User:K. Kellogg-Smith/Donna Leon

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Donna Leon
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Period 1992-present
Genre Mystery fiction

Donna Leon[edit]

Donna Leon [note 1] (b. September 28,[note 2] 1942, Montclair, New Jersey) is an award-winning American novelist, an expatriate who has been living, writing, and teaching in Italy for more than twenty years.  She is notable mostly for her Commissario Guido Brunetti series of detective fiction novels which have been published in twenty-three languages and serialized in German television productions. She has an avocational, semi-professional interest in Baroque-era opera and opera music, providing financial help and artistic consultation to composer/conductor Alan Curtis' Il Complesso Barocco opera company.

Early history and family history[edit]

Very little is known about Leon's family and early history beyond what's in her publishers' biographies, which give little more than her date and place of birth.

In interviews earlier in her career as a writer of her Brunetti-series novels she had given her parentage as Irish-Spanish.  In later interviews she added German parentage; in a 2009 interview with Washington Post staff writer Robert Thomson she clarified her parentage by stating that she has "...two Irish grandmothers, a Spanish grandfather, and a German grandfather.".

She also mentions in interviews that she has a brother, and a dog.

Education and employment[edit]

There are no available references which give details about the author's primary, secondary, and college or university education.

General education:[edit]

Avocational and professional interest in Baroque-era operas, and opera music. Cultural orientation and elementary Italian language programs for foreign students at universities in Perugia and Siena.

Formal education:[edit]

Since virtually nothing is known about the author's early pre-collegiate life, it's not known what high school or schools she attended, or where the school or schools were located.

As far as the author's post-high school education is concerned, the Barnes & Noble bookseller's website states that she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1964, but neither the name of the granting institution, its location, and her undergraduate major are given.

The Penguin Group's website states that in 1965 (after obtaining her B.A.) the author went to Italy, returning to the U.S. regularly "... over the next decade or so while pursuing a career as an academic...". Since the Barnes & Noble website states that the author obtained a Master's degree in 1969, the assumption can be made that sometime between 1965 and 1969 the author's pursuit of an academic career included enrollment at one or more unspecified institutions of higher learning to undertake a course of study that eventually led to her obtaining a Master's degree.[note 3]

The publishers' biographies that are available online do not include information about Leon's post-high school education. The their "Meet the Writers" section of the U.S. bookseller Barnes & Noble's website the author is listed as having received a B.A. in 1964, and M.A. five years later in 1969.  The name and location of the granting institutions is not given.  The website also lists the author as having done postgraduate work in English literature, but the name and location of the degree granting institution where she was doing her postgraduate work also isn't given.[citation needed]


There are no independently varifiable sources which can be referenced when listing Leon's employment history. Existing references to her work history are therefore either autobiographical or apochraphal; they cannot actually be proven independently to be legitimate.

Various publishers' biographies state that Leon has been variously an ad copy writer and columnist for the London Sunday Times and (or) the London Telegraph, but no dates are given. Some biographies also state that Leon had been a tour guide in Rome, Italy before she began living and teaching in Switzerland, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia before coming to northern Italy and being employed by the University of Maryland University College (Europe)[note 4] at either or both the U.S. Army's conjoint-usage base at Vicenza, Italy, or the U.S. Air Force's conjoint-usage base at Aviano, Italy.  Both bases are within reasonable commute distance of Venice, where Leon took up residence in 1981. Indications are that Leon's employment with UMUC continued through 2003.[note 5]

Literary works[edit]

(Start with the background to Death at La Fenice, the Suntory prize (second or third place??, etc.)

The content of her Brunetti-series novels, the plots of which are centered on Venice, Italy, and, in addition to the main character, Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice branch of the Italian Questura, feature eight standard characters who play leading roles in the stories' plot development. Leon's Brunetti novels are popular; all of her novels have been translated and published in twenty-three languages. In addition to her Brunetti novels, she has assisted two other authors who have each written a derivative non-fiction book based entirely on events in Leon's Brunetti-series novels.

(  Include 'main article' link to Commissario Guido Brunetti series wiki  )

Literary influences[edit]

( short paragraph about authors she says in interviews that influenced her. Cite "EMMA" magazine contents as influencing her Brunetti-series topics, Italian newspapers (cite links, etc.)

