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A Noble Radiance (Guido Brunetti Series #7)

A Noble Radiance (Guido Brunetti Series #7)

4.4 18
by Donna Leon

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Donna Leon has topped European bestseller lists for more than a decade with a series of mysteries featuring clever Commissario Guido Brunetti. Always ready to bend the rules to uncover the threads of a crime, Brunetti manages to maintain his integrity while maneuvering through a city rife with politics, corruption, and intrigue.

In A Noble Radiance a new


Donna Leon has topped European bestseller lists for more than a decade with a series of mysteries featuring clever Commissario Guido Brunetti. Always ready to bend the rules to uncover the threads of a crime, Brunetti manages to maintain his integrity while maneuvering through a city rife with politics, corruption, and intrigue.

In A Noble Radiance a new landowner is summoned urgently to his house not far from Venice when workmen accidentally unearth a macabre grave. The human corpse is badly decomposed, but a ring found nearby proves to be a first clue that reopens an infamous case of kidnapping involving one of Venice's most aristocratic families. Only Commissario Brunetti can unravel the clues and find his way into both the heart of patrician Venice and that of a family grieving for their abducted son.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
The appeal of Donna Leon's Italian-set mysteries is as universal as crime. That's why her tales of Commissario Guido Brunetti's investigations have been international bestsellers. In A Noble Radiance, the discovery of old bones during the renovation of the garden of a long-abandoned farmhouse offers a difficult challenge. After all, the property has been derelict for decades, holding its buried secret as time erased the clues to its origin. Then a signet ring is found at the site, tying the bones to the unsolved disappearance of the scion of one of the oldest and most respected families in Venice. Even in the hands of a brilliant investigator like Brunetti, it'll take more than one piece of evidence to give new life to a case that cold. Unlocking the mystery of what happened to the only son of Count Ludovico leads Brunetti into an investigation complicated by dark hints of international arms dealing and fatal family feuds. Donna Leon has created a detective whose investigative expertise is matched by his insights into human feelings -- a combination that offers a fascinating perspective on the terrible lengths to which emotions will drive people. Sue Stone
The New York Times
Despite the serious issues they raise, Leon's books shimmer in the grace of their setting and are warmed by the charm of their characters. — Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
Providing insight into Venetian society through the lens of a gripping intellectual mystery, this atmospheric tale from Leon (Uniform Justice, etc.) finds Inspector Guido Brunetti investigating an aristocratic family with a shady past. When a rural landowner discovers the body of Roberto Lorenzoni, who was kidnapped two years earlier, Brunetti immediately suspects the victim's family. The Lorenzoni clan bears the legacy of betraying the Jews of Venice during World War II, and from these ashes, its members have created a thriving enterprise. Roberto's cousin Maurizio, who's next in line to inherit the family fortune and business, is the logical suspect, but Brunetti senses something more insidious at play. As he works his way through Italian three-course meals and family crises, he uncovers disturbing details about the Lorenzoni family. Leon deftly depicts the tensions between Brunetti and his ambitious Sicilian boss, as well as the irony of the justice system ("Imprisoned parricides receive fan mail; officialdom and Mafia dance hand in hand toward the ruin of the state"). Brunetti emerges as an intelligent, somewhat world-weary individual who believes in his cause if not the system itself. In short, he's the ideal protagonist for this culturally rich mystery. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“A gripping intellectual mystery… Culturally rich.” —Publishers Weekly

“Goes a long way to confirming Donna Leon's claim to have taken literary possession of Venice… A Noble Radiance finds her at the height of her power. It gives the reader a delightful foretaste of summer holidays to come, but it also offers much more than that.” —Independent on Sunday (UK)

“The marvel of this book is that almost every detail on every page forms part of a succession of clues, planted with exquisite precision to unraveling the mystery.” —Sunday Times (UK)

Product Details

Grove Atlantic
Publication date:
Guido Brunetti Series , #7
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Read an Excerpt


By Donna Leon

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

ISBN: 0-14-200319-0

Chapter One

There was nothing much to notice about the field, a hundred-metre square of dry grass below a small village in the foothills of the Dolomites. It lay at the bottom of a slope covered with hardwood trees which could easily be culled for firewood, and that was used as an argument to increase the price when the land and the two-hundred-year-old house upon it came to be sold. Off to the north a slant-faced mountain loomed over the small town of Ponte nelle Alpi; a hundred kilometres to the south lay Venice, too far away to influence the politics or customs of the area. People in the villages spoke Italian with some reluctance, felt more at home in Bellunese dialect.

