Donna Leon is the author of the prolific crime novel series “Commissario Guido Brunetti” which we will go over in this article. The author also has some other publications but they are very few in number with just one standalone novel, one cookbook revolving around the culinary culture of Venice, and one loose collection of essays. Besides those, Donna Leon also contributed to the creation of three musical pieces.
The crime novelist was born in New Jersey to a Catholic family who were also avid supporters of the Democratic party. Although both of her parents were born and raised in the United States, she is from a European lineage. Her paternal grandparents were from Spain and her maternal grandparents were immigrants from Ireland and Germany. These could be seen as the reasons she spent most of her time in Europe.
All Over The Earth
Her story starts with the Iranian Revolution which she was affected by because she was teaching there at the time. After fleeing, she started working in New York as a copywriter but this too would abruptly change when she visited Italy for the first time and fell in love with it. She spent thirty years of her life there and she still leaves her current life in Switzerland for one week every month to spend time in Venice.
Best Donna Leon Books
|Death at La Fenice||9.54/10||288 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Death in a Strange Country||9.66/10||272 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Acqua Alta||9.78/10||304 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Dressed for Death||9.60/10||292 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Friends in High Places||9.52/10||320 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
Throughout her career, the writer Donna Leon almost exclusively published books belonging to this series. The series takes place in Venice and follows commissioner Brunetti as he investigates fishy cases and brings down criminal empires. The series consists of 31 books as of now and the 32nd book titled “So Shall You Reap” is expected to be published in March 2023.
Death at La Fenice is the first book in the best Donna Leon Series, Commissario Brunetti. The story takes place in Venice which holds a very important place for the author as we talked about above. This imaginary version of the city is not too different than the real thing. It is a magnificently beautiful city with a lot of history and culture. It is rather peaceful too since violent crimes rarely ever happen.
And whenever evil things do happen, Guido Brunetti is the one who is going to take care of it. Brunetti is the protagonist of every piece in the series. He is a police commissioner in an urban area and he is a genius when it comes to detection. In the first ever adventure that we get to witness him, he dwells in the affairs of a dead conductor named Maestro Helmut Wellauer.
A Boring Ending to a Dramatical Life
Wellauer’s name had been traveling all around the world and he was as renowned as one could ever be. He would meet his unfortunate end during an intermission at La Fenice, a painful death caused by cyanide poisoning. What I really liked about this piece is that we explore its world through a very small lens and every time we see a glimpse of the bigger picture, it is fascinating. Definitely one of the best novels by Donna Leon.
The second place in our article will go to Death in a Strange Country which is the second book in the Commissario Brunetti series as well as one of the best selling Donna Leon books. This book starts off very strong compared to the first one but it still holds a great mystery that keeps you on your toes until the end. Brunetti also plays a sort of bigger role in the greater workings of the story.
The story starts off in the early morning. Our beloved police commissioner is face to face with the dead body that was just fished out of a fetid canal. All of the details on the young corpse seem to lead to a case of violent robbery. Brunetti though, finds everything to be all too perfect. The presentation is just way too convenient. The series of events that unfold after this initial cataclysm proves his gut feeling.
Discovering The Roots
The Venice Police pay a quick visit to the apartment of the victim. They find nothing too obvious but a single object arises the fact that this case could be a small part of a major conspiracy. At this point, the commissioner is absolutely convinced that there is someone trying to sweep this violent murder under the rug. What I can say about this one of the best Donna Leon novels is that Brunetti feels a whole lot more like a main character.
The third book that we will go over in this article is also one of the top rated books by Donna Leon, Acqua Alta. It is the fifth book in the series and it was published in 1996, long after the series has acquired a fan base that crossed borders. The cover summary of this book includes the fact that Acqua Alta was partly a result of the author’s American fan base being “hungry for more of the books”.
