Donna Leon is the crime mystery author of the Guido Brunetti series featuring the popular Commissario of Police, set in Venice, Italy. The series has been ongoing for quite a few years, with the first book published back in 1992. Currently, the latest novel was published in 2019 with the title Unto Us a Son is Given.
Here are the Donna Leon books in order for her bestselling series, along with her several non-fiction books, some of which are part of the Italian culture, as they deal especially with Venice.
New Donna Leon Books
Commissario Brunetti Series
- Death At La Fenice, 1992
- Death in a Strange Country, 1993
- The Anonymous Venetian, 1994 (also titled Dressed for Death)
- A Venetian Reckoning, 1995 (also titled Death And Judgment)
- Acqua Alta, 1996 (also titled Death in High Water)
- The Death of Faith, 1997 (also titled Quietly in Their Sleep)
- A Noble Radiance, 1998
- Fatal Remedies, 1999
- Friends in High Places, 2000
- A Sea of Troubles, 2001
- Willful Behaviour, 2002
- Uniform Justice, 2003
- Doctored Evidence, 2004
- Blood from a Stone, 2005
- Through a Glass Darkly, 2006
- Suffer the Little Children, 2007
- The Girl of His Dreams, 2008
- About Face, 2009
- A Question of Belief, 2010
- Drawing Conclusions, 2011
- Beastly Things, 2012
- The Golden Egg, 2013
- By Its Cover, 2014
- Falling in Love, 2015
- The Waters of Eternal Youth, 2016
- Earthly Remains, 2017
- The Temptation of Forgiveness, 2018
- Unto Us a Son Is Given, 2019
Standalone Donna Leon Books
- A Taste of Venice: At Table With Brunetti, 2009, with Roberta Pianaro (non-fiction)
- Handel’s Bestiary, 2011
- The Jewels of Paradise, 2012 (fiction)
- Venetian Curiosities, 2012
- My Venice and Other Essays, 2013
- Gondola, 2014
Who is Commissario Brunetti?
Paola Brunetti is a humble man who lives with his wife Paola, who is a specialist in American literature. They live together with their two children in a spacious apartment. Guido is a character the author imagines good men to be: reserved, humble, kind, discreet, and responsible. He works at the Venetian Questura along with his best friends, Inspector Vianello and the secretary Signorina Elettra. He is a regular guy who goes home after work, doesn’t cheat his way through life.
The crimes Guido Brunetti investigates in the Donna Leon novels are typical of big-city issues, such as mafia, corruption, and crimes around the world of art and the world of the Church. The books are not extremely gory with a lot of blood spilled by either party. Instead, the Commissario is attempting to understand the criminals with their motivations, to see what really drives them. He also wants to know what drives the victims as well. He is a generally optimistic person, just like the author is as well. Donna Leon created Guido Brunetti as a man she actually likes. He is a nice guy with a strong intellect and sense of ethics. His colleagues are in constant admiration of his intellect, professionalism, and fast-decision abilities.
Besides Guido Brunetti, the other Donna Leon characters are:
- Paola Brunetti – Guido Brunetti’s wife
- Raffaele (Raffi) Brunetti – the couple’s politically engaged daughter
- Count and Contessa Falier – Paola’s rich parents
- Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta – Brunetti’s direct boss
- Commissario Claudia Griffoni – Brunetti’s friend and colleague at the Questura
- Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello – Brunetti’s young colleague and friend at the Questura
- Officer AlviseOfficer Alvise
- Signorina Elettra Zorzi – Patta’s intelligent secretary
- Lieutenant Scarpa – Guido’s colleague, a detestable man that everyone, including Guido hates
Donna Leon Biography
Donna Leon was born in 1942, in Montclair, New Jersey to Catholic parents. Her ancestry is European, with her grandparent hailing from Spain (paternal), Ireland, and Germany (maternal).
She grew up in Bloomfield, New Jersey. In her childhood, her parents would constantly urge her to get a good education, have a good life, and overall, have fun. Her parents survived the depression times, however, they never got a college education or degree. She started traveling the world soon after. Over the years, she went to Italy, Iran, England, China, and Saudi Arabia. In China, she taught for a year, and in Iran, she lived for 4 years. She also taught in Saudi Arabia for one year, but that country was not among her favorites.
