Guido Brunetti, Commissario of Police in Venice, Italy, is the star of Donna Leon’s hugely successful Commissario Brunetti mystery series.
Since his debut over twenty-five years ago in Death At La Fenice, Brunetti has investigated a new crime in Venice each year, from corruption to mafia, real estate to trade art, collecting millions of fans around the world in that time.
If it’s high-end crime stories with an innate understanding of the perpetrator and victim you’re after, then look no further. Here are Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti books in order.
Commissario Brunetti books in order:
The twisted maze of Venice’s canals has always been shrouded in mystery. Even the celebrated opera house, La Fenice, has seen its share of death – but none so horrific and violent as that of world-famous conductor, Maestro Helmut Wellauer, who was poisoned during a performance of La Traviata. Even Commissario of Police, Guido Brunetti, used to the labyrinthine corruptions of the city, is shocked at the number of enemies Wellauer has made on his way to the top – but just how many have motive enough for murder?
The beauty of Venice is crumbling. But evil is one thing that will never erode with age.
Early one morning Brunetti confronts a grisly sight when the body of a young man is fished out of a fetid Venetian canal. All the clues point to a violent mugging, but for Brunetti, robbery seems altogether too convenient a motive.
Then something very incriminating is discovered in the dead man’s flat – something which points to the existence of a high-level cabal – and Brunetti becomes convinced that somebody, somewhere, is taking great pains to provide a ready-made solution to the crime.
Brunetti’s hopes of a refreshing family holiday in the mountains are once again dashed when a gruesome discovery is made in Marghera – a body so badly beaten the face is unrecognizable. Brunetti searches Venice for someone who can identify the dead man. But he is met with a wall of silence.
Then he receives a telephone call from a contact who promises some tantalizing information. And before the night is out Brunetti is confronting yet another appalling and apparently senseless death.
A lorry crashes on one of the treacherous bends in the Italian Dolomites, spilling a terrible cargo. A prominent international layer is found dead in the carriage of an intercity train at Saint Lucia. Can the two tragedies possibly be connected?
Brunetti digs deep into the secret lives of the once great and good for the answer. For in a seedy Venetian bar lies the clue to an evil crime network reaching far beyond the laguna. But it will take another violent death in Venice before the forces of justice can even begin to proceed.
Brunetti is shocked to hear that Brett Lynch, a friend since a murder case at La Fenice, has suffered a savage beating. The attack, in the beautiful palazzo home of Flavia Petrelli, reigning diva of La Scala, had come with a message: ‘Don’t keep that appointment with Dottor Semenzato.’
Then, with the storm clouds gathering fast over the city, a man’s body is found…
Brunetti is kicking his heels, pondering the recent lack of crime in Venice, when a beautiful young woman appears at his office door. Now calling herself Maria Testa, his visitor is more familiar to Brunetti as Suor’lmmacolata, the nun who once cared for his mother at the casa di cura in Dolo. But Maria has recently left her convent after the unexpected deaths of five patients.
Brunetti offers to make some enquiries, but finds now obvious cause for concern. Is Maria simply creating fears to justify abandoning her vocation? Or has she stumbled on to a deeply rooted, far more sinister scenario – and put her own life in very grave danger?
In a small village at the foot of the Italian Dolomites, the gardens of a deserted farmhouse have lain untouched for decades. But the new owner, keen for renovations to begin, is summoned urgently to the house when his workmen disturb a macabre grave.
Wild animals have done their grisly work and the human corpse is badly decomposed. Then a valuable signet ring is found close by, providing the first vital clue. It leads Brunetti right to the heart of aristocratic Venice, to a family still grieving for its abducted son.
A sudden act of vandalism had just been committed in the chill Venetian dawn. But Brunetti soon finds out that the perpetrator is no petty criminal. For the culprit waiting to be apprehended at the scene of the crime is none other than Paola Brunetti, his wife.
As Paola’s actions provoke a crisis in the Brunetti household, Brunetti himself is under increasing pressure at work: a daring robbery with Mafia connections is linked to a suspicious death and his superiors need quick results. As his professional and personal lives clash, Brunetti’s own career is under threat – and the conspiracy which Paola had risked everything to expose draws him inexorably to the brink.
When Brunetti is visited by a young bureaucrat investigating the lack of official approval for the building of his apartment years earlier, his first reaction, like any other Venetian, is to think of whom he knows who might bring pressure to bear on the relevant government department.