The field had lain untilled for almost half a century, and the stone house had sat empty. The immense slates that made up the roof had shifted with age and sudden changes in temperature, perhaps even with the occasional earthquake that had struck the area during the centuries the roof had protected the house from rain and snow, and so it no longer did that, for many of the slates had crashed to earth, leaving the upper rooms exposed to the elements. Because the house and property lay at the heart of a contested will, none of the eight heirs had bothered to repair the leaks, fearful that they would never get back the few hundred thousand lire the repairs would cost. So the rain and snow dripped, then flowed, in, nibbling away at plaster andfloorboards, and each year the roof tilted more drunkenly towards the earth.

The field, too, had been abandoned for the same reasons. None of the presumptive heirs wanted to expend either time or money working the land, nor did they want to weaken their legal position by being seen to make unpaid use of the property. Weeds flourished, made all the more vital by the fact that the last people to cultivate the land had for decades manured it with the droppings of their rabbits.

It was the scent of foreign money that settled the dispute about the will: two days after a retired German doctor made an offer for the house and land, the eight heirs met at the home of the eldest. Before the end of the evening, they had arrived at a unanimous decision to sell the house and land; their subsequent decision was not to sell until the foreigner had doubled his offer, which would bring the selling price to four times what any local resident would - or could - pay.

Three weeks after the deal was completed, scaffolding went up, and the centuries-old, hand-cut slates were hurled down to shatter in the courtyard below. The art of laying the slates had died with the artisans who knew how to cut them, and so they were replaced with moulded rectangles of prefabricated cement that had a vague resemblance to terra cotta tiles. Because the doctor had hired the oldest of the heirs to serve as his foreman, work progressed quickly; because this was the Province of Belluno, it was done honestly and well. By the middle of the spring, the restoration of the house was almost complete, and with the approach of the first warm days, the new owner, who had spent his professional life enclosed in brightly lit operating rooms and who was conducting the restorations by phone and fax from Munich, turned his thoughts to the creation of the garden he had dreamed about for years.

Village memory is long, and it recalled that the old garden had run alongside the row of walnut trees out behind the house, so it was there that Egidio Buschetti, the foreman, decided to plough. The land hadn't been worked for most of his own lifetime, so Buschetti estimated that his tractor would have to pass over the land twice, once to cut through the metre-high weeds, and then once again to disc up the rich soil lying underneath.

At first Buschetti thought it was a horse - he remembered that the old owners had kept two - and so he continued with his tractor all the way to what he had established as the end of the field. Pulling at the broad wheel, he swung the tractor around and headed back, proud of the razor-straightness of the furrows, glad to be out in the sun again, happy at the sound and the feel of the work, sure now that spring had come. He saw the bone sticking up crookedly from the furrow he had just ploughed, the white length of it sharply visible against the nearly black earth. No, not long enough to be a horse, but he didn't remember that anyone had ever kept sheep here. Curious, he slowed the tractor, somehow reluctant to ride over the bone and shatter it.

He shifted into neutral and drew to a stop. Pulling on the hand brake, he climbed down from his high metal seat and walked over towards the cantilevered bone that jutted up towards the sky. He bent and reached out to shove it away from the path of the tractor, but a sudden reluctance pulled him upright again, and he prodded at it with the toe of his heavy boot, hoping thus to dislodge it. It refused to move, so Buschetti turned towards the tractor, where he kept a shovel clamped in back of his seat. As he turned, his eyes fell upon a gleaming white oval a bit farther along the bottom of the furrow. No horse, no sheep had ever gazed out from so round a skull, nor would they leer up at him through the sharpened carnivore teeth so frighteningly like his own.