In 1978, she was working in Iran as a teacher while at the same time trying to complete her Ph.D. with the topic on Jane Austen, when the 1978-1979 revolution happened, which interrupted her studies of the time. In addition, as she fled the Revolution, her dissertation on Jane Austen, which she had worked on for five years, was lost. After returning back to New York, she began working for an advertising agency as a copywriter, until someone asked her to visit Italy. When she did, she fell in love with Rome and soon remained in Italy where she joined the expat community, along with authors such as Byron, Henry James, Ruskin, alley Vickers, and Michael Dibdin.
The Donna Leon chronology starts with her debut novel, Death at la Fenice. She started writing her Commissario Brunetti series in the early 1990s. She published her first novel in 1992 after 8 months of writing her story. The book made Donna Leon into a bestselling author. She wrote her debut novel on a whim. While at the Opera House La Fenice, she got the idea to write a book just to see if she could write it. She was in her late 40s, and at the insistence of her friends, she submitted the manuscript at a contest in Japan, and much to her surprise, she was a winner of the Japanese Suntory prize.
Reading the Donna Leon series in order is quite important, although many readers have said that they jumped in any given story and could follow the cases without any problems. Still, to follow the character progression and development over the course of many years, it is best to read the books in order.
Until around 2015, the author lived in Venice for over 30 years, however, recently she moved to Switzerland, in her home in Zurich and her other home in a small village in the mountains. Donna Leon is not married and has no partner or an ex-husband. In an interview, she mentioned that marriage is not something that suits her; she prefers to remain single. She does return to the US, albeit infrequently, as she doesn’t feel at home there.
Over the years, she has worked at the University of Maryland University College – Europe as its lecturer in English literature, and for 18 years she worked as a professor at the American military base of Vicenza.
Currently, the Donna Leon books are available not only in the US but also in numerous European countries, including France, The Netherlands, Spain (in Spanish and Catalan), Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Great Britain, Bulgaria, Portugal, Brazil, China, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary, Turkey, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Russia, Japan, Israel, and the German edition in the German-speaking countries.
However, as an interesting aside, her books have not been translated into Italian, the very country where the Commissario Brunetti series takes place. The author said that she doesn’t like to be famous, especially not where she is living. She feels best when she walks the streets in Venice and nobody knows who she is or if she is famous at all. Donna Leon’s net worth is currently estimated at anywhere between $100k to #1 million in 2019, at the age of 76 years old.
Over the years, there are many Donna Leon awards that the author won for her books, including:
- the Suntory Mystery Fiction Grand Prize for her first novel Death at La Fenice
- the Golden Book Award from the Austrian Booksellers Association
- the International Deutscher Krimi Preis, 3rd place, for Dressed for Death
- the CWA Silver Dagger Award for Friends in High Places
- the Chorine – International Book Prize for Willful Behaviour
- the Spoken Word Awards Silver Award for Blood From a Stone
The latest Donna Leon book is titled Unto Us a Son Is Given, published early 2019.
Currently, there is a Donan Leon TV series adapted from her Guido Brunetti books to the German television, title Commissario Brunetti. The TV show, produced in 2000 by ARD, has also been aired in Spain and Finland.
Besides writing books, the author loves Baroque music, especially Handel. She is a patron of the orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro. She also holds locally crime writing masterclasses in Switzerland, which are usually quite soon fully booked.
Praise for the Donna Leon Books
[Donna Leon] has never become perfunctory, never failed to give us vivid portraits of people and of Venice, never lost her fine, disillusioned indignation. (Ursula K. LeGuin)
Few detective writers create so vivid, inclusive, and convincing a narrative as Donna Leon . . . One of the most exquisite and subtle detective series ever (Washington Post)
The sophisticated but still moral Brunetti, with his love of food and his loving family, proves a worthy custodian of timeless values and verities. (Wall Street Journal)
For those who know Venice, or want to, Brunetti is a well-versed escort to the nooks, crannies, moods, and idiosyncrasies of what residents call La Serenissima, the Serene One . . . Richly atmospheric, [Leon] introduces you to the Venice insiders know. (USA Today)
As always, Brunetti is highly attuned to (and sympathetic toward) the failings of the humans around him. (Seattle Times)
Donna Leon is the undisputed crime fiction queen . . . Leon’s ability to capture the social scene and internal politics [of Venice] is first-rate. (Baltimore Sun)
Donna Leon’s latest Commissario Brunetti mystery is an intriguing look at love [and] family life. There is a mystery and a murder here, but they appear very late in this intriguing yarn . . . The real focus is on the intricate social realities and old rich families of Leon’s beautiful, mysterious and labyrinthine Venice. (Providence Journal)
Donna Leon doesn’t have her own website.