But when the bureaucrat rings Brunetti at work, clearly scared, and is then found dead after a fall from scaffolding, something is obviously going on that has implications greater than the fate of Brunetti’s apartment.
The murder of two clam fishermen off the island of Pellestrina, south of the Lido on the Venetian lagoon, draws Brunetti into the close-knit community of the island, bound together by a code of loyalty and a suspicion of outsiders worthy of the Mafia.
When the boss’ secretary Signorina Elettra volunteers to visit the island, where she has relatives, Brunetti finds himself torn between his duty to solve the murders, concerns for Elettra’s safety, and his not entirely straightforward feelings for her…
When Brunetti receives a visit from one of his wife’s students with a strange and vague interest in investigating the possibility of a pardon for a crime committed by her grandfather many years ago, he thinks little of it, despite being intrigued by the girl’s intelligence and moral conscience. But when the girl is found stabbed to death, Claudia Leonardo is no longer Paola’s student, but instead becomes Brunetti’s case.
Claudia seemed to have no discernible living family, but lived with an elderly Austrian woman. Brunetti is stunned by the extraordinary art collection the old woman keeps, and when she in turn is found dead, the case begins to unlock long buried secrets of collaboration during the war, secrets few in Italy are happy to explore…
Neither Brunetti nor his wife Paola have ever had much sympathy for the Italian armed forces, so when a young cadet is found hanged, at Venice’s elite military academy, Brunetti’s emotions are complex: pity and sorrow at the death of a boy close in age to his own son, and contempt and irritation for the arrogance and high-handedness of the boy’s teachers and fellow students.
The young man is the son of an ex-politician, a man of an impeccable integrity all too rare in Italian politics. But as Brunetti – and the indispensable Signorina Elettra – investigate further, no one seems willing to talk, as the military protects its own and civilians keep their own counsel. Is this the natural reluctance of Italians to involve themselves with the authorities, or is Brunetti facing a conspiracy of silence?
When a wealthy Venetian woman is found brutally murdered, the prime suspect is her Romanian maid, who has fled the city. As she attempts to leave the country, carrying a considerable sum of money and forged papers, the maid runs into the path of an oncoming train and is killed. Case closed.
But when the old woman’s neighbour returns from abroad, it becomes clear that the maid could not have been the killer. Brunetti decides – unofficially – to take the case on himself.
As Brunetti investigates, it becomes clear that the motive for the murder was unlikely to have been greed, rather that it had its roots in the temptations of lust. But perhaps Brunetti is thinking of the wrong deadly sin altogether…
On a cold night shortly before Christmas, an immigrant street vendor is killed in Venice’s Campo Santo Stefano. The nearest witnesses to the event are the tourists who had been browsing the man’s wares before his death – fake handbags of every designer label – but they have seen nothing that might be of much help to the police.
When Brunetti arrives on the scene, he finds it hard to understand why anyone would murder an illegal immigrant. They have few social connections and little money; in-fighting among them is the obvious answer. But once Brunetti begins investigating this unfamiliar Venetian underworld, he discovers that matters of great value are at stake in the immigrant community…
It is a luminous spring day in Venice, as Brunetti and Vianello come to the rescue of Vianello’s friend Marco Ribetti, who has been arrested while protesting against chemical pollution of the Venetian lagoon, only to be faced by the fury of Marco’s father-in-law, owner of a glass factory on the island of Murano.
But clearly there is another victim who has uncovered the guilty secret of the polluting glass foundries of the island of Murano, and whose body is found dead in front of the furnaces which burn at 1400 degrees, night and day. The victim has left clues in a copy of Dante and Brunetti must descend into an inferno to discover who is burning the land and fouling the waters of the lagoon. A man is dead – but will politics and expedience prevent the killer from striking again?
When Brunetti is summoned to the hospital bedside of a senior paediatrician whose skull has been brutally fractured, he is confronted with more questions than answers. Three men have burst into the doctor’s apartment in the middle of the night, attacked him and took his 18-month-old son – but why? As he investigates, Brunetti finds infertility, desperation, and babies for sale.
Meanwhile, Inspector Vianello uncovers a scam between pharmacists and doctors in the city. And certain information about one’s neighbours can lead to all kinds of corruption and all sorts of pain…
One rainy morning Brunetti and Ispettore Vianello respond to an emergency call reporting a body floating near some steps on the Grand Canal. Reaching down to pull it out, Brunetti’s wrist is caught by the silkiness of golden hair, and he sees a small foot – together he and Vianello lift a dead girl from the water.
