Venetian Verite: Donna Leon's Gritty Italian Mystery Author Donna Leon is celebrating the 20th installment of her Brunetti crime series, which follows the suave Commissario Guido Brunetti as he solves mysteries to the backdrop of Italy, Leon's adopted homeland.
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Venetian Verite: Donna Leon's Gritty Italian Mystery

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Venetian Verite: Donna Leon's Gritty Italian Mystery

Venetian Verite: Donna Leon's Gritty Italian Mystery

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Donna Leon is a writer and an expatriate who has lived in Venice, Italy for three decades. She has just published her 20th crime novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. Like her previous mysteries, "Drawing Conclusions" features plenty of red herrings as well as many glasses of wine and servings of pasta. In fact, the new book begins with Brunetti being called away from dinner to investigate the death of a widow.

Although the medical examiner has declared that she died from a heart attack, Brunetti is suspicious and applies his considerable detective skills to get to the truth. Donna Leon joins us now from RAI Studios in Venice. Welcome to the program.

Ms. DONNA LEON (Author, "Drawing Conclusions"): Thank you for the invitation.

HANSEN: For those who have never read any of your Guido Brunetti mysteries, how would you describe him?

Ms. LEON: He's a decent man. He's intelligent. He's well read. He's a family man, has two kids and a wife he likes as well as loves. And he's bright. At times he seems to go about things slowly but he's always calculating. He also, as a Venetian, is able to manipulate the very treacherous waters in this city, at least the treacherous official waters.

HANSEN: He is also married to a woman who is the daughter of a count and countess, whereas he grew up - his mother was a servant, I believe; his father was a workman and that class struggle is in every book that you write.

Ms. LEON: Um-hum, yeah. As it would be in a marriage of this sort.

HANSEN: Well, what is it you're trying to say about the class struggle in putting Brunetti in this position?

Ms. LEON: Oh no, I really don't try to say things. Actually, Paolo's aristocratic and wealthy family was something I invented in the first book, knowing that it would provide him with access to information from a world to which he did not have access and would not have access because of his social position. But being married to a woman who grew up in that society and who is a player in that society, it allows him the right to slip into it and ask questions of people who otherwise would be protected from him by their lawyers.

HANSEN: You didn't base him on a real person, did you?

Ms. LEON: No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no.

HANSEN: Did you give the character his love of food so that you could write about it, given that its setting in Venice?

Ms. LEON: No, he's an Italian. No, he's an Italian.


Ms. LEON: So, it would be extraordinary if he did not eat well at least once a day.

HANSEN: But that does give you the chance to write about the food that he eats.

Ms. LEON: Yeah, but the strange about this is that in writing the book it never occurred to me that this was in any way unusual. I follow him through his normal life - he talks to his kids, he talks to his wife, he goes about being a detective - but he also has to eat. So, the description of the meals, it's not what I call food porn. There are not long, loving descriptions of how a meal is prepared and the savory taste of this and that. They are merely descriptions that are little more than the names of the things that are eaten.

It seems longer perhaps because usually the circumstances of the consumption of food are so friendly and familial, but there really is very little description of what they actually eat.

HANSEN: I also noticed in your books, I mean, unlike some mysteries, there aren't any easy solutions. I mean, there are times when, you know, it doesn't quite...

Ms. LEON: Just like life.

HANSEN: Well, yeah. It's not like Agatha Christie and everyone gets into the living room and the killer is named. I mean, there are some times where I think it was in your novel, "Through a Glass Darkly," which took place in Murano, the glass-blowing island, and I think I remember getting to the end of it and saying, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEON: Well, that book worked, didn't it?

HANSEN: Yes, it did. Yes, it did. But, again, the fact that it doesn't have -you don't tie things up really neatly at the end.

Ms. LEON: No, but you can't. I think that is a completely unrealistic - this is perhaps a result of my age, my advancing age - but I don't see in the real world where things are neatly tied up and the bad guy does time, because it simply doesn't happen.

HANSEN: I'm speaking with mystery writer Donna Leon. He's just published her 20th crime novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, and it's called "Drawing Conclusions."

Your mystery novels have an international, huge international following. Have these novels changed you at all?

Ms. LEON: Nope, nope. No.

HANSEN: Same Donna.

Ms. LEON: Yeah, I think so. But I think it should be remembered that this happened to me when I was much more than a grown-up. I was almost 50 when this happened. And I think when the lightning strikes or when life changes for the better it can be devastating if you're 20 or if you're 18. But when you're 50, you have the friends you have, you have the tastes you have, you have the ethical standards that you have.

And so success can be viewed with amusement and befuddlement, I think, and surprise. Whereas if it happens when a person is younger, I think it is more easy for them to fall into the trap of believing it, that because they are able to do one thing well or one thing with success that those two things not being synonymous, they somehow are set apart from other people. And I think after a certain age you realize that that's nonsense.

HANSEN: Is there another Brunetti mystery in the works?

Ms. LEON: There is always another Brunetti mystery in the works.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: I understand you use some of the money that you make from your writing to support your other love, the opera.

Ms. LEON: An inordinate amount. One of my oldest friends is Alan Curtis, a conductor. And about 12 years ago, Alan and I were at dinner and he was talking about wanting to conduct a Handel opera, "Arminio." And as it turned out, I knew someone - I still know him - who runs a music festival in Switzerland, and he offered Alan the chance to produce and perform and play and then record "Arminio." And it started with that.

And we had so much fun doing it that we've continued to do it for 12 years. There are now 26 discs that the Il Complesso Barocco has recorded; one book that is just out, I believe, in the States about Handel's arias about animals. And that is just such, for me, it's thrilling, because I'm a voice junkie and that really is my passion. Well, I'm sure you can hear it in the way I speak about it.

HANSEN: Yes. I'll tell listeners your book indeed has just been released in the States. It's called "Handel's"...

Ms. LEON: Oh good.

HANSEN: ..."Handel's Bestiary: In Search of Animals in Handel's Operas." And it includes a CD with music by Handel with Alan Curtis conducting Il Complesso Barocco, so that's a...

Ms. LEON: And it is bliss. The disc is bliss. It is.

HANSEN: Lovely. Donna Leon is the author of "Drawing Conclusions," her 20th mystery novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. Another book, Donna Leon, "Handel's Bestiary: In Search of Animals in Handel's Operas," has also just been published. Donna Leon spoke to us from RAI Studios in Venice, Italy. Thank you so much. Grazie.

Ms. LEON: Thank you. Thanks for your time.

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