Death at La Fenice (Guido Brunetti Series #1)

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Overview

"There is little violent crime in Venice, a serenely beautiful floating city of mystery and magic, history and decay. But the evil that does occasionally rear its head is the jurisdiction of Guido Brunetti, the suave, urbane vice-commissario of police and a genius at detection. Now all of his admirable abilities must come into play in the deadly affair of Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who died painfully from cyanide poisoning during an intermission at La Fenice." But as the investigation unfolds, a chilling picture slowly
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Death at La Fenice (Guido Brunetti Series #1)

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Overview

"There is little violent crime in Venice, a serenely beautiful floating city of mystery and magic, history and decay. But the evil that does occasionally rear its head is the jurisdiction of Guido Brunetti, the suave, urbane vice-commissario of police and a genius at detection. Now all of his admirable abilities must come into play in the deadly affair of Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who died painfully from cyanide poisoning during an intermission at La Fenice." But as the investigation unfolds, a chilling picture slowly begins to take shape - a detailed portrait of revenge painted with vivid strokes of hatred and shocking depravity. And the dilemma for Guido Brunetti will not be finding a murder suspect, but rather narrowing the choices down to one.

Beautiful and serene Venice is a city almost divoid of crime. But that is little comfort to Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who is poisoned one night during intermission. As Guido Brunetti, vice-commissario of police and a genius of detection, pieces together the clues, a shocking picture of depravity and revenge emerges.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
If your taste is for contemporary fiction set in Italy, here are some irresistible novels: Italian Fever by Valerie Martin (Vintage. 2000. ISBN 0-375-70522-8. pap. $12) and Francesca Marciano's Casa Rossa (Vintage. 2003. ISBN 0-375-72637-3. pap. $14). And you certainly won't want to go to Italy, especially Venice, without bringing a few Donna Leon mysteries featuring Commissario Brunetti, whose love of good food and despair about corruption in Italian politics play prominent roles in every book. Two favorites are A Noble Radiance (Penguin. 2003. ISBN 0-14-200319-0. pap. $6.99) and Death at La Fenice (HarperTorch. 1995. ISBN 0-06-104337-0. pap. $6.99). Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786111930
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/28/1997
  • Series: Guido Brunetti Series , #1
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 6 Cassettes
  • Pages: 540
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Donna Leon has written four previous Guido Brunetti novels, Death and Judgment, Dressed for Death, Death in a Strange Country, and Death at La Fenice, which won the Suntory Prize for the best suspense novel of 1991. She teaches English at the University of Maryland extension at a U.S. Air Force base near Venice Italy, where she has lived for over twenty years.

Biography

Donna Leon's love affair with Italy began in the mid-1960s when she visited for the first time. She returned frequently over the course of the next decade, while working as a teacher in such far-flung paces as Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, England, Iran, and China. In the 1980s, the New Jersey native made the decision to move to Venice, where she still lives.

Leon's writing career began accidentally. One evening, following a performance at Venice's famous opera house, Teatro La Fenice, Leon and some friends were discussing a certain conductor they all heartily disliked. Someone jokingly suggested killing him off; and when the conversation turned to how, where, and why, suddenly the idea for a dandy murder mystery took shape in Leon's mind. Published in 1992, Death at La Fenice introduced Commissario Guido Brunetti, the melancholy Venetian policeman who would go on to star in a series of witty, intelligently plotted, and critically acclaimed detective novels.

Brunetti is, indeed, one of the most appealing characters in crime fiction, and one of the pleasures of the series is the revelation of new and surprising facets to his personality. Intellectual, introspective, and world weary, he is also happily married, totally committed to his job, and a lover of classical music, good food, and jokes. But, above all, Guido Brunetti is "Venetian to the bone" -- born into and shaped by a society filled with cultural contradictions. Through her detective's eyes, Leon illuminates the central paradox of Venice: Beneath the ravishing beauty and civilized veneer lurks a core of insidious and utterly pervasive corruption. Brunetti's cynicism stems from his inability to stem the tide -- although, bless his heart, he never stops trying.