But, inconceivably, no one has reported a missing child, nor the theft of the gold jewellery that she carries. Brunetti is drawn into a search not only for the cause of her death but also for her identity, her family, and for the secrets that people will keep in order to protect their children – be they innocent or guilty.
From the canals and palazzi of Venice to a gypsy encampment on the mainland, Brunetti struggles with institutional prejudice and entrenched criminality to try to unravel the fate of the dead child.
At a dinner party given by his parents-in-law, Brunetti meets Franca Marinello, the wife of a prosperous Venetian businessman. He’s charmed – perhaps too charmed, suggests his wife Paola – by her love of Virgil and Cicero, but shocked by her appearance.
A few days later, Brunetti is visited by Carabinieri Maggior Filippo Guarino from the nearby city of Marghera. As part of a wider investigation into Mafia takeovers of businesses in the region, Guarino wants information about the owner of a trucking company who was found murdered in his office. He believes the man’s death is connected to the illegal transportation of refuse – and more sinister material – in his company’s trucks. No stranger to mutual suspicion and competition between rival Italian police departments, Brunetti is nevertheless puzzled by the younger man’s behaviour.
Eventually Guarino agrees to email a photo of his suspect, but by the time the photograph arrives, he himself is dead. Was he killed because he got too close? And how is it that Franca Marinello is involved?
As Venice experiences a debilitating heatwave, Brunetti escapes the city to spend time with his family. For Ispettore Vianello, however, the weather is the last thing on his mind. It appears his aunt has become obsessed with horoscopes and has been withdrawing large amounts of money from the family business. Not knowing what to do, he consults Brunetti and asks permission to trail her.
Meanwhile, Brunetti receives a visit from a friend who works at the Commune. It seems that discrepancies have been occurring at the Courthouse involving a judge and an usher with a flawless track record. Intrigued, Brunetti asks Signorina Elettra to find out what she can while he’s away.
When news reaches Brunetti that the usher from the Courthouse has been viciously murdered, he returns to investigate. But why would someone want a good man dead, and what might his death have to do with the Courthouse discrepancies?
A young woman returns from holiday to find her elderly neighbour dead on the floor. A heart attack seems the likely cause, but Brunetti is not so sure and decides to take a closer look. Soon he discovers that she was part of an organization that cares for abused women and that her apartment was a safe-house.
Convinced that this is the lead he has been looking for, Brunetti begins his search for answers. But as he sets out to discover the truth behind her death, he is drawn into a decades-old story of lies and deceit that has blighted love and ruined lives – and has claimed this innocent woman as its newest victim. Brunetti’s investigation takes him deep into the dark heart of his beloved Venice.
When a body is found floating in a canal, strangely disfigured and with multiple stab wounds, Brunetti is called to investigate and is convinced he recognises the man from somewhere. However, with no identification except for the distinctive shoes the man was wearing, and no reports of people missing from the Venice area, the case cannot progress.
Brunetti soon realises why he remembers the dead man, and asks Signorina Elettra if she can help him find footage of a farmers’ protest the previous autumn. But what was his involvement with the protest, and what does it have to do with his murder? Acting on the fragile lead, Brunetti and Ispettore Vianello set out to uncover the man’s identity. Their investigation eventually takes them to a slaughterhouse on the mainland, where they discover the origin of the crime, and the world of blackmail and corruption that surrounds it.
When making routine enquiries into a possible bribery case that could embarrass the mayor – a humiliation Vice-Questore Patta is very keen to avoid – Brunetti receives a call from his wife, Paola, who is evidently very upset. The middle-aged deaf mute with the mental age of a child who helped out at the Brunetti’s dry cleaners has been found dead – an ‘accidental’ overdose of his mother’s sleeping pills – and Paola is distraught by the news. To the neighbourhood he was just the ‘boy’ who helped out, but nobody knew much about him – not even his name. That a soul could have lived such a joyless life is too much for Paola to bear, and she asks Guido if he can find out what happened.
It is a surprise to Brunetti just how little was known about this man-child – there are no official records to show he even existed. The man’s mother is angry and contradictory when questioned about his death, and Brunetti senses that there much more to the story than she is willing to tell. With the help of Inspector Vianello and the ever-resourceful Signorina Elettra, perhaps Brunetti can get to the truth and find some measure of solace.