The term “acqua alta” refers to a rise in water levels caused by torrential rain. Given the fact that Venice is a city built on water, this event is a big deal for most of the residents. At the start of the book, the author shares with us that an acqua alta is about to happen very soon and the people of Venice are preparing for what it can bring. Commissioner Brunetti, on the other hand, has some other things he is worried about.
My Personal Best
An old and dear friend of our heroic cop has been at the receiving end of a brutal beating. On top of that, another dead body surfaces in the city. Brunetti knows that this case will be a tough one as the arriving acqua alta will slow him down. What he does not know though, is that the case will also be one of the deadliest ones. It is an exciting story with multiple well-made plot twists and it is my personal best Donna Leon book.
We are almost at the halfway point of our article and as the fourth piece, I will introduce you to one of the most popular Donna Leon books titled Dressed for Death. It is the third book in the series and it picks the story up roughly from where the second book left us with. I mentioned Brunetti feeling more like a main character when I was talking about the second book and this piece follows the example too.
In this story, we are introduced to the real Guido Brunetti. I do not mean this in a foreshadowing or ominous way, we just witness him out of his uniform and on a holiday with his family. He is visiting the mountains as a family getaway. However, his peaceful moments do not last long before he is alerted by the presence of a dead body that has been violated so mercilessly that its face is beyond recognition.
Holiday Cut Short
Family man Guido once again turns into Commissario Brunetti and begins his search for the monster behind this horrible crime. He courses through the streets of Venice to find someone who can identify the victim but he is left short-handed. Just as this approach proves hopeless, Brunetti is met with a strange phone call that promises valuable information. Although this story is well-written, I think its plot falls short and that it is definitely not the best Donna Leon novel.
The next one of the Donna Leon books that I have in order for you is Friends in High Places. The fifth place holder in this Donna Leon books ranked article is actually the ninth book in the series. The stories included in the series slightly shift from the crime fiction genre to the mystery thriller territory and this piece is one of the more obvious examples of that as you will see in a moment.
The story starts off very slow, a young bureaucrat pays a visit to Brunetti to talk about some legal issues. As it turns out, the apartment building that Brunetti lived in years prior to this story lacked some official approvals. The commissioner pays little attention to this and he only wonders why someone would get into so much toil just for a small issue like this.
A Magnificient Portayal
Our protagonist carries on as is until he receives a call during work hours and answers it to find the bureaucrat from earlier in a fearful and erratic state. When his dead body is found fallen from scaffolding on top of the earlier call, Brunetti starts to consider the possibility that there is a way bigger problem than just a few missing pieces of paperwork. What follows is a wonderful mystery story and a magnificent portrayal of the commissioner.
We are more than halfway through our article and the sixth piece we will be talking about is another one of the best rated Donna Leon books, A Noble Radiance. This book takes the seventh place in the chronological order of the series and as you can already guess from its positive ratings, it is a notable one. In A Noble Radiance, the mystery puts a more complex mask covered in politics, prestige, and corruption.
The story kicks off with a new landowner being summoned to his land in an urgent manner. The house stands just outside of Venice so when the workers discover the macabre grave lying under the earth, the Venice Police are the ones responsible for finding its origin. The corpse that lies in the grave is almost completely decomposed and the only clue Commissario Brunetti has is the ring found beside the body.
A Unique Setting
The interesting thing about that ring is that it is loosely tied to a kidnapping case. The case in question involves one of the most aristocratic families of Venice and it has long been closed even though it is not forgotten by many. What I really liked about this story is that it allowed us to see Brunetti in a different setting. This story feels a bit more meaningful than the rest. This piece surely is a strong contender for the best Donna Leon book title.
The seventh piece on our Donna Leon book reviews list will be Death and Judgement, the fourth book of the Commissario Brunetti series. This book offers us a more classic crime story, the whole book revolves around Brunetti’s long hunt for some criminal leaders. More importantly though, at least for me, it provides us with new looks into the magnificent city of Venice.
