Delving into Donna Leon’s atmospheric crime series featuring the sharp, intelligent Commissario Guido Brunetti? Here’s our guide to the characters you’ll meet when exploring the Venice streets.
Commissario Guido Brunetti: The protagonist of the series, Guido Brunetti is a commissario di polizia working for the Venetian Questura. Well-read and always presentable, Brunetti is a respected man, and his colleagues admire his professionalism and his ability to make quick decisions. His friends at the Questura include Signorina Elettra, Commissario Griffoni and Ispettore Vianello, but he doesn’t get along with his boss, Vice-Questore Patta, or Patta’s right-hand-man, Lieutenant Scarpa. Over the years, exposure to crime and corruption has made Brunetti increasingly cynical about the state of the city he loves, but he always finds comfort in classic texts and in the tranquillity of his family life.
Brunetti is happily married to Paola, and has two children with her: Raffaele (Raffi) and Chiara. He comes from a modest family: his father, who fought in the Second World War, has passed away, and his mother – suffering from severe Alzheimer’s – is looked after by nuns in a nursing home. Because of his simple upbringing, he often feels out of place in Paola’s upper-class family.
Paola Brunetti: Paola is Brunetti’s intelligent and glamorous wife. She and Brunetti have been happily married for around twenty years. A professor of literature, she especially admires Henry James – a love which Brunetti, despite all his efforts, cannot understand. As well as having an academic career, she is also a loving mother and wife, and a wonderful cook. Paola comes from one of the oldest aristocratic families in Venice, and is the heiress to her family’s fortune. However, she prides herself on her left-wing politics and is very practical, feisty and independent.
Raffaele (Raffi) Brunetti: Raffi is Brunetti and Paola’s son. A typical teenage boy, he loves nothing more than a good sandwich and spending time with his friends. He can be head-strong at times, but is generally a cheerful and carefree boy.
Chiara Brunetti: Chiara is Brunetti and Paola’s politically engaged daughter. From animal rights, to fighting for the environment, she always has a cause worth fighting for.
Count and Contessa Falier: The benign Count and Contessa Falier are Paola’s rich and powerful parents, and Brunetti’s in-laws. They live in Palazzo Falier, near the university where Paola teaches. There, they often host lavish dinner parties for Venice’s upper classes. The Conte is an opera buff and a huge fan of Flavia Petrelli, the famous opera diva.
At the Questura
Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta: Originally from Palermo in Sicily, Patta is Brunetti’s direct boss, and a born bureaucrat, more concerned about upsetting the powers that be than with actually solving crime. He and Brunetti are constantly at odds, with Patta often getting in the way of investigations in case they threaten to offend government or religious officials. He is rather pompous and dull, interested only in his personal ambitions and in pleasing his political masters. Jealous of Brunetti’s connections to the Venetian upper classes, he aspires to one day climb the social and political ladder.
Signorina Elettra Zorzi: Signorina Elettra is Vice-Questore Patta’s incredibly intelligent, resourceful and stylish secretary. Although Patta is nominally in charge, rest assured that it’s Signorina Elettra who really runs everything at the Questura – and everyone except Patta knows it. Her computer skills are second to none, and her ability to get things done, or to discover something with a few taps of her keyboard, seems almost magical. She is fantastically well-connected, and often manages to get access to important people and information that Brunetti, even with his commissario badge, can’t reach. Signorina Elettra is a master at reading people and of getting them to do what she wants without them realising what she’s doing at all – especially Patta. She loves her city, and will use all of her skills and powers to make sure it is protected. An independent and strong woman, she is always perfectly composed, professional and endlessly polite and helpful.
Lieutenant Scarpa: Vice-Questore Patta’s attack dog and a thorn in Brunetti’s side, Lieutenant Scarpa is a sycophantic and detestable man. Also from Palermo, he’s been sucking up to Patta for years in an attempt to get promoted, but all their efforts so far have failed and he remains only a lieutenant. However, despite his lower ranking, he very much sees himself as superior to Brunetti, and will challenge him at any and all opportunities. Uncaring and at times even cruel to people he considers beneath him, Scarpa is vindictive and easy to hate.
Commissario Claudia Griffoni: Claudia Griffoni is Brunetti’s colleague and friend at the Questura. She is originally from Naples, and so sometimes finds Venetian customs and norms amusing at best, but more often frustrating. Young and able, she is also witty and intelligent, and never afraid to speak her mind. Brunetti admires and respects her judgement and intuition, and is always happy to work with her on a case.
Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello: Ispettore Vianello is Brunetti’s young and faithful colleague at the Questura. Loyal and always friendly, he admires Brunetti and shows real promise.
Officer Alvise: Cheerful and eager to help, Officer Alvise is a young member of the Questura, who still has a lot to learn. He can be naïve and uncertain, and Brunetti does find his lack of conviction frustrating at times, but he is overall a kind and well-meaning man.
How many of Donna Leon’s Brunetti books have you read? Let us know in the comments below – and take a look at all the books in order here.