Jane Austen
Henry James
Ruth Rendell
EMMA (German feminist magazine)

Commissario Guido Brunetti series[edit]


The primary genre in which the author's Commissario Guido Brunetti series crime fiction novels can be classified is often called "yellow fiction".  The name of the genre comes from the Italian "I libri gialli", the name coming from a series of crime fiction novels featuring yellow (giallo) covers.  The giallo crime fiction novels were printed by Italy's Mondadori publishing company, initially featuring Italian transcriptions of well-known American and British crime fiction writers.[note]  The gialli novels were published by Mondadori from the early 1930's and up until 1943, when the pubication of the gialli novels was suspended at the insistance of the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini.  Publication of giallo novels was resumed after the war, and continued up until the 1960's.  While Mondadori's giallo novels were initially translations of English-language crime novels, the works of Italian authors eventually came to be included in the publisher's offerings.

The author's Brunetti-series novels use the 'police procedure' format, a format in which the central character is a police officer or official who, with the use of the resources available to police departments and their employees, investigates, acquires, and analyzes facts about the case and the people directly or indirectly involved.  Taking those facts and using deductive reasoning, the central character then is eventually able to conclude and identify who is responsible for the criminal action which is central to the story's plot.

There are sub-genres into which the Commissario Guido Brunetti series can also be classifed.  The Brunetti-series novels are essentially the "gaillo sociale" sub-genre, yellow crime novels where authors dwell on personal and environmental factors that affect and/or influence both the perpetrators and victims immediately or peripherally involved in the criminal actions.  The author's Brunetti-series novels also include elements of the French "noir" ('black') genre, similar to the Italian gaillo sociale novel, but where the plots focus more on fundamental weaknesses of characters and negative environmental factors. [to be continued]

Writing style:[edit]

While the subject matter of the author's novels varies, the basic format she uses in presenting her subject matter, her plots, does not.  Each of her novels novel is part travelogue, descriptions of Venice that play a big part in the sales of her books; most positive reviews of her books dwell at length on the Venice she weaves into her plots.  Each of her novels, in addition to being part travelogue, are also part social commentary, part family living and raising of teenage children, and part deductive reasoning and sleuthing to learn the identify of a murder victim (or victims) and discover and apprehend the perpetrator.

The author writes in the third person narrative voice, an external viewer who, by observation and reporting details about characters, their environment, and their interaction with other characters in her novels paints a "slice of life" picture of Venice.

In all of the Brunetti-series novels the author's plot development is that the climax of the story, the point in the story where the identification of the perpetrator of the criminal action is made, comes at the very end of the story, often as a 'surprise ending'.  The author makes these surprise endings possible by using the literary sleight-of-hand, "appearances are deceiving", as she creates the characters in her storyline.

The author's novels are frequently classifed as "crime fiction", as each novel in the series generally involves a murder.  The author uses each novels murder (or series of murders) to introduce and enhance a plot that involves what she sees as an underlying social evil or issue -- industrial pollution, toxic waste, sex tourism, bribery, drug dealing, sex tourism, prostitution and homosexuality, for example -- evils and issues which have, to a greater or lesser degree, an impact her characters.

Within the context of the primary social issue which the author is exploiting are her charcaters' work, workplace, and home sub-issues.  Although the plots of all her novels take place in Venice, the sub-issues her characters become involved in seem to be typical, the kind of issues that are common in the lives of most people; successfully (or unsuccessfully) dealing with collegues at work who are unreasonable, unpleasant, competent, personable, skilled, or incompetent. And it is within this context that the author frequently uses her literary penknife to stab, wound, and even kill off characters whose personalities and behaviors she wants us to find unlikeable -- characters who may actually have a counterpart in real life.

By using the third person narrative form of relaying her plots to her readers the author is free engage in social commentary and criticism, often through the speaking parts she writes for her characters, but just as often through the thoughts, silent observations, and acts of her main characters.  In this regard the author is a master of characterization, blending acts and appearances in a way that shows her characters to advantage -- or to disadvantage.  Through her novel's characters the author is able to present social views which she has a particular interest: parenting and adjustment to the temperment of teenagers, the blight of increased tourism that has afflicted her Venice, office politics, the incipient venality and corruption of public officials, the the mentality of the U.S. military establishment in arrogantly creating insular, self-sufficient "little Americas" on their bases which isolate and further alienate the local populations.

