Donna Leon

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Donna Leon
Donna Leon.jpg
Born (1942-09-28) September 28, 1942 (age 76)
Montclair, New Jersey, U.S.
GenreCrime fiction
Notable worksDeath at La Fenice

Donna Leon (/ˈlɒn/;[1] born September 28, 1942, in Montclair, New Jersey[2]) is the American author of a series of crime novels set in Venice, Italy, featuring the fictional hero Commissario Guido Brunetti.

Leon lived in Venice for over 30 years and now resides in a small village in Switzerland.[3] She also has a home in Zurich.[4] She was a lecturer in English literature for the University of Maryland University College – Europe (UMUC-Europe)[5] in Italy and then worked as a professor from 1981 to 1999 at the American military base of Vicenza, Italy[citation needed]. She stopped teaching and concentrated on writing and other cultural activities in the field of music (especially baroque music).[when?]

Her Commissario Brunetti novels all take place in or around Venice. They are written in English and have been translated into many foreign languages, but--at Leon's request--not into Italian.[6] The ninth Brunetti novel, Friends in High Places, won the Crime Writers' Association Silver Dagger in 2000. German television has produced 22 Commissario Brunetti episodes for broadcast.[7][8]

Early life[edit]

Donna Leon was born to Catholic parents, who had strong leanings to the Democratic party. Her paternal grandparents were Spanish and her maternal grandparents were Irish and German. She grew up in Bloomfield, New Jersey.[9] Her parents put a strong focus on education for their daughter.

The Guardian reports: "Leon was teaching in Iran while attempting to complete a PhD about Jane Austen when the revolution of 1978-79 interrupted her studies and her life. When her trunks were returned to her months later, following her hasty evacuation (part of it at gunpoint, on a bus), her papers were gone." She returned to the US and worked in New York City writing advertising copy. When she visited Italy for the first time, she fell in love with the country.[9]

In 2015, she left Venice as her full time home and began to split her time among the homes she owns in Switzerland, one in Zurich and another in the mountains. She returns to Venice approximately one week each month.[9]


Leon wrote a crime novel after seeing a scene she thought belonged in such a novel. She wrote it in 8 months and stuck it in a drawer until a friend persuaded her to submit to a writing contest, which she won.[10]

Setting and viewpoints of the Brunetti novels[edit]

The police commissioner Guido Brunetti confronts crime in and around his home town of Venice. Each case is an opportunity for the author to reveal another aspect of the seamy underside of society and another facet of Venetian life. Brunetti reports to the vain and self-serving buffoon, Vice-Questore Patta, while Sergente (later Ispettore and with the inspector per tu) Vianello and the all-knowing and well-connected Signorina Elettra, Patta's secretary, assist Brunetti on the ground and through research.[11][12]

These novels are successful in Germany, and translated into many languages, except Italian.[9]


Commissario Guido Brunetti novels[edit]

