The Girl of His Dreams (Guido Brunetti Series #17)

( 19 )

Overview

Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries have won legions of fans for their evocative portraits of Venetian life. In her novels, food, family, art, history, and local politics play as central a role as an unsolved crime. In The Girl of His Dreams when a friend of Brunetti’s brother, a priest recently returned from years of missionary work, calls with a request, Brunetti suspects the man’s motives. A new, American-style Protestant sect has begun to meet in the city, and it’s possible the priest is merely ...

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The Girl of His Dreams (Guido Brunetti Series #17)

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Overview

Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries have won legions of fans for their evocative portraits of Venetian life. In her novels, food, family, art, history, and local politics play as central a role as an unsolved crime. In The Girl of His Dreams when a friend of Brunetti’s brother, a priest recently returned from years of missionary work, calls with a request, Brunetti suspects the man’s motives. A new, American-style Protestant sect has begun to meet in the city, and it’s possible the priest is merely apprehensive of the competition. But the preacher could also be fleecing his growing flock, so Brunetti and Paola, along with Inspector Vianello and his wife, go undercover.

But the investigation has to be put aside when, one cold and rainy morning, a body is found floating in a canal. It is a child, a gypsy girl. Brunetti suspects she fell off a nearby roof while fleeing an apartment she had robbed. He has to inform the distrustful parents, encamped on the mainland, and soon finds himself haunted by the crime--and the girl. Thought-provoking, eye-opening, and profoundly moving, The Girl of His Dreams is classic Donna Leon, a spectacular, heart-wrenching addition to the series.

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Editorial Reviews

Dennis Drabelle
Free of coincidence or obvious contrivance, The Girl of His Dreams is a showcase of nuanced characterization, acute observation and seamless plotting.
—The Washington Post
Marilyn Stasio
Official justice being arbitrary in Donna Leon's gorgeously written but deeply melancholic Venetian police procedurals, the task of her detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti, isn't so much to solve a crime as to find a way of bearing the pain and horror of it. The Girl of His Dreams, the 17th book in this superlative series, restates Leon's theme with more intensity than usual
—The New York Times
Library Journal

Political reality prevails over justice, and a child's death goes unpunished despite the best efforts of Commissario Guido Brunetti in Leon's 17th Venetian mystery. When 11-year-old Ariana Rocich drowns in a canal and goes unidentified for days, she begins to haunt Brunetti's dreams. But Ariana is a Rom, or gypsy, found with stolen jewelry items secreted in and on her person, a discovery that makes Brunetti's investigation particularly sensitive in the face of new departmental directives regarding multicultural issues. The book opens with the funeral of Brunetti's mother before segueing into a subplot about a religious charlatan; so religion, as well as politics, becomes a topic around the family table for Brunetti, wife Paola, daughter Chiara, and son Raffi. A devoted family man, Brunetti is deeply principled if not overtly religious: his character and moral compass in the face of bureaucracy evoke as much interest as the crimes he sets out to solve. American-born Leon describes her longtime home of Venice lovingly, and the ethical grounding she gives this novel lifts it above the norm. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ1/08.]


—Michele Leber
Kirkus Reviews
Commissario Guido Brunetti, of the Venetian Questura, pursues a pair of very different cases to equally inconclusive ends. At the gravesite following the funeral of his mother, Guido Brunetti meets Padre Antonin Scallon, a schoolfriend of Brunetti's brother who has been doing missionary work in Africa. Brunetti has never liked Scallon, so he's surprised when the priest asks his help in getting information about Brother Leonardo Mutti, leader of the Children of Jesus Christ. Agreeing to investigate Mutti, Brunetti (Suffer the Little Children, 2007, etc.) ends up spending considerably more time investigating Scallon himself before he's abruptly pulled away from his inquiries by an ugly discovery. A Romany girl is found drowned in the Grand Canal with two pieces of readily identifiable jewelry that didn't belong to her. Because of a lack of cooperation, the mystery of the girl's death looks even more impenetrable than Brunetti's investigation of the two rival preachers. The investigations are linked only by the establishment's hatred and fear of interlopers who threaten its control. By no means a model of plot construction, but as heartfelt and moving as Brunetti's best.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Nothing wears thinner faster than a crime series. Given that fact, Donna Leon's 17th Commissario Brunetti mystery should be her weakest, for we know Leon's Venice so well by now and we know Brunetti, his family, and his colleagues so intimately. Instead, The Girl of His Dreams is one of Leon's best: a cunning, deceptively simple novel that exposes a modern nether world within her dreamy city. Brunetti's introduction to that world is the body of a dead child floating in a canal. "Silk. It felt like silk. He latched his fingers around the strands and pulled gently.... As he backed up one step it floated closer, and the silk spread out and wrapped itself around his wrist." The girl was 11 years old, the daughter of a Gypsy or Rom family. Pathology reports reveal the presence of a sexually transmitted disease. "When he read the age of the dead child, Brunetti lowered the papers to the desk and turned his head to gaze out the window.... A pine tree stood at the far corner, some sort of a fruit tree a few metres in front of it, so Brunetti saw the sweet green of the still unfolded leaves outlined against the darker green of the needles."

