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Donna Leon

Donna Leon

(Born in 1942 in New Jersey, USA)

American-born Donna Leon is the author of the best-selling Commissario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice, which began with Death at La Fenice in 1992. The 32nd novel in the series - So Shall You Reap - is due to be published in March 2023.

A university lecturer in English Literature by profession, she lived in Venice from the mid-1980s until 2015. She is now a Swiss citizen, with homes in Zurich and in the mountain village of Val Müstair, in the southeast of the country just a few kilometres from the Italian border.

Born in New Jersey, Leon owes her Spanish second name to her paternal grandfather. She also has German and Irish blood on her mother’s side. She arrived in Italy in the early 80s, having landed a position with the University of Maryland Global Campus, which among other things provides classes at overseas US military bases.

Prior to that, she had been lecturing in the Middle East, although the revolution in Iran in the late 1970s put paid to that, forcing her to leave abruptly.

She had been a regular visitor to Italy since the 1960s, when a friend invited her to Rome.  She took to the Italian lifestyle immediately and having been given the chance to work there - she taught primarily at Aviano and Vicenza - she settled in Venice.

Leon had an apartment near Campo Santa Maria Nova, in the shadow of the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, just a few minutes on foot from the Rialto bridge.  Despite no longer being a permanent resident, she still spends about a week in the city each month.

She has passion for Baroque music and opera, which provided the background for the first Brunetti novel, centred on the poisoning of a conductor at La Fenice opera house, and her stories have explored many social and political themes. Readers have come to understand that the outspoken views sometimes expressed by Brunetti’s wife, Paola - like Leon, an academic - are actually hers.

Recently, the damage to the ecosystems of the Venetian lagoon caused by climate change have become a matter for her attention, leading her to be dubbed the first writer of eco-detective fiction.

The Brunetti books have been turned into a TV series in Germany and published in more than 25 languages but have never been translated into Italian.

In an interview in 2003, she denied this was through any fear of a hostile reaction to her views, insisting her motivation was simply to remain as anonymous as possible, at least in Venice.  “I don’t want to be famous,” she said. “I don’t like being famous and I don’t want to be famous where I live. I just don’t like it.”

The Commissario Brunetti novels:

1. Death At La Fenice (1992) Review
2. Death In A Strange Country (1993) Review
3. The Anonymous Venetian (retitled Dressed for Death) (1994)
4. A Venetian Reckoning (retitled Death and Judgment) (1996)
5. Acqua Alta (1996)
7. A Noble Radiance (1998)
8. Fatal Remedies (1999)
10. A Sea Of Troubles (2001)
11. Willful Behaviour (2002)
12. Uniform Justice (2003)
13. Doctored Evidence (2004)
14. Blood From A Stone (2005)
18. About Face (2009)
21. Beastly Things (2012)
22. The Golden Egg (2013)
29. Trace Elements (2020)
31. Give Unto Others (2022)

Other novels

(Picture of Donna Leon by Mariusz Kubik via Wikimedia Commons)


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