Elegant writing, deft characterization, and lots of local color elevate the Brunetti novels above run-of-the-mill series, and Leon's reputation has grown with each installment. But although her books are international bestsellers, they have never been translated into Italian. The author explained why in an interview with National Public Radio: " I do not take any pleasure whatsoever in being a famous person. The tenor of my life would change if these books were translated into Italian, because I'm completely anonymous here." Anonymous in Venice, perhaps. Elsewhere, Donna Leon is a rock star!

Good To Know

An opera buff with a passion for baroque music, Leon has written the libretto for a comic opera entitled Dona Gallina.

For a few years, Leon reviewed crime fiction for the Sunday Times.

In Germany, several of the Commissario Brunetti novels have been adapted into television mini-series.

A woman of strong opinions, Leon reads voraciously for topical issues to use in her novels. Among the serious matters she has written about are industrial pollution, human trafficking, illegal adoption, and corruption in the Catholic Church.

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    1. Hometown:
      Venice, Italy
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 28, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Montclair, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., 1964; M.A. 1969; postgraduate work in English literature

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The third gong, announcing that the opera was about to continue, sounded discreetly through the lobbies and bars of Teatro La Fenice. In response, the audience stabbed, out cigarettes, finished drinks and conversations, and started to filter back into the theater. The hall, brightly lit between acts, hummed with the talk of those returning to their seats. Here a jewel flashed, there a mink cape was adjusted over a naked shoulder or an infinitesimal speck of dust was flicked from a satin lapel. The upper galleries filled up first, followed by the orchestra seats and then the three rows of boxes.

The lights dimmed, the hall grew dark, and the tension created by an ongoing performance mounted as the audience waited for the conductor to reappear on the podium. Slowly the hum of voices faded, the members of the orchestra stopped fidgeting in their seats, and the universal silence announced everyone's readiness for the third and final act.

The silence lengthened, grew heavy. From the first gallery, there came a burst of coughing; someone dropped a book, perhaps a purse; but the door to the corridor behind the orchestra pit remained dosed.

The first to talk were the players in the orchestra. A second violinist leaned over to the woman next to him and asked if she had made her vacation plans. In the second row, a bassoonist told an oboist that the Benetton sales were starting next day. The people in the first tiers of boxes, who could best see the musicians, soon imitated their soft chatter. The galleries joined in, and then those in orchestra seats, as though the wealthy would be the last to give in to this sort of behavior.

The humgrew to a murmur. Minutes passed. Suddenly the folds of the dense green velvet curtain were pulled back and Amadeo Fasini, the theater's artistic director, stepped awkwardly through the narrow opening. The technician the light box above the second gallery, with on, decided to center a hot on the man at center stage

Blinded, Fasini shot up his a arm to shield his eyes. Still holding his arm raised in front of him, as if to protect himself from a blow, he began to speak: "Ladies and gentlemen,"and then he stopped, gesturing wildly with his left hand to the technician, who, realizing his error, switched off the light. Released from his temporary blindness, the man onthe stage started again. "Ladies and gentlemen, I regret toinform you that Maestro Wellauer is unable to performance." Whispers, questions, rose from the audience, silk rustled as heads turned, but he continued to speak above the noise. "His place will be taken by Maestro Longhi." Before the hum could rise to drown him out, he asked, voice insistently calm,"Is there a doctor in the audience?"

His question met a long pause, then people began to look around them: who would be the one to present himself? Almost a full minute passed. Finally, a hand rose slowly in one of the first rows of the orchestra, and a woman got out of her seat. Fasini waved a hand to one of the uniformed ushers at the back of the house, and the young man hurried to the end, of the row where the woman now stood. "If you would, Dottoressa," Fasini said, sounding as if he were in pain and needed the doctor for himself, "Please go backstage with the usher."

He glanced up into the horseshoe of the still darkened hall, tried to smile, failed, and abandoned the attempt. "Excuse, ladies and, gentlemen, the difficulty. The opera will now continue."

