Donna Leon’s gripping Commissario Brunetti mystery series transports readers through every canal in Venice. Twenty seven installments in, the mystery shows no signs of letting up.
Leon was born and raised in America but lived in Venice for over 30 years. Each Brunetti mystery encompasses a unique part of Venetian life–from a blown glass factory to the opera house. Interestingly, Leon’s books have been translated into a number of languages, but she made sure that Italian wasn't one of them. While living in Italy, Leon didn’t want to be stopped on the street by local fans so she refused to print in their native language. These Donna Leon books include her most compelling reads. And they’ll leave you breathless.
Acqua Alta heightens the stakes of a traditional Brunetti investigation–while he looks into the brutal beating of an art historian, Venetian waters are reaching threatening heights, leading to intense floods. As the investigation develops, Brunetti is thrown into the world of stolen art, copycats, and the dark side of Venice. This fifth entry in the series is often praised as Brunetti’s best outing.
Death at La Fenice
The first novel in the Commissario Brunetti series, Death at La Fenice takes center stage at the Italian opera. During the intermission of a performance, the show’s German conductor is poisoned. As the conductor had a bit of a reputation, Brunetti has a multitude of suspects with an array of motives to investigate.
In order to understand all the politics that go along with selecting a conductor for the opera, Brunetti must dive deep into Venetian history. Leon takes her readers on a journey in each of her books; her debut makes her proclivity for history and atmosphere clear.
A Sea of Troubles
When a docked boat explodes on an island just off of Venice and kills two people, Brunetti is called to investigate. Brunetti’s forbidden flirtation with a co-worker whose family lives in the area of the investigation causes him to question his marriage, making this edition in the Brunetti series the most scandalous yet. Brunetti’s image as a hardworking family man is shattered in this novel, and you’ll keep turning the pages to find out if he acts on his desires or if he can rebuild his reputation.
The Golden Egg
Brunetti opens up an investigation per the request of his wife, Paola. This time, the victim is a mentally disabled man without any form of official identification. An influential and well-known aristocratic family might be involved, but trying to punish the rich comes with its own challenges. Leon explores the unchecked power of the wealthy class in many of her novels, but the victim’s disabilities heighten this tension.
Death in a Strange Country
In the second novel in the Brunetti series, the commissario is looking into the death of an American military veteran who is found in one of the canals. The investigation involves a possible toxic waste disposal plan that crosses national lines and implicates the United States. The novel is Leon’s entrance into the world of eco-detective themes that continues throughout the rest of the series.
Through a Glass, Darkly
Family loyalties are tested in the 15th novel in Leon's series. Readers are transported to the famed island of Murano, known for glass-blowing and one of the most popular tourist destinations around Venice. A body is discovered on the isolated island which is only accessible by small boat: The killer clearly premeditated their attack.
The beauty of the blown glass is juxtaposed with the gruesome murder scene–a factory worker has been burned to death next to an annotated copy of Dante’s Inferno. Readers will discover how dominating families have controlled the Venetian glass industry for centuries, leading to egos big enough to justify murder.
Willful Behavior is rather distinct from other books in the Brunetti series, as the woman who seeks his help soon becomes a victim herself. Brunetti is initially hired to exonerate a man from a crime committed decades before, but it soon turns into a new homicide investigation.
The novel also leaves the confines of the Venetian canals and enters the art scene in Austria, a true rarity for a Commissario Brunetti book. When the art there is linked to an old Nazi plot, Brunetti must find the killer before more people turn up dead. This fast-paced read builds up suspense at every chapter–the closer Brunetti gets to the truth, the more brutal the killer becomes.
This novel opens up with Brunetti bailing his wife out from jail for vandalism. Understanding her motives ends up being key to a robbery and murder that initially seemed completely unrelated. Fatal Remedies incorporates a group that American readers know all too well: the Mafia. The lines between personal and professional lives are blurred in this story, and Brunetti’s marital difficulties are once again at the forefront.
Friends in High Places
Just as Brunetti is about to be evicted by an influential bureaucrat, the man’s body is found hanging from a tall scaffold. Once again, Leon takes on corruption and classism, as Brunetti must discover what's behind both the man’s murder and his threatened eviction.
Suffer the Little Children
When a child is kidnapped, Brunetti finds himself in a situation with higher stakes than ever in this installment of the Commissario Brunetti series. Brunetti investigates an attack on a well-known pediatrician whose son was taken after the violence ended. Leon explores the world of infertility and secret adoptions. Despite its terrifying subject matter, Suffer the Little Children begins with a hilarious conversation between Brunetti and a witness who cannot focus on telling a story without breaking off into 10 unrelated tales. We all know those people, and it’s a thankfully light way to begin such a dark book.