  1. Death at La Fenice (1992)[13] - The celebrated opera house, La Fenice, has seen its share of death, but none so horrific or violent as that of 'maestro Helmut Wellauer, poisoned during a performance of La Traviata. Even Brunetti is shocked by the number of enemies Wellauer has made on his way to the top- but how many have motive enough for murder?
  2. Death in a Strange Country (1993)[14] - Early one morning Brunetti is confronted with the body of a young man fished out of a fetid canal. All clues point to a mugging, but robbery seems too convenient a motive. Then something incriminating is found in the dead man's flat, which points to the existence of a high level cabal, and Brunetti becomes convinced that somebody is taking great pains to provide an easy solution to the crime
  3. The Anonymous Venetian (1994) aka Dressed for Death[15] - Brunetti's hopes of a family holiday are dashed when a gruesome discovery is made; a body so badly beaten to be unrecognizable. Brunetti searches Venice for someone who is able to identify the body but is met with a wall of silence. Then a call from a contact promises some tantalizing information, but before the night is out he is confronted with yet another appalling and apparently senseless death
  4. A Venetian Reckoning (1995) aka Death and Judgment[16] - A truck crashes on one of the treacherous mountain roads in the Italian Dolomites, spilling a terrible cargo. Meanwhile, 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 Italy's elite classes to find the answer.
  5. Acqua Alta (1996) aka Death in High Water[17] - As Venice braces for a winter tempest and the onslaught of acqua alta – the rising waters from torrential rain – Commissario Guido Brunetti finds out that an old friend has been savagely beaten at the palazzo home she owns and shares with her frequent guest and life-partner, the reigning diva Flavia Petrelli.
  6. The Death of Faith (1997) aka Quietly in Their Sleep[18] - Brunetti comes to the aid of a young nursing sister who is leaving her convent following the unexpected death of five patients. At first, Brunetti's inquiries reveal nothing amiss, and he wonders whether the nun is simply creating a smoke screen to justify abandoning her vocation. But perhaps, she has stumbled onto something very real and very sinister – something that puts her life in imminent danger.
  7. A Noble Radiance (1997)[19] - The new owner of a farmhouse at the foot of the Italian Dolomites is summoned to the house when his workmen disturb a macabre grave. Once on the job, Brunetti uncovers a clue that reignites an infamous cold case of kidnapping and disappearance involving one of Venice's oldest, most aristocratic families.
  8. Fatal Remedies (1999)[20] - For Commissario Brunetti, it began with an early morning phone call. In the chill of the Venetian dawn, a sudden act of vandalism shatters the quiet of the deserted city. But Brunetti is soon shocked to find that the culprit waiting to be apprehended at the scene is someone from his own family. Meanwhile, he is under pressure from his superiors at work to solve a daring robbery with a link to a suspicious accidental death. Does it all lead back to the Mafia? And how are his family's actions connected to these crimes?
  9. Friends in High Places (2000)[21] - Commissario Brunetti is visited by a young bureaucrat investigating the lack of official approval for the construction of Brunetti's apartment years before. What began as a red tape headache ends in murder, when the bureaucrat is later found dead after a mysterious fall from a scaffold.
  10. A Sea of Troubles (2001)[22] - The murder of two clam fishermen off the island of Pellestrina, south of the Lido on the Venetian Lagoon, draws Commissario Brunetti into the island's close-knit community, bound together by a code of loyalty and a suspicion of outsiders. When Signorina Elettra volunteers to visit the island, where she has relatives, Brunetti finds himself torn between his duty to solve the murders, concerns for Elettra's safety, and his not entirely straightforward feelings for her.
  11. Willful Behaviour (2002)[23] - When one of his wife Paola's students comes to visit him with an interest in investigating the possibility of a pardon for a crime committed by her grandfather many years ago, Commissario Brunetti thinks little of it, beyond being intrigued and attracted by the girl's intelligence and moral seriousness. But when she is found stabbed to death, Claudia Leonardo is suddenly no longer simply Paola's student, but Brunetti's case.
  12. Uniform Justice (2003)[24] - Brunetti faces an unsettling case when a young cadet has been found hanged, a presumed suicide, in Venice's elite military academy. As he pursues his inquiry, he is faced with a wall of silence and finds himself caught up in the strange and stormy politics of his country's powerful elite.
  13. Doctored Evidence (2004)[citation needed] - A wealthy elderly woman is murdered. Soon afterward, her Romanian maid is hit by a train while trying to leave Italy with a large amount of money and forged papers. The case appears to be solved. Then, a neighbour provides evidence that the maid was not guilty of the murder. Brunetti digs further into the case, though officially it is closed, and finds that greed was not the motive behind the killing.
  14. Blood from a Stone (2005)[25][26]- Shortly before Christmas, a man is killed in Venice's Campo Santo Stefano. An illegal immigrant, presumably from Senegal, he is one of the vu' cumprà who sell fake fashion accessories while trying to stay ahead of the law. At first, the crime seems like a simple clash between rival vendors, but as Commissario Guido Brunetti probes more deeply, he begins to suspect that this murder was the work of a professional and there was more to the victim's story than met the eye.[27] And why does his boss want him off the case?
  15. Through a Glass, Darkly (2006)[citation needed] - When the body of a night watchman is found in front of a blazing furnace at De Cal's glass factory along with an annotated copy of Dante's Inferno, Brunetti must investigate. Does the book contain the clues Brunetti needs to solve the murder and uncover who is ruining the waters of Venice's lagoon?
  16. Suffer the Little Children (2007)[citation needed] - One night, a group of men break into the apartment of a pediatrician and his wife, violently assaulting the doctor and terrifying his wife and baby. They claim to be carabinieri. Brunetti investigates and is drawn into a murky world of unethical medical practice, corruption, and babies for sale to those with the money.
  17. The Girl of His Dreams (2008)[citation needed] - 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.
  18. About Face (2009)[28] - At a party, Brunetti meets a charming, well-read young woman with a garish facelift. At work, Brunetti is assigned to cooperate with a carabiniere investigating the murder of a man involved in illegal trucking of hazardous waste for the Camorra. Then, the two stories converge.
  19. A Question of Belief (2010)[citation needed] - Brunetti learns of a curious pattern at the courthouse: cases involving a certain judge and usher are repeatedly postponed in a way that benefits a certain lawyer. What's more, the usher is leasing an apartment from the lawyer at an extremely low rent — until he is murdered.
  20. Drawing Conclusions (2011)[citation needed] - An elderly woman dies of an apparent heart attack in her apartment. But could it be because someone shook her? If so, who and why? Brunetti explores the labyrinth of her recent activities, and arrives at a secret society for protecting battered women and a massive case of fraud committed many years before.
  21. Beastly Things (2012)[29] - A man whose body is found floating in a canal turns out to be a veterinarian who has been moonlighting as inspector for a slaughterhouse. Could something he learned there have led to his murder? Brunetti investigates, in one of Donna Leon's best-constructed and most atmospheric stories.[citation needed]
  22. The Golden Egg (2013)[30] - A young man, said to be deaf-mute and developmentally disabled, dies of an apparently accidental dose of sleeping pills. It isn't reported as a crime, but Brunetti and his wife Paola have known him in the neighborhood, and Brunetti can't help enlisting his police force friends to pull on the thread, until the whole gruesome past is unravelled.
  23. By Its Cover (2014)[31] - Someone is cutting pages out of precious rare library books, and Brunetti investigates. The obvious culprit has disappeared. Then an ex-priest who was in the library at the same time is murdered.
  24. Falling in Love (2015)[32] - Diva Flavia Petrelli is back, performing as Tosca. Someone has been sending her extravagant flowers and a valuable necklace. Then a singer whom Flavia complimented is pushed down some stairs, and her landlord, an ex-boyfriend, is stabbed. Can Brunetti protect Flavia from this violent stalker?
  25. The Waters of Eternal Youth (2016)[33][34]
  26. Earthly Remains (2017)[35][9]
  27. The Temptation of Forgiveness (2018)[36]
  28. Unto Us a Son Is Given (2019)[37]