Chapter Two

The intuition of the news in just a country town never spreads faster than when it deals with death or disaster, so the news that human bones had been discovered in the garden of the old Orsez house was common knowledge throughout the village of Col di Cugnan before dinnertime. It was not since the death of the mayor's son in that automobile accident down by the cement factory seven years ago that news had spread so quickly; even the story about Graziella Rovere and the electrician had taken two days to become common knowledge. But that night the villagers, all seventy-four of them, switched off their televisions, or talked above them, during dinner, trying to think of how it could be and, more interestingly, who it could be.

The mink-sweatered news reader on rai 3, the blonde who wore a different pair of glasses each night, went ignored as she reported the latest horrors in the ex-Yugoslavia, and no one paid the slightest heed to the arrest of the former Minister of the Interior on charges of corruption. Both were by now normal, but a skull in a ditch behind the home of the foreigner, that was news. By bedtime, the skull had been variously reported to have been shattered by a blow from an axe, or a bullet, and to display signs that an attempt had been made to dissolve it with acid. The police had determined, people were certain, that they were the bones of a pregnant woman, a young male, and the husband of Luigina Menegaz, gone off to Rome twelve years ago and never heard from since. That night people in Col di Cugnan locked their doors, and those who had lost the keys years ago and never bothered about them slept less easily than did the others.

At eight the next morning, two Carabinieri-driven all-terrain vehicles arrived at the home of Doctor Litfin and drove across the newly planted grass to park on either side of the two long rows ploughed the day before. It was not until an hour later that a car arrived from the provincial centre of Belluno, carrying the medico legale of that city. He had heard none of the rumours about the identity or cause of death of the person whose bones lay in the field, and so he did what seemed most necessary: he set his two assistants to sifting through the earth to find the rest of the remains.

As this slow process advanced, both of the Carabinieri vehicles took turns driving across the soon-destroyed lawn and up to the village, where the six officers had coffees in the small bar, then began to ask the residents of the village if anyone was missing. The fact that the bones seemed to have been in the earth for years did not affect their decision to ask about recent events, and so their researches proved ineffective.

In the field below the village, the two assistants of Doctor Bortot had set up a fine mesh screen at a sharp angle. Slowly, they poured buckets of earth through it, bending down occasionally to pick out a small bone or anything that looked like it might be one. As they pulled them out, they displayed them to their superior, who stood at the edge of the furrow, hands clasped behind his back. A long sheet of black plastic lay spread at his feet, and as he was shown the bones, he instructed his assistants where to place them, and together they slowly began to assemble their macabre jigsaw puzzle.

Occasionally he asked one of the men to hand him a bone, and he studied it for a moment before bending to place it somewhere on the plastic sheet. Twice he corrected himself, once bending to move a small bone from the right side to the left, and another time, with a muttered exclamation, moving another from below the metatarsal to the end of what had once been a wrist.

At ten, Doctor Litfin arrived, having been alerted the previous evening to the discovery in his garden and having driven through the night from Munich. He parked in front of his house and pulled himself stiffly from the driver's seat. Beyond the house, he saw the countless deep tracks cut into the new grass he had planted with such simple joy three weeks before. But then he saw the three men standing in the field off in the distance, almost as far away as the patch of young raspberry plants he had brought down from Germany and planted at the same time. He started across the destroyed lawn but stopped in his tracks at a shouted command that came from somewhere off to his right. He looked around but saw nothing except the three ancient apple trees that had grown up around the ruined well. Seeing no one, he started again towards the three men in the field. He had taken only a few steps before two men dressed in the ominous black uniforms of the Carabinieri burst out from under the nearest of the apple trees, machine guns aimed at him.

Doctor Litfin had survived the Russian occupation of Berlin, and though that had happened fifty years before, his body remembered the sight of armed men in uniform. He put both of his hands above his head and stood rock-still.

They came out fully from the shadows then, and the doctor had a hallucinogenic moment of seeing the contrast of their death-black uniforms against the innocent backdrop of pink apple blossom. Their glossy boots trampled across a carpet of fresh-fallen petals as they approached him.

'What are you doing here?' the first one demanded.