When several valuable antiquarian books go missing from a prestigious library in the heart of Venice, Brunetti is immediately called to the scene. The staff suspect an American researcher has stolen them, but for Brunetti something doesn’t quite add up. Taking on the case, the Commissario begins to seek information about some of the library’s regulars, such as the ex-priest Franchini, a passionate reader of ancient Christian literature, and Contessa Morosini-Albani, the library’s chief donor, and comes to the conclusion that the thief could not have acted alone.
However, when Franchini is found murdered in his home, the case takes a more sinister turn and soon Brunetti finds himself submerged in the dark secrets of the black market of antiquarian books. Alongside his ever-faithful team of Ispettore Vianello and Signorina Elettra, he delves into the pages of Franchini’s past and into the mind of a book thief in order to uncover the terrible truth.
In Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon’s first novel in the series, we were introduced to the glamorous and cut-throat world of opera and to one of Italy’s finest living sopranos, Flavia Petrelli – then a suspect in the poisoning of a renowned German conductor. Now, many years after Brunetti cleared her name, Flavia has returned to the illustrious La Fenice to sing the lead in Tosca.
As an opera superstar, Flavia is well acquainted with attention from adoring fans and aspiring singers. But when one anonymous admirer inundates her with bouquets of yellow roses – on stage, in her dressing room and even inside her locked apartment – it becomes clear that this fan has become a potentially dangerous stalker. Distraught, Flavia turns to an old friend for help. Familiar with Flavia’s melodramatic temperament, Commissario Brunetti is at first unperturbed by her story, but when another young opera singer is attacked he begins to think Flavia’s fears may be justified. In order to keep his friend out of danger, Brunetti must enter the psyche of an obsessive fan and find the culprit before anyone comes to harm.
Brunetti is investigating a cold case by request of the grand Contessa Lando-Continui, a friend of Brunetti’s mother-in-law. Fifteen years ago the Contessa’s teenage granddaughter, Manuela, was found drowning in a canal. She was rescued from the canal at the last moment, but in many ways it was too late; she suffered severe brain damage and her life was never the same again. Once a passionate horse rider, Manuela, now aged thirty, cannot remember the accident, or her beloved horse, and lives trapped in an eternal youth.
The Contessa, unconvinced that this was an accident, implores Brunetti to find the culprit she believes was responsible for ruining Manuela’s life. Out of a mixture of curiosity, pity and a willingness to fulfil the wishes of a loving grandmother, Brunetti reopens the case. But once he starts to investigate, Brunetti finds a murky past and a dark story at its heart.
During the interrogation of an entitled, arrogant man suspected of giving drugs to a young girl who then died, Brunetti acts rashly, doing something he will quickly come to regret. In the aftermath, he begins to doubt his career choices and realises that he needs a break from the stifling problems of his work.
Granted leave from the Questura, Brunetti is shipped off by his wife, Paola, to a villa owned by a wealthy relative on Sant’Erasmo, one of the largest islands in the Venetian laguna. There he intends to pass his days rowing, and his nights reading Pliny’s Natural History.
The recuperative stay goes according to plan and Brunetti is finally able to relax, until Davide Casati, the caretaker of the house, goes missing following a sudden storm. Nobody can find him – not his daughter, not his friends, and not the woman he’d been secretly visiting. Now, Brunetti feels compelled to investigate, to set aside his holiday and discover what happened to the man who had recently become his friend.
When important information is leaked from inside the Venetian Questura, Commissario Guido Brunetti is entrusted with the task of uncovering which of his colleagues is responsible. But before Brunetti can begin his investigation, he is surprised by the appearance in his office of a friend of his wife’s, who is fearful that her son is using drugs. A few weeks later, Tullio Gasparini, the woman’s husband, is found unconscious with a serious head injury at the foot of a bridge, and Brunetti is drawn to pursue a possible connection to the boy’s behaviour. But the truth is not straightforward.
Following various contradictory leads, Brunetti navigates his way through a world of mysterious informants, underground deals and secret longstanding scam networks, all the while growing ever more impressed by the intuition of his fellow Commissario, Claudia Griffoni, and by the endless resourcefulness of Signorina Elettra, Vice-Questore Patta’s secretary and gate-keeper.
With Gasparini’s condition showing no signs of improvement, and his investigations leading nowhere, Brunetti is steadied by the embrace of his own family and by his passion for the classics. He turns to Sophocles’s Antigone in an attempt to understand the true purpose of justice, and, in its light, he is forced to consider the terrible consequences to which the actions of a tender heart can lead.
There you have it – Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti books in order! How many have you read? Let us know in the comments below…