Turning, the artistic director fumbled at the curtain, unable for a moment to find the opening through which he had come. Disembodied hands parted the curtain from behind, and he slipped through, finding himself in the bare garret where Violetta was soon to die. From out in front, he heard the tentative. applause that greeted the substitute conductor as he took his place on the podium.

Singers, chorus members, stagehands appeared from all around him, as curious as the audience had been but far more vocal. Though the power of his position usually protected him from contact with members of the company as low in standing as these, the director could not now avoid them, their questions, their whispers. "It's nothing, nothing," he said to no one in particular, then he waved at them all, trying to clear them, with that gesture, from the stage upon which they flocked. The music of the prelude was drawing to a close; soon the curtain would open on the evening's Violetta, who now sat nervously on the edge of the cot at the center of the stage. Fasini redoubled the intensity of his gestures, and singers and stagehands began to move off to the wings, where they continued to whisper among themselves. He snarled a furious "Silenzio" and waited for it to take effect. When he saw the curtains inching apart to reveal the stage, he hurried to join the stage manager, who stood off to stage right, beside the doctor. A short, dark woman, she stood directly under a No Smoking sign, with an unlighted cigarette in, her hand.

"Good evening, Doctor," Fasini said, forcing himself to smile. She dropped the cigarette into the pocket of herjacket and shook his hand. "What is it?" she finally asked as, from behind them, Violetta began to read the letter from Germont pére.

Fasini rubbed his hands together briskly, as if the gesture would help him decide what to say. "Maestro Wellauer has been . . . " he began, but he found no satisfactory way to finish the sentence.

"Is he sick?" asked the doctor impatiently.

"No, no, he's not sick," Fasini said, and then words left him. He returned to rubbing his hands together.

"Perhaps I had better see him," she said, making it a question. "Is he here in the theater?"

Death At La Fenice. Copyright © by Donna Leon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 152 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(54)

4 Star

(51)

3 Star

(23)

2 Star

(15)

1 Star

(9)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 152 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Good Find!

    I was unfamiliar with Donna Leon and the Guido Brunetti series until I read a recent review of the 18th novel in the series, About Face. The description of the main characters, Brunetti and Venice, were both very interesting to me. So, I decided to start with the first novel, Death at La Fenice. The plot was intriguing, Venice was described in astonishing detail and Brunetti was an interesting and enjoyable character. The feel for Venice and the details of Brunetti's personal life were very well done. I highly recommend this series and this novel in particular.

    30 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2008

    Kept my interest, fun read

    A friend recommended this author to me and to humor her, since I thought I had already discovered all the good, contemporary mystery authors', I picked it up. I had been to Venice the year before and thought it an interesting setting for a mystery -- certainly spooky after dark. It took about a chapter to get into this story, becasue the writing style is a shade more formal than I am used to with American authors, but after that, I had a hard time putting it down. I really was hooked and wanted to know what happened next. Based on my good experience with with Leon's 'Death at La Fenice,' I now plan to order the rest of the Guido Brunetti series. Leon's turn of phrase is descriptive, delicious and a delight. She makes you see and hear everything and everyone as if you were watching a movie. I KNEW the characters, SAW the settings, FELT the tension. It was all amazingly detailed while also highly entertaining -- and the plot moved along, was not bogged down in unnecessary yakking, musings, side trips, and editorials. It was a page-turner for me. Having been to Venice helped make this story's setting even more real to me, but reading without that experience just means you have to use your imagination a little more strenuously -- no great feat for any avid fiction reader. This is a police procedural, for sure, but not in the American sense. It is 'mostly' gracious, NOT gritty and bloody, full of guns and knives and thugs beating each other up. But it is not a tea cozy either. I am personally thrilled to find a 'new' author and look forward to tagging along with Brunetti while he takes on more cases. Leon is not in the category of Great Literature, but this is great contemporary story telling in an excellent writing style.