'Who are you?' the other asked in the same angry tone.

In Italian made clumsy by fear, he began, 'I'm Doctor Litfin. I'm the ...' he said but stopped to search for the appropriate term. 'I'm the padrone here.'

The Carabinieri had been told that the new owner was a German, and the accent sounded real enough, so they lowered their guns, though they kept their fingers near the triggers. Litfin took this as permission to lower his hands, though he did that very slowly. Because he was German, he knew that guns were always superior to any claim to legal rights, and so he waited for them to approach him, but this did not prevent him from turning his attention momentarily back to the three men who stood in the newly ploughed earth, they now as motionless as he, their attention on him and the approaching Carabinieri.

The two officers, suddenly diffident in the face of the person who could afford the restorations to house and land evident all around them, approached Doctor Litfin, and as they drew nearer, the balance of power changed. Litfin perceived this, and seized the moment.

'What is all of this?' he asked, pointing across the field and leaving it to the policemen to infer whether he meant his ruined lawn or the three men who stood at the other side of it.

'There's a body in your field,' the first officer answered.

'I know that, but what's all this ...?' he sought the proper word and came up only with 'distruzione'.

The marks of the tyre treads seemed actually to grow deeper as the three men studied them, until finally one of the policemen said, 'We had to drive down into the field.'

Though this was an obvious lie, Litfin ignored it. He turned away from the two officers and started to walk towards the other three men so quickly that neither of the officers tried to stop him. When he got to the end of the first deep trench, he called across to the man who was obviously in charge, 'What is it?'

'Are you Doctor Litfin?' asked the other doctor, who had already been told about the German, what he had paid for the house, and how much he had spent so far on restorations.

Litfin nodded and when the other man was slow to answer, asked again, 'What is it?'

'I'd say it was a man in his twenties,' Doctor Bortot answered and then, turning back to his assistants, motioned them to continue with their work.

It took Litfin a moment to recover from the brusqueness of the reply, but when he did, he stepped on to the ploughed earth and went to stand beside the other doctor. Neither man said anything for a long time as they stood side by side and watched the two men in the trench scrape away slowly at the dirt.

After a few minutes, one of the men handed Doctor Bortot another bone, which, with a quick glance, he bent and placed at the end of the other wrist. Two more bones; two more quick placements.

'There, on your left, Pizzetti,' Bortot said, pointing to a tiny white knob that lay exposed on the far side of the trench. The man he spoke to glanced at it, bent and picked it from the earth, and handed it up to the doctor. Bortot studied it for a moment, holding it delicately between his first two fingers, then turned to the German. 'Lateral cuneiform?' he asked.

Litfin pursed his lips as he looked at the bone. Even before the German could speak, Bortot handed it to him. Litfin turned it in his hands for a moment, then glanced down at the pieces of bone laid out on the plastic at their feet. 'That, or it might be the intermediate,' he answered, more comfortable with the Latin than the Italian.

'Yes, yes, it could be,' Bortot replied. He waved his hand down towards the plastic sheet, and Litfin stooped to place it at the end of the long bone leading to the foot. He stood up and both men looked at it. 'Ja, ja,' Litfin muttered; Bortot nodded.

And so for the next hour the two men stood together beside the trench left by the tractor, first one and then the other taking a bone from the two men who continued to sift the rich earth through the tilted screen. Occasionally they conferred about a fragment or sliver, but generally they agreed about the identity of what was passed up to them by the two diggers.

The spring sun poured down on them; off in the distance, a cuckoo began his mating call, repeating it until the four men were no longer aware of it.


Excerpted from A NOBLE RADIANCE by Donna Leon Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
A gripping intellectual mystery… Culturally rich.” —Publishers Weekly

“Goes a long way to confirming Donna Leon's claim to have taken literary possession of Venice… A Noble Radiance finds her at the height of her power. It gives the reader a delightful foretaste of summer holidays to come, but it also offers much more than that.” —Independent on Sunday (UK)

“The marvel of this book is that almost every detail on every page forms part of a succession of clues, planted with exquisite precision to unraveling the mystery.” —Sunday Times (UK)

Meet the Author

Donna Leon was named by The Times as one of the 50 Greatest Crime Writers. She is an award-winning crime novelist, celebrated for the bestselling Brunetti series. Donna has lived in Venice for thirty years and previously lived in Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, where she worked as a teacher. Donna’s books have been translated into 35 languages and have been published around the world.