The story of this piece is a little heavier than the others. First, a tractor-trailer accident reveals the dead bodies of multiple foreign women amongst the lumber which the tractor was supposed to be carrying, and then, three of some of the most influential businessmen in Italy are murdered. Commissioner Brunetti is assigned to the latter case and we are allowed to bear witness to the financial corruption of the country.
Connecting The Dots
When Brunetti ties down some of the loose ends, he connects the two incidents I mentioned above to a massive sex trafficking and pornography ring. As heavy as the story is though, Death and Judgment also includes one of the most beautiful descriptions of Venice and its neighboring cities that I have ever read. This piece may not be to everyone’s liking but it is definitely one of the best books by Donna Leon.
Next up in our article, we will take a look at the latest Donna Leon book that I have included in this list. Doctored Evidence is the thirteenth book in the series and it was published almost nineteen years ago, in 2004. It is a very heroic tale as it tells us the story of our beloved commissioner going against his superiors to unravel a hidden mystery.
It all starts with the brutal murder of a miserly spinster that takes place in her apartment. Brunetti’s colleagues are convinced that the murderer was her Romanian housekeeper who later on dies as he tries to escape the policemen trying to arrest him. No one even bothers with taking a second look when a neighbor comes down to the department to argue the innocence of the dead housekeeper, except Brunetti.
Hello Again, Signoria
The story also includes Signoria Elettra who has been helping Brunetti in his cases in the past and in this piece, she plays a much bigger role. She is a hacker with indispensable skills and you can guess how useful she becomes in a case in which Brunetti lacks the support of his department. Donna Leon’s new book once again provides us with an excellent story.
Continuing with our best Donna Leon books article, I will give you a quick summary of the book Quietly in Their Sleep. It is the sixth book in the Commissario Brunetti series in chronological order and it gives us a suspense-heavy mystery story with also a pinch of religious writing. Before going into the plot, it is worth mentioning that this piece was also published under the “The Death of Faith” title.
The story is set into motion by a young Catholic sister who comes to Brunetti for help after five of her nursing home patients pass away unexpectedly. She tells him that the deaths were not only unexpected but they also happened under odd circumstances. Most importantly, all of their wills included only the nursing home and the church.
A Hard Decision
The commissioner does not need further convincing to pursue this potential crime. In his journey, he comes across a cast of unusual people but he fails to find any evidence of criminal activity. He must decide whether to believe the young nun or drop the case, which very well could put the young girl’s life in imminent danger.
We will be ending our Donna Leon book list with the book Fatal Remedies which is the eighth book in the series in chronological order. The story starts off with an act of vandalism that takes place very early in the morning. As it is not a big-scale crime by any means, it is not taken too seriously. Brunetti however, soon finds out the shameful truth.
It turns out that the culprit who was waiting to be apprehended at the scene of the crime was not a petty criminal but Brunetti’s wife. She soon reveals that this incident was a means to make a political statement. Of course, Brunetti has a hard time processing this. He is both enraged and ashamed by the actions of his wife. The controversy does not carry on any longer but the damage is already done.
Not The Biggest of His Worries
Aside from this family crisis, the commissioner also faces a decent amount of pressure at work. While he is meddling in this double-sided crisis, a conspiracy that had just been exposed thanks to his wife’s protest will prove to be his biggest challenge. Fatal Remedies provides a great deal of content to further develop the personality of Brunetti and makes for a decent end to our best Donna Leon book series article.
At first glance, a writer such as Donna Leon who only writes for a long-breathed fiction series might seem shallow. However, the Commissario Brunetti series is far from being a “cash cow”. The author tackles heavy but important concepts as she works her way through a story and not even one book in the series can be criticized for unoriginality. The series is just a means for the writer’s mind to reveal itself to us.
Alissa is an avid reader, blogger, and wannabe writer. (She's a much better cook than a writer actually). Alissa is married, has one human, one feline, and two canine kids. She always looks a mess and never meets a deadline.