Death at La Fenice (Guido Brunetti Series #1)

Death at La Fenice (Guido Brunetti Series #1)

by Donna Leon, Durand (Editor)


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Available in paperback for the first time, the first book in the internationally bestselling Guido Brunetti detective series in which a high society murder leads the detective

Beautiful and serene Venice is a city almost devoid of crime. But that is little comfort to Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor whose intermission refreshment comes one night with a little something extra in it—cyanide. For Guido Brunetti, vice-commissario of police and genius detective, finding a suspect isn’t a problem; narrowing the large and unconventional group of enemies down to one is. As the suave and pithy Brunetti pieces together clues, a shocking picture of depravity and revenge emerges, leaving him torn between what is and what should be right—and questioning what the law can do, and what needs to be done.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060740689
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/27/2004
Series: Guido Brunetti Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 50,926
Product dimensions: 7.78(w) x 5.30(h) x 0.66(d)

About 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.


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

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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Death at la Fenice 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 186 reviews.
D262PG More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
jackiepenny More than 1 year ago
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.
RivkahOH More than 1 year ago
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.
Pumpernickel2008 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Cataloger More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
Carmelin More than 1 year ago
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.
LongIslandFlan More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book kept my attention riveted throughout the whole read. Very interesting. I will read more from this author and about Guido Brunetti!
VictorTrevor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A strong debut for Guido Brunetti which demonstrates that good detective fiction does not have to be an endless string of increasingly gruesome murders. Brunetti's character is already well formed and his meetings with Patta ara a joy to read.
ungoliant on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had a little trouble getting into this, but by half way through I was hooked. It was very well-written, compelling, and an interesting mystery.
MusicMom41 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first novel in a mystery series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice police force. This is a good introduction to the series with an interesting story and well developed characters that come to life for the reader. The story revolves around the victim, a world renowned music conductor who is murdered between acts of a performance of La Traviata. One of the reasons that this book appealed to me so much was because I spent a week in Venice when I was in college and saw a performance of La Traviata at the opera house while I was there. The atmosphere of the book brought back many memories. I remember vividly walking the winding streets (sometimes getting lost!) and riding gondolas on the canals and as I read I felt almost like I was there once again it seemed so familiar. Highly recommended¿4 stars
tloeffler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates the poisoning of Maestro Helmut Wellauer at LaFenice. There is no dearth of suspects--he was roundly unliked. The trick is finding which of the possibilities actually "did it." This is the first of a series, set in Venice, that I will definitely continue. Solving the murder is secondary to character development, and Brunetti is a charmer, who doesn't always follow the rules.
thornton37814 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A famous conductor is dead of cyanide poisoning after the second act of an opera he is conducting. It is up to Venice's Commissario Guido Brunetti to find the killer. He finds himself digging into the victim's past to find the solution to the crime. I enjoyed the Ventian setting, but I would have liked to have a little stronger of a sense of place in this novel. Aside from a few mentions of the canals and parts of the city, I feel that the author did not play up the setting to its fullest. While the mystery maintained my interest, I didn't find myself feeling a strong attachment to Commissario Brunetti as I sometimes feel with other novels. I didn't dislike the main character though, and I do wish to read further installments in the series to see how the author develops his character over more novels.
darkline on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A cosy murder mystery set against the backdrop of Venice, Death At La Fenice introduces us to Leon's erudite detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti. The dead body is Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a highly respected conductor who is loved by his audiences and, apparently, hated by many musicians. It's an entertaining read, filled with lots of nice flourishes about opera and Venice itself. In the end, though, I started caring less about the mystery and more about the supporting characters (who are delightful, through and through), and fortunately, Leon wraps the story up at just about that time. This is the first in a series, and like most mystery series, I'd be coming back for the atmosphere and the reoccurring characters.
lycomayflower on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you had asked me recently, I'd have said that I generally didn't care for mysteries, or detective stories, or police procedurals. But I suppose that's not actually true. I went on a fairly lengthy kick in high school where I would read Robert B. Parker's Spenser books back-to-back-to-back, and I enjoy Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe books. I've always liked television cop/detective/lawyer shows like Law and Order and Magnum P.I., and I find myself greatly looking forward to each new installment of ABC's new police/mystery writer show Castle. But the fact remains that I haven't ever thought of myself of a fan of the genre. That being said, I very much enjoyed Death at La Fenice. I felt very much like I was uncovering the crime with Guido Brunetti and never felt as if he had a brain wave I was not privvy to and ran off to solve the thing without me (that's my biggest turn off with mystery stories). By the end, I had the crime somewhat sorted--just enough that I felt clever, but not so much so that I had lost interest in the story. The setting and details of Venice were fascinating, and the characters interesting and well-drawn. I see myself carrying on with this series.
Talbin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Death at La Fenice is the first of Donna Leon's series featuring Guido Brunetti, a commissario of in the Venice police department. One evening Brunetti is called to the La Fenice opera house - world-famous conductor Maestro Helmut Wellauer has been found dead at the intermission of the inaugural performance. Wellauer was a musical genius, but not a well-loved one. To find the killer, Brunetti must sort through the suspects, including the much-younger widow, the lead soprano, the soprano's beautiful and wealthy partner, the opera's director, and a woman from Wellauer's past.I enjoyed this book, but I had really hoped to love it. One of my LT friends lists this as among her favorite books, and because our tastes in mysteries are so close I figured I would love it as much as she does. However, I think my expectations were too high. I found a beautifully written book with wonderfully well-drawn characters (including Venice, a character in and of herself), but a pretty light mystery. I had a good idea of the reason for the murder about two-thirds of the way through the book. There wasn't too much suspense, nor was there a great puzzle to work out. However, as I said, the characters are wonderful. I am hopeful that because this is the first book of the series, Leon is laying the groundwork so that she can build some great mysteries in the series. I will keep reading the series, as I find the characters and setting intriguing - I am hopeful that the mysteries become just as intriguing.
kakadoo202 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
quick and easy read. nice to see the human side of the inspector. Not sure if the widow was really thought out, but I like the inspector iwth his connections and moving around in Venice. Since I am an opera lover it help to set the murder in an opera house so that I like the story even better. WIll for sure pik up the second book of this series.
cmbohn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maestro Helmut Wellauer is murdered right in the middle of conducting La Traviata. Commissario Guido Brunetti is called in to investigate the case. At first, there don't seem to be any suspects. Everyone got along fine with the conductor. But the deeper Brunetti digs, the more motives appear. Seems the dead man wasn't liked that much after all. With a possible Nazi past, a wife who committed suicide, ruined careers and scorned women, Brunetti will have use all his resources to solve this one.This is the first in the series. I've heard a lot about this book, so I was looking forward to reading it. I really liked the setting, liked the characters and the mystery, but there was a stronger sexual undercurrent than I enjoy. We'll see what happens with the next book in the series.
brace111 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You don't have to be a opera lover to enjoy this mystery. A fine introduction to the series.