Her previous novels featuring Commissario Brunetti have all been highly acclaimed; including Friends in High Places, which won the CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction, Fatal Remedies, Doctored Evidence, A Sea of Troubles and Beastly Things.

Brief Biography

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

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Noble Radiance (Guido Brunetti Series #7) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Leon's protagonist, Guido Brunetti, is a wonderfully complex character who realistically fights his own fears and demons while trying to solve the grisly murder of the son of a prominent and powerful business man. The work has many well placed twists and an unexpected ending.
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Swaraswati More than 1 year ago
This was my first book to read by Donna Leon but I am delighted to know that it is the 14th in a series of detective stories starring Commissario Guido Brunetti. Set in Italy, there are many references to the Venetian setting and a few Italian phrases thrown in which adds to the bella flavor of the book. This mystery reads like a good old fashioned "whodunnit" set in modern times as evidenced by the use of computer data to help solve the mystery. Commissario Brunetti is methodical in his detective methods and takes his time to reflect on all the clues. His frustration with the Italian system of justice is evident throughout the novel and probably is a true reflection of honest real-life detectives working in modern Italy. At 237 pages, it is a quick read especially since one wants to keep reading to the end to discover the culprit.
Andrew_of_Dunedin More than 1 year ago
The first few pages (or, in the case of my audio edition, tracks) of Donna Leon’s A Noble Radiance did not exactly catch my interest. I often have that problem when beginning a new book, and have to wonder how much of the problem is the author’s and how much is mine. In this case, I think “problem” is the wrong word – rather, Ms. Leon is using some expert fishing techniques on the unsuspecting reader – in this case, me. Ms. Leon starts off by setting her scenario – the equivalent of picking her spot and baiting her hook. Then, she drops a single lure into the water – not to hook the poor fish, but just to catch a little interest. THEN … WHAM! The hook is set, and it’s a wild ride to the finish, including a few surprises towards the end (providing a possible explanation for the title, for example – or at least a possible second explanation). Venetian policeman, Commissario Guido Brunetti, is brought in to deal with a body uncovered during building renovations – a body that may belong to the victim of a kidnapping some 2 years prior, and a body that shows signs that the death was not accidental. The family of the kidnapping victim belongs to the upper crust of Italian society and is not interested in assisting the police in finding the person or people who apparently kidnapped and subsequently murdered their son. Of course, the police cannot simply drop the case on that basis – hence, a most unusual murder investigation ensues. I am not very far along into Ms. Leon’s series, but A Noble Radiance is a prime example as to why her books have maintained a loyal readership for over 20 years. RATING: After a little soul searching … 5 stars. Ms. Leon kept my interest and provided some things that I will remember and think about after I’ve moved along to my next book, or the one after that, or …
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I've read several books in this series and have enjoyed them all. This one has more about Brunetti's father-in-law but they all include something about his family which enhances his character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
good story enjoyed reading
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Donna Leon is a treasure - the books she writes are really wonderful. You will get to know Guido Brunetti and other characters in her books. Maybe a bit heavy handed with her so obvious political views, but this aside all of the Leon books I've read are terrific stories.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bless the day I discovered Donna Leon, one of the best contemporary mystery writers. Like P.D. James and Elizabeth George, she represents the psychological aspects of all her characters beautifully, adding depth to her mysteries. As a devotee of Venice, I appreciate her excellent descriptions of the city and its environs that transport the reader to this enchanting and enigmatic locale. Commissioner Guido Brunetti is the soul of irony and loveable at the same time. My 90-year-old father who has visited Venice numerous times, is also a devoted Leon fan.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This one will keep you guessing right up to the end. There are interesting turns and unexpected twists that we find too little of in contemporary mysteries. Nothing too graphic or sickening, no bad language either, just a truly enjoyable mystery, somewhat a la Agatha Christie style.