    28 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 1, 2009

    A VACATION IN VENICE

    I like police detective novels written by women. Donna Leon paints beautiful pictures of a Venice not generally seen by tourists. Her characters are rich and complex. Thoroughly enjoyable.

    15 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2009

    Enjoyable, literate mystery with an interesting setting

    This is a well-written mystery with believable characters, enjoyable plot and an interesting setting. While making Venice a part of the story, Donna Leon manages not to turn this into a travelogue. Guido Brunetti is presented as a well-rounded character - detective, husband, father and citizen of Venice. The story line is engaging. This is a series I think I will continue to read.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    First by Donna Leon

    I liked Detective Brunetti & intend to read other books in which he is a character. Well written, the type of story you cannot put down until you get to know who the muder is.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2004

    Beautifully Written, elegant mystery

    I enjoyed this well-written, elegant, international mystery. Guido is a likeable 'everyman' with a heart to whom I can relate. I love Agatha Christie mysteries, and as I've read almost every one, I was wondering what to read next until I stumbled on to this series. These appeal to me in a way that the crime thriller novels from James Patterson do not; they seem to be a little more focused on human nature and characters in the way that Agatha Christie was.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    engaging Italian police procedural

    Internationally renowned German conductor Helmut Wellauer was performing La Traviata at Teatro La Fenice when he failed to come out for the second act. A few minutes past the warning gong, someone ask if there is a doctor in the house? Dr. Rizzardi enters the maestro¿s dressing room to find Helmut dead.---- Being Venice, the police arrive by boat rather quickly. Police Commissario Guido Brunetti leads the investigation into who would use cyanide poisoning, a painful way to die, on the conductor. Suspects abound from the victim¿s seemingly aloof spouse to musical peers and rivals. Soon Brunetti learns that Helmut was a Nazi sympathizer and once destroyed the careers of a singing trio. With no help from his martinet boss or from the two idiots assigned to assist him, Brunetti turns to his family especially his wife Paula for assistance on solving a homicide which has several viable suspects.---- DEATH AT LA FENICE is an engaging Italian police procedural that showcases the city of canals as much as it does the investigation. Brunetti is a terrific protagonist struggling to solve a difficult case because several viable individuals with different but powerful motives wanted Helmut dead and seemingly would perform the act if the opportunity allowed so. Sub-genre fans will appreciate the investigation as Brunetti deals with the brass and his incompetent help, but as with many of these tales (see the recently released DOCTORED EVIDENCE, it is Donna Leon¿s aria to the city that she loves that ahs the audience riding the canals on the police boats guided by the author.---- Harriet Klausner

    9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2012

    Very excellent character development makes me think I might read

    Very excellent character development makes me think I might read the rest of the series. The droll humor that sometimes popped out at me from the pages of this police procedural was unexpected and welcome. The Commissario Brunetti himself is a winner - just the sort of detective I enjoy reading, and the literate writing and references to cultural icons and authors is welcome in these days of so much drek being foisted off on us as good writing. Venice is also a star of the novel, and not less because of the seediness of historical decay that infects its buildings and and the same time highlights its beauty.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2011

    A Good Mystery

    I happened to randomingly select this book from the bargain table. Italy is my favorite country and Venice is beautiful. As soon as I began reading the book, I fell in love with the main character of Detective Brunetti. If you like mystery series, then start with the first book and work you way through to the next one. I purchased the next three books in the series and have enjoyed them.I plan on making this series part of my permanent library. The author has written a good story line. As I read the book, I had a clear picture in my head of what Detective Brunetti looks like, gray wavy hair, blue eyes, full mouth and a very Italian male. He loves his wife, family and enjoys his job. He will look at a beautiful woman but he loves his wife. Detective Brunetti is a good detective but a compassionate man.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Fun mystery; great for those with interest in foreign locals

    Fun book, with a somewhat enjoyable mystery. The real charm of the book is Venice. Through her main character, Commissario Brunetti, Leon takes you on a trip to Venice, its streets, meals and the daily life of its residents. This is the only reason I picked up the second book in the series and the third. Venice is the main character and, as the plot is ok, it's good, fun, somewhat educational reading.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2012

    A Finding for opera lovers

    I was trying to find something for my Nook card and I decided to read this nook book. When I was a kid I read all Agatha Christie's novels, and I thought I was no longer interested in written mistery but in historic novel until I found Death at La Fenice. Being an opera lover myself and a Traviata fan, the book sounded engaging, and now I will follow Donna Leon and she will remain one of my favorite authors.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2001

    Leon stars in this aria appearance!