The girl's story comes to the fore halfway through a novel that opens with the funeral of Brunetti's mother, wonderfully rendered, and that also includes Brunetti's investigation of a new Christian sect. Familiar themes recur (the power of corrupt politicians, of the Catholic Church, of the faded aristocracy), and familiar characters -- such as Brunetti's pompous superior, his loyal subordinate, his omnipotent secretary, and his enduringly perceptive wife -- act predictably. Brunetti, however, has become more permeable and more interesting, as has Leon's supremely entertaining -- and thoughtful -- fiction. --Anna Mundow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143115618
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 4/7/2009
  • Series: Guido Brunetti Series , #17
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 313,195
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

A New Yorker of Irish/Spanish descent, Donna Leon first went to Italy in 1965, returning regularly over the next decade or so while pursuing a career as an academic in the States and then later in Iran, China and finally Saudi Arabia. It was after a period in Saudi Arabia, which she found ‘damaging physically and spiritually’ that Donna decided to move to Venice, where she has now lived for over twenty years.

Her debut as a crime fiction writer began as a joke: talking in a dressing room in Venice’s opera-house La Fenice after a performance, Donna and a singer friend were vilifying a particular German conductor. From the thought ‘why don’t we kill him?’ and discussion of when, where and how, the idea for Death at La Fenice took shape, and was completed over the next four months.

Donna Leon is the crime reviewer for the London Sunday Times and is an opera expert. She has written the libretto for a comic opera, entitled Dona Gallina. Set in a chicken coop, and making use of existing baroque music, Donna Gallina was premiered in Innsbruck. Brigitte Fassbaender, one of the great mezzo-sopranos of our time, and now head of the Landestheater in Innsbruck, agreed to come out of retirement both to direct the opera and to play the part of the witch Azuneris (whose name combines the names of the two great Verdi villainesses Azucena and Amneris).

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

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 6, 2009

    A prticularly Donna Leon Book

    True to the series, this one has a little exrea touch and interest because of the topic and the sensitive way the author treats it. The Roms in Italy are not much different than the latin immigrants found in this country. Donna Leon continues to demonstrate her talent for good narrative, character enhancement and vivd descriptions of her beloved Venice.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    A Nice Way to Escape to Another World!

    I love reading Ms. Leon's mystery books. Her books have a nice balance between murder-mystery plot, scenery of Venice, and a pleasant family and work life of Brunetti. I find myself absorbed in another world - in Venice - as I picture the cafes, streets, and buildings Ms. Leon describes in her books. I would love to see the Brunetti series turn into a PBS TV mini-series. That would fit right in with PBS's Mystery Theatre TV shows - and it would be a refreshing change!
    Thank you for allowing me to escape to another world - bringing back memories of my childhood when I visited Venice with my family and later when I went there while studying abroad during my college days! I never experienced a murder-mystery there in real life, but I am enjoying reading about them in Ms. Leon's books. They are not too heavy with violence and gore. It's very pleasant reading.
    Please continue to write...I appreciate your creativity and characters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I thought it through.

    I usually like Donna Leon's books. This one had a very unsettling ending. She let me down by not getting justice.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2012

    a good read

    I wouldn't call it compelling, but it did keep me coming back.

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  • Posted November 2, 2012

    Great read

    Another good one in the series. Interesting read. Enjoy the whole series.

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  • Posted September 15, 2011

    A good read.

    This was my first Donna Leon book and despite the smattering of anti-American comments it was quite interesting and very well written. It had a softness about it which I found intriguing for a murder mystery. The ending was a nice realistic surprise.

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  • Posted June 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    another great adventure in Venice

    Having visited Venice, I love the environment and atmosphere of these novels. Always fun to read with real life characters.

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