Brunetti series list:[edit]

(insert series list here)

Literary awards[edit]

2000 Crime Writers Association (UK) Macallan Silver Dagger second place award for crime fiction.

1991  Suntory (Japan) mystery fiction Grand Prize (Suntory Misuterii Taishô) for her novel Death at La Fenice. [note 6]

Publishers' awards:[edit]

(date) Bellatrix Corine award

Author's dedications:[edit]

Each of the novels in the Brunetti-series includes in its preface a dedication to individuals who the author considers either remarkable, notable, a significant influence in her life, or the writing and development of that particular novel. Some of the dedications are made to notable and known persons: such as Arleen Auger (soprano, deceased), Peggy Flynn (soprano), Donald McCall (cellist), Toni Sepeda (UMUC (Europe) colleague, Venice tour guide, author of Brunetti's Walks, and longtime friend), Craig manley (illustrator, co-author with T. Sepeda on Brunetti's Walks), and Biba (thought to be Roberta Pianaro, longtime friend, author of Brunetti's Cookbook).  The table below lists the dedications in each of her Brunetti-series novels.

Other persons included in the author's dedications are generally less well known, but notable in their own right: her mother, and Bettschart and Keel.

Year Title Dedication
1992 Death at La Fenice
For my mother
1993 Death in a Strange Country
For Peggy Flynn
1994 Dressed for Death
The Anonymous Venetian
In memory of Arleen Auger, a perished sun
1995 Death and Judgement
A Venetian Reckoning
For Toni Sepeda and Craig Manley
1996 Aqua Alta
For Guy Santa Lucia
Quietly in Their Sleep
The Death of Faith
For Donald McCall
1998 A Noble Radiance
Per Biba e La Bianca
1999 Fatal Remedies
For William Douglas
2000 Friends in High Places
Christine Donougher
Roderick Conway-Morris
2001 A Sea of Troubles
For Rudolph C. Bettschart and Daniel Keel
2002 Wilful Behaviour  
2003 Uniform Justice  
2004 Doctored Evidence
For Alan Curtis
2005 Blood From a Stone  
2006 Through a Glass Darkly
Cecilia Bartoli
2007 Suffer the Little Children
Rav Mirchandani
2008 The Girl of His Dreams
Leonhard Toenz
2009 About Face
For Petra Reski-Lando and Lino Lando
2010 A Question of Belief
For Joyce DiDonato

Derivative works by other authors[edit]

(cf Roberta Pianaro's Brunetti cookbook)

(cf Toni Sepeda's Brunetti walks through Venice)

(cf German Brunetti board game))


Novel adaptions:[edit]


Interest in Opera[edit]

Capitalizing on her avocational interest in opera music and her Brunetti-series book income, Leon has underwritten the costs of American expatriate composer/conductor Alan Curtis' Il Complesso Barocco opera company, and has acted as that company's artistic director.  She has also written the libretto, in English, for her opera, Donna Gallina for which (??) has written the opera's musical score. (add: Liner notes, Sunday Times opera critic (??))