Other novels[edit]



  • Leon, Donna & Pianaro, Roberta (2010). A Taste of Venice: At Table with Brunetti (also known as Brunetti's Cookbook). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 9780802197108.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  • Leon, Donna (2013). My Venice and Other Essays (First; hardcover ed.). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 9780802122803.

Books with musical recordings[edit]

  • Leon, Donna & Sowa, Michael & Handel, George Frideric (Composer) & Curtis, Alan (Conductor) & Gauvin, Karina (Soprano) & Hallenberg , Ann (Mezzo-soprano) & Agnew, Paul & Zorzi Giustiniani, Anicio (Tenor) (2010). Handel's Bestiary: In Search of Animals in Handel's Operas (First ed.). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 9780802119964.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link) Book and audio recording. WorldCat summary: "A literary, visual, and musical exploration of twelve of Handel's arias referencing animals. Complemented by a CD recording, conducted by Alan Curtis with Karina Gauvin (Soprano), Ann Hallenberg (Mezzo-soprano), Paul Agnew, and Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani (Tenor)."
  • Leon, Donna (Author) & Il Complesso Barocco (Orchestra) & Minasi, Riccardo (Conductor) & Vivaldi, Antonio (Composer) (2011). Venetian Curiosities (First ed.). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 9780802122803.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link) Book and audio recording. Worldcat summary: "Novelist Donna Leon recounts some legendary tales of Venice, offering insight into Venetian customs of the past and present. Includes music CD of seven concertos by Antonio Vivaldi performed by Il Complesso Barocco and conducted by Riccardo Minasi."
  • Leon, Donna & Il Pomo d'Oro (Musical group) & Minasi, Riccardo (Conductor) & Capezzuto, Vincenzo & Bartoli, Cecilia (Coloratura mezzo-soprano) (2013). Gondola. ISBN 9780802122667.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link) Book and audio recording. Worldcat summary: "Accompanied by a CD of Italian boat songs, this fascinating history of the gondola, which was first used in medieval Venice as a maneuverable getaway boat, reveals how it evolved over the centuries into a floating pleasure palace that facilitated the romantic escapades of the Venetian elite." Notes: "With a CD of Venetian barcarole performed by Il Pomo d'Oro, conducted by Riccardo Minasi, featuring Vincenzo Capezzuto and Cecilia Bartoli."