    It is no secret that American expatriate Donna Leon loves Venice. And in ¿Death at La Fenice¿ this author (and English teacher) begins one of the most exciting police procedural series around. Leon not only writes about Venice but actually lives there. Her love for the city shows--and she pulls no punches as she gives us this ages-old city, warts and all, a sure sign of true love. She also introduces us to one of the most exciting--and competent--police detectives in modern fiction. In Vice-Commassario Guido Brunetti we find a brilliant mind, a sensitive soul, a man determined to follow a moral, just, and honest road (in Venice yet!). Leon¿s power of description and episode has propelled this man--and this series--to exciting heights. La Fenice is the name of Venice¿s renowned opera house, an excellent setting for this introductory novel. Helmut Wellauer, an internationally recognized German conductor, is found dead in his dressing room, shortly before the performance ¿La Traviata,¿ which he is to conduct. With deliberate pacing, Leon sets us up for the story to follow. Enter Brunetti. Leon describes him thus: ¿He was a surprisingly neat man: tie carefully knotted, hair shorter than was the fashion; even his ears lay close to his head, as if reluctant to call attention to themselves. His clothing marked him as Italian. The cadence of his speech announced that he was Venetian. His eyes were all policeman.¿ A chief suspects is operatic diva soprano Flavia Petrelli. Because of their differences of artistic opinion (as well as another!), she has the motive. Flavia and her American archeologist and companion Brett Lynch pose as a puzzle to Brunetti. With her command of the story, Leon leads us to an exciting conclusion--but perhaps this conclusion is not so important as the fact that she has introduced us to Brunetti, his wife Paula, and his children. Brunetti¿s relationship to and with the city of Venice is energizing and readers who care to follow this book will find Leon¿s objectives convincing. Plus, she writes an exceptional story! The remainder of her books are most exciting, too. ¿Death at La Venice¿ merely serves as an arousing overture of the rest of her literary symphony.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2012

    Deathclan?

    Here?

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Wonderful Read

    Donna Lyon writes about Venice and Inspector Brunetti with flair. The story is interesting and original. The characters are captivating. And both the city and the inspector are the heroes of this story. Read It! And all the others she has written! She is a writer who desrves your attention.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2006

    Pleasant Reading

    Author Donna Leon captures the mysterious side of Venice nicely. There are occasionally too many 'knowing' references to Venice that try to hard at erudition, but other than that it is a pleasant read.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2014

    Great Read!

    Started this series after visiting Italy. Venice was one of my favorite cities on the trip! This is a very good mystery. I enjoyed the insights into the people involved, and the descriptions of the city were a great plus.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2014

    It's not over until the fat lady sings...

    An opera is interrupted when the world famous conductor, Wellauer, doesn't return after the intermission. He's found dead, and it is up to Commissario Brunetti to solve the murder. There are plenty of people who hated the man so the suspect list is long. Ferreting out the truth will take delving into the man's history. So who killed the man? Was it the soprano, the wife, the director? And the motive? There are as many of those as suspects. This is the first in a series that features Guido Brunetti. Seeing the family life of Brunetti is a delightful change of pace; he seems real, as do they. A recommended read.

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  • Posted February 7, 2014

    Good beginning to a series.

    A friend recommended this on Facebook so I thought I would give the first book in a series a try. The writing is excellent and I will be ordering more Leon books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2013

    interesting

    interesting how crimes are solved in other countries

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2013

    N

    ?v, N,

    Ti .n,nkjtn,n

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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