As an opera critic

As a dramatist
dona gallina libretto

As a patron
Il Complesso Barocco


  1. ^ Very little is actually known about Donna Leon's personal history.  Her date and place of birth is generally agreed upon in most published biographies of Leon, but cannot be independently verifed due to U.S. and state Privacy statutes' restrictions on dissemination of certain types of public information which could lead to identity theft. Other information about the author's family, her education, her employment, and other information pre-dating the publication Death at La Fenice (the first of her Brunetti-series novels) in 1991 (in Japan) and 1992 (in the U.S. and U.K.) is vague and sometimes contradictory.
  2. ^ September 28, 1942 is date of birth reported on most English and foreign-language websites. However, February 28, 1942 is given as the author's date of birth on the Barnes & Noble book seller's "Meet the Writers" website.
  3. ^ The name and location of the granting institution is not specified on the website.
  4. ^ The University of Maryland University College (Europe)'s Spring 1999 edition of their online alumni/faculty magazine, Achiever, has a short description of Donna Leon's noteriety as an author in the magazine's "Authors" features section, i.e., it can be assumed that Leon was an employee of UMUC (Europe) in 1999.
  5. ^ According to an added note in an on-line copy of a New York Times 2009 interview, Leon's employment with the University of Maryland University College (Europe) was terminated in 2003.
  6. ^ The Suntory mystery fiction contest was conducted annually for twenty years, beginning in 1983 and ending in 2003 (no award was made in 1994).  There were several awards made in the contests; the prestigious Suntory Misuterii Taishô (Mystery Grand Prize) and either of two excellence awards for the runner-up, the Kasaku Shô (Excellence Award), which was renamed the Yûshû Sakuhin Shô (Excellent Work Award) in 1996, and a less prestigious but nonetheless still significant Dokushatati Shô (Reader's Award).  By 1994 a panel of five judges determined which of the manuscripts submitted in the contest were to be awarded the Misuterii Taishô Grand Prize and the Kasaku Shô, Yûshû Sakuhin Shô Excellence Award.  A committee of fifty members then determined which of the remaining manuscripts should be awarded the Dokushatati Shô, a quasi-third place award for excellence.  Manuscripts that were very good, but not thought to be good enough to be awarded the Misuterii Taishô, could be awarded both the Kasaku Shô, Yûshû Sakuhin Shô and the Dokushatati Shô.

    The first place Grand Prize award was significant; a substantial cash award in Japanese currency (the Yen), publication of the author's novel (in Japanese) by contest co-sponsor Bungei Shunjû publishing company, and a television (or film) adaption, also in Japanese, of the author's novel by the Asahi Broadcasting Corporation of Japan, another co-sponsor of the contest.  The Kasaku Shô, Yûshû Sakuhin Shô, carried with it a contract with Bungei Shunjû to publish the award winner's manuscript, as did the Dokushatati Shô.

    In the 1986 contest, American author Ralph Young placed second and was awarded the Kasaku Shô. But surpringly, because that award had not only been given to a non-Japanese author, the selection committee had also awarded Young the Dokushatati Shô.  Young has said [ref 1] that the Japanese were highly excited that the Suntory awards judges and the committee had awarded a non-Japanese writer both the Kasaku Shô and the Dokushatati Shô for his novel Crossfire.

    Four years later, in 1990, American author Molly McKitterick became the second woman of any nationality, and the first American woman, to win the coveted Suntory Misuterii Taishô .  Then in the following year, 1991, American expatriate author Donna Leon became the second woman in a row to win that same award.  American author Margaret Bridges entered the contest the following year in 1992, but did not win either the Grand Prize or either of the two excellence awards.  However, the awards judges and selection committee believed that Ms. Bridges novel deserved special mention, and awarded her, for the first and only time in the contest's history, the Tokubetsu Kasaku Shô (Special Award for Excellence).


Internal links[edit]

Mystery fiction
Commissario Guido Brunetti series

External links[edit]

Other Wikipedias[edit]

German (
Donna Leon
Italian (
Donna Leon
Letteratura gialla   (Italian "yellow" crime fiction)
Spanish (
Donna Leon


Grove/Atlantic: "official" Donna Leon website
Alan Curtis, Donna Leon: Il Complesso Barocco


2010 (May):   Jenni Murray (BBC Radio 4) Donna Leon: Recent News!

2006 (May):   Bob Thomson, Washington Post:   An American in Venice

2005 (March):  Random House UK:   Donna Leon interview

2005 ( ):  Transcript of Random House UK video presentation   Meet the Authors

2004 (July):  Radio interview transcript:  Donna Leon interview on EduETH   (Eidgenössische Technical High School, Zurich, Switzerland)

2003 (August):  Michael White, New York Sunday Times:   Patron of the Arts of Opera and Murder

2003 (May):  Exclusive Interview with Donna Leon

2003 (March):  BBC Radio transcript:  Donna Leon interview on BBC Radio 4

1999 (March):  Television transcript, CBS Sunday MorningDonna Leon's Mysterious Venice

(Undated):  Translated from (Germany) website:   Venice's Successful Detective Writer

(Undated):  From Penguin books:   Conversation with Donna Leon

(Undated):  Translated from (Germany) website:   Donna Leon interview

YouTube videos:[edit]

(Videos of Donna Leon on YouTube, provide search list of search terms)

(Add category list at end of article)