the grand Contessa Lando-Continui, a friend of Brunetti’s mother-in-law. Fifteen years ago the Contessa’s teenage granddaughter, Manuela, was found drowning in a canal. She was rescued from the canal at the last moment, but in many ways it was too late; she suffered severe brain damage and her life was never the same again. Once a passionate horse rider, Manuela, now aged thirty, cannot remember the accident, or her beloved horse, and lives trapped in an eternal youth.
The Contessa, unconvinced that this was an accident, implores Brunetti to find the culprit she believes was responsible for ruining Manuela's life. Out of a mixture of curiosity, pity and a willingness to fulfil the wishes of a loving grandmother, Brunetti reopens the case. But once he starts to investigate, Brunetti finds a murky past and a dark story at its heart.
The Waters of Eternal Youth is awash in the rhythms and concerns of contemporary Venetian life, from historical preservation, to housing, to new waves of African migrants, all circling the haunting story of a woman trapped in a perpetual childhood.
A sudden act of vandalism had just been committed in the chill Venetian dawn. But Commissario Guido Brunetti soon finds out that the perpetrator is no petty criminal. For the culprit waiting to be apprehended at the scene of the crime is none other than Paola Brunetti, his wife.
As Paola's actions provoke a crisis in the Brunetti household, Brunetti himself is under increasing pressure at work: a daring robbery with Mafia connections is linked to a suspicious death and his superiors need quick results. As his professional and personal lives clash, Brunetti's own career is under threat - and the conspiracy which Paola had risked everything to expose draws him inexorably to the brink ...
In Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon’s first novel in the Commissario Brunetti series, readers were introduced to the glamorous and cut-throat world of opera and to one of Italy’s finest living sopranos, Flavia Petrelli – then a suspect in the poisoning of a renowned German conductor. Now, many years after Brunetti cleared her name, Flavia has returned to the illustrious La Fenice to sing the lead in Tosca.
As an opera superstar, Flavia is well acquainted with attention from adoring fans and aspiring singers. But when one anonymous admirer inundates her with bouquets of yellow roses – on stage, in her dressing room and even inside her locked apartment – it becomes clear that this fan has become a potentially dangerous stalker. Distraught, Flavia turns to an old friend for help. Familiar with Flavia’s melodramatic temperament, Commissario Brunetti is at first unperturbed by her story, but when another young opera singer is attacked he begins to think Flavia’s fears may be justified. In order to keep his friend out of danger, Brunetti must enter the psyche of an obsessive fan and find the culprit before anyone comes to harm.
When a wealthy Venetian woman is found brutally murdered, the prime suspect is her Romanian maid, who has fled the city. As she attempts to leave the country, carrying a considerable sum of money and forged papers, the maid runs into the path of an oncoming train and is killed. Case closed.
But when the old woman's neighbour returns from abroad, it becomes clear that the maid could not have been the killer. Commissario Brunetti decides - unofficially - to take the case on himself.
As Brunetti investigates, it becomes clear that the motive for the murder was unlikely to have been greed, rather that it had its roots in the temptations of lust. But perhaps Brunetti is thinking of the wrong deadly sin altogether...
On a cold night shortly before Christmas, an immigrant street vendor is killed in Venice's Campo Santo Stefano. The nearest witnesses to the event are the tourists who had been browsing the man's wares before his death - fake handbags of every designer label - but they have seen nothing that might be of much help to the police.
When Commissario Brunetti arrives on the scene, he finds it hard to understand why anyone would murder an illegal immigrant. They have few social connections and little money; in-fighting among them is the obvious answer. But once Brunetti begins investigating this unfamiliar Venetian underworld, he discovers that matters of great value are at stake in the immigrant community...