Leon's Commissario Brunetti novels have spawned multiple spin-off enterprises, including:

  • A travel guidebook: Sepeda, Dr. Toni (author) & Donna Leon (Introduction) (April 2009). Brunetti's Venice: Walks with the City’s Best-Loved Detective (paperback ed.). New York: Grove Press. ISBN 978-0802144379.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  • Walking Tours of Guido Brunetti's Venice with accompanying maps: Dr. Toni Sepeda,"the only lecturer authorized by Donna Leon to conduct events in Brunetti's Venicea", leads individual and group tours of the locations and routes noted in Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti novels.[39]


  1. ^ "SwissEduc - English - Leon, Donna: *1942". 2008-12-21. Retrieved February 14, 2013.
  2. ^ Marder, Dianna (July 8, 2010). "This case is culinary: Commissario's favorites". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved July 25, 2011. "Some 25 years ago, an English teacher and opera expert originally from Montclair, N.J., felt the lure of the lagoons and adopted Venice as her home. Now Donna Leon, 67, is the celebrated author of 19 international best sellers (more than two million sold) featuring a shrewd but principled police detective by the name of Guido Brunetti - and she is finally rewarding her readers with a cookbook of his favorite recipes."
  3. ^ Hällsten, Annika (October 1, 2016). "Donna Leon vill vara politisk". Hufvudstadsbladet (in Swedish). p. 33.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Donna Leon and the Madness of Venice". January 11, 2016.
  6. ^ "Donna Leon Interview". May 5, 2003. Retrieved February 14, 2013.
  7. ^ Donna Leon: The Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries (TV Series). IMDb. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  8. ^ "Where to Watch Donna Leon: The Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries Online". MovieFone.
  9. ^ a b c d e Rustin, Susanna (April 15, 2017). "Interview: Donna Leon: Why I became an eco-detective writer". The Guardian. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  10. ^ Donna Leon Interview. MHz Networks. March 1, 2014. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  11. ^ "Review: Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved February 14, 2013.
  12. ^ Green, Peter (May 28, 2012). "Highbrow Lowbrow". New Republic.
  13. ^ Leon, Donna (1992) Death at La Fenice Pan Books ISBN 9789972895210
  14. ^ Leon, Donna (1993) Death in a Strange Country Pan Books ISBN 9780143115885
  15. ^ Leon, Donna (1994). Dressed for Death (aka The Anonymous Venetian). Pan Books. ISBN 9780330344128.
  16. ^ Leon, Donna (1995). A Venetian Reckoning. PanBooks. ISBN 9780330344166.
  17. ^ Leon, Donna (1996). Acqua Alta. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143115908.
  18. ^ Leon, Donna (1997). The Death of Faith (aka Quietly in Their Sleep). Pan Books. ISBN 9780330349499.
  19. ^ Leon, Donna (1997). A Noble Radiance. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780099515036.
  20. ^ Leon, Donna (1999). Fatal Remedies. Penguin Books.
  21. ^ Leon, Donna (2000). Friends in High Places. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143117063.
  22. ^ Leon, Donna (2001). A Sea of Troubles (First; hardcover ed.). London: Heinemann.
  23. ^ Leon, Donna (2002). Willful Behavior. London: Heinemann. ISBN 9780434009947.
  24. ^
  25. ^ Leon, Donna (2005). Blood From a Stone. The Atlantic Monthly. ISBN 0-87113-887-5. (e.g., in Chapters 26 and 27)
  26. ^ Vennarucci, Carlo (January 2005). "Review: Blood From a Stone by Donna Leon". Kirkus.
  27. ^ "Donna Leon: The Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery Series: Blood From A Stone". Italian Mysteries.
  28. ^ Leon, Donna (2009). About Face. Atlantic Monthly Press.
  29. ^ Leon, Donna (2012). Beastly Things (Commissario Brunetti, #21). Grove/Atlantic. ISBN 0802120237.
  30. ^ Leon, Donna (2013). The Golden Egg. Atlantic Monthly Press.
  31. ^ Leon, Donna (2014). By Its Cover. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 9780802122643.
  32. ^ Leon, Donna (2015). Falling in Love. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 9780802123534.
  33. ^ Leon, Donna (2016). The Waters of Eternal Youth. WILLIAM HEINEMANN.
  34. ^ Woodhead, Cameron (May 14, 2016). "The Waters of Eternal Youth review: The classy crime fiction of Donna Leon". Brisbane Times.
  35. ^ Leon, Donna (April 4, 2017). Earthly Remains. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 978-0802126474.
  36. ^ Leon, Donna (2018). The Temptation of Forgiveness. Grove Atlantic. ISBN 978-0-8021-2775-4.
  37. ^ Leon, Donna (2019). Unto Us a Son Is Given. Grove Atlantic. ISBN 978-0-8021-2911-6.
  38. ^ Leon, Donna (2012). The Jewels of Paradise (Export ed.). London: William Heinemann Ltd. ISBN 9780434022281.
  39. ^ Sepeda, Toni. "Walking Tours of Guido Brunetti's Venice".

Further reading[edit]

  • By the Book Staff & Tamaki, Jillian (Illustrator) (March 7, 2019). "By the Book: Donna Leon". The New York Times.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)

External links[edit]