Mystery Authors You May Have Missed
Donna Leon

Photowww.donnaleon.co.uk

Biography
Donna Leon is an American author of a series of mysteries set in Venice. A New Yorker of Irish/Spanish descent, Ms. Leon first visited Italy in 1965, returning regularly for ten years or so while pursuing an academic career in the U.S. and then later in Iran, China, and finally Saudi Arabia. After a period in Saudi Arabia, which she found “damaging physically and spiritually” she decided to move to Venice, where she has now lived for over twenty years. Ms. Leon has been a professor of English Literature at a university near Venice, but now concentrates on writing and other cultural activities. She loves opera, especially Baroque opera, and is an expert on Händel. She arranges her schedule so that she can enjoy the European opera season as much as possible.

What she writes: Her crime novels are all situated in or near Venice, are written in English and translated into many foreign languages, though not Italian. The melancholic police commissioner Guido Brunetti deals with crime in and around his home town of Venice and each case reveals another aspect of the seamier side of society. Brunetti can only do so much about the crime and beauratic corruption and this leaves him quite cynical. He finds solace in his feisty wife, Paola, and with his growing children, Raffi and Chiara. Paola teaches literature and is very much an emancipated leftist. It is as a man of sensibility that Brunetti most charms us. On walks through Venice, he will go out of his way to greet a myna in a pet shop or admire a woman's legs in a coffee bar -- quietly celebrating the way life goes on, even in an unjust world. The other police staff he works with add interest and humor to the novels.

Ms. Leon’s debut as a crime fiction writer began as a joke: talking in a dressing room in Venice’s opera-house La Fenice after a performance, Donna and a singer friend were vilifying a particular German conductor. From the thought ‘why don’t we kill him?’ and discussion of when, where and how, the idea for Death at La Fenice took shape, and was completed over the next four months.

Some critics consider the writing too simple, but her very loyal readers appreciate the clarity and admire its power to evoke Venice through sights, smells and flavors (through the descriptions of food and cooking). The writing depends very much on the typical stereotypes of regional Italians and “ugly” tourists, but the Venetians are depicted as cultured and intelligent. She says “Italians know about human nature - they understand human nature perhaps better than anyone else does. They know that people are weak and greedy and lazy and dishonest and they just try to make the best of it; to work around it.”

 

List of works
 
Guido Brunetti series
  Death at La Fenice (1992) -- cassette
  Death in a Strange Country (1993) -- cassette
  Dressed for Death (1994) Also known as The Anonymous Venetian -- cassette
  Death and Judgment (1995) Also known as A Venetian Reckoning -- cassette
  Acqua Alta (1996) Also known as Death in High Water -- eBook
  The Death of Faith (1997)
  A Noble Radiance (1997) -- cd -- eBook
  Fatal Remedies (1999) -- eBook
  Friends in High Places (2000) -- eBook
  A Sea of Troubles (2001)
  Wilful Behaviour (2002)
  Uniform Justice (2003) -- eBook
  Doctored Evidence (2004)
  Blood from a Stone (2005) -- paperback -- cd -- eBook
  Through a Glass, Darkly (2006) --paperback -- cd
  Suffer the Little Children (2007)
   

Awards

In 1991, Donna Leon was honored with the Japanese Suntory-Price for Death at La Fenice and the Silver Dagger Award for Friends in High Places.

 
What the critics say
“Venice is the perfect metaphor for the contrasting aspects of Italian life that Donna Leon’s novels so convincingly chronicle ... Donna Leon ... deserves congratulation for creating a fine episode in this superior series.” — Sunday Herald
“A splendid series . . . with a backdrop of the city so vivid you can almost smell it.” — The Sunday Telegraph (London)
“Sensitive, incredibly colourful social portraits, close-ups of a splintered, encrusted society. But finally it is probably Guido Brunetti who makes the novels so successful. The reader follows him with pleasure through the narrow, winding streets of Venice.” — Der Spiegel (Hamburg)
“Donna Leon is a top thriller writer, on a par with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell. Women, so it would seem from literary history, have always been in their element with the genre of murder and violence.” — Sonntags Zeitung (Zurich)
“Commissario Brunetti’s investigations place Donna Leon very high in the hierarchy of crime writing.” — Le Figaro magazine (Paris)
“Donna Leon guides us through Venice like James Ellroy through Los Angeles or Manuel Vàzquez Montalbàn through Barcelona: with an eye used to detect what lies behind the façade.” —Le Figaro magazine (Paris)

 

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