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

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

by Donna Leon


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When a friend of Commissario Guido Brunetti’s brother, a priest recently returned from years of missionary work in Africa, calls on him with a request, Brunetti suspects the man has hidden motives. An American-style Christian group has begun meeting in private homes in the city, and it’s possible the priest is merely wary of the competition. Nevertheless, Brunetti and his wife, Paola, decide to go undercover. But when a girl’s body is found floating in a canal, Brunetti must put everything aside to investigate the secretive world her people, the gypsies, who exist on the fringes of Italian society. Originally published in 2008, Donna Leon’s The Girl of His Dreams is classic Donna Leon.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143115618
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/07/2009
Series: Guido Brunetti Series , #17
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Donna Leon is the author of the highly acclaimed, internationally bestselling Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series. The winner of the CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction, among other awards, Leon has lived in Venice for thirty years and now divides her time between Venice and Switzerland.


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


Brunetti found that counting silently to four and then again and again allowed him to block out most other thoughts. It did not obscure his sight, but it was a day rich with the grace and favour of springtime, so as long as he kept his eyes raised above the heads of the people around him, he could study the tops of the cypress trees, even the cloud-dappled sky, and what he saw he liked. Off in the distance, if only he turned his head a little, he could see the inside of the brick wall and know that beyond it was the tower of San Marco. The counting was a sort of mental contraction, akin to the way he tightened his shoulders in cold weather in the hope that, by decreasing the area exposed to the cold, he would suffer it less. Thus, here, exposing less of his mind to what was going on around him might diminish the pain.

Paola, on his right, slipped her arm through his, and together they fell into step. On his left were his brother Sergio, Sergio's wife, and two of their children. Raffi and Chiara walked behind him and Paola. He turned and glanced back at the children and smiled: a frail thing, quickly dissipated in the morning air. Chiara smiled back; Raffi lowered his eyes.

Brunetti pressed his arm against Paola's, looking down at the top of her head. He noticed that her hair was tucked behind her left ear and that she was wearing the gold and lapis earrings he had given her for Christmas two years before. The blue of the earring was lighter than her dark blue coat: she had worn that and not the black one. When had it stopped, he wondered, the unspoken demand that black be worn at funerals? He remembered his grandfather's funeral, with everyone in the family, especially the women, draped in black and looking like paid mourners in a Victorian novel, though that had been well before he knew anything about the Victorian novel.

His grandfather's older brother had still been alive then, he remembered, and had walked behind the casket, in this same cemetery, under these same trees, behind a priest who must have been reciting the same prayers. Brunetti remembered that the old man had brought a clod of earth from his farm on the outskirts of Dolo – long gone now and paved over by the autostrada and the factories. He recalled the way his great-uncle had taken his handkerchief from his pocket as they stood silently around the open grave as the coffin was lowered into it. And he remembered the way the old man – he must have been ninety, if a day – had folded back the fabric and taken out a small clod of earth and dropped it on to the top of the coffin.

That gesture remained one of the haunting memories of his childhood, for he never understood why the old man had brought his own soil, nor had anyone in the family ever been able to explain it to him. He wondered, standing there now, whether the whole scene could have been nothing more than the imagination of an overwrought child, struck into silence by the sight of most of the people he knew shrouded in black and by the confusion that had resulted from his mother's attempt to explain to his six-year-old self what death was.

She knew now, he supposed. Or not. Brunetti was prone to believe that the awfulness of death lay precisely in the absence of consciousness, that the dead ceased to know, ceased to understand, ceased to anything. His early life had been filled with myth: the little Lord Jesus asleep in his bed, the resurrection of the flesh, a better world for the good and faithful to go to.

His father, however, had never believed: that had been one of the constants of Brunetti's childhood. He was a silent non-believer who made no comment on his wife's evident faith. He never went to church, absented himself when the priest came to bless the house, did not attend his children's baptisms, first communions, or confirmations. When asked about the subject, the elder Brunetti muttered, 'Sciocchezze,' or 'Roba da donne', and did not pursue the topic, leaving his two sons to follow him if they wanted in the conviction that religious observation was the foolish business of women, or the business of foolish women. But they'd got him in the end, Brunetti reflected. A priest had gone into his room in the Ospedale Civile and given the dying Brunetti the last rites, and a mass had been said over his body.

Perhaps all of this had been done to console his wife. Brunetti had seen enough of death to know what a great comfort faith can be to those left behind. Perhaps this had been in the back of his mind during one of the last conversations he had with his mother, well, one of the last lucid ones. She had still been living at home, but already her sons had had to hire the daughter of a neighbour to come and spend the days with her, and then the nights.

In that last year, before she had slipped away from them entirely and into the world where she had spent her last years, she had stopped praying. Her rosary, once so treasured, had gone; the crucifix had disappeared from beside her bed; and she had stopped attending Mass, though the young woman from downstairs often asked her if she would like to go.

'Not today,' she always answered, as if leaving open the possibility of going tomorrow, or the next day. She had stuck with this answer until the young woman, and then the Brunetti family, stopped asking. It did not put an end to their curiosity about her state of mind, only to its outward manifestation. As time passed, her behaviour became more alarming: she had days when she did not recognize either of her sons and other days when she did and talked quite happily about her neighbours and their children. Then the proportion shifted, and soon the days when she knew her sons or remembered that she had neighbours grew fewer. On one of those last days, a bitter winter day six years before, Brunetti had gone to see her in the late afternoon, for tea and for the small cakes she had baked that morning. It was by chance that she had baked the cakes; really she had been told three times that he was coming, but she had not remembered.

As they sat and sipped, she described a pair of shoes she had seen in a shop window the day before and had decided she would like to buy. Brunetti, even though he knew she had not been out of her home for six months, offered to go and get them for her, if she would tell him where the shop was. The look she gave him in return was stricken, but she covered it and said that she would prefer to go back herself and try them on to be sure they fitted.

She looked down into her teacup after saying that, pretending not to have noticed her lapse of memory. To relieve the tension of the moment, Brunetti had asked, out of the blue, 'Mamma, do you believe all that stuff about heaven and living on after?'

She raised her eyes to look at her younger son, and he noticed how clouded the iris had become. 'Heaven?' she asked.

'Yes. And God,' Brunetti answered. 'All that.'

She took a small sip of tea and leaned forward to set her cup in her saucer. She pushed herself back: she always sat up very straight, right to the end. She smiled then, the smile she always used when Guido asked one of his questions, the ones that were so hard to answer. 'It would be nice, wouldn't it?' she answered and asked him to pour her more tea.

He felt Paola stop beside him, and he came to a halt, pulled back from memory and suddenly attentive to where they were and what was going on. Off in the corner, in the direction of Murano, there was a tree in blossom. Pink. Cherry? Peach? He wasn't sure, didn't know a lot about trees, but he was glad enough of the pink, a colour his mother had always liked, even though it didn't suit her. The dress she wore inside that box was grey, a fine summer wool she had had for years and worn only infrequently, joking that she wanted to keep it to be buried in. Well.

The wind suddenly flipped the ends of the priest's purple stole up into the air; he stopped at the side of the grave and waited while the people following drew up in an unruly oval. This was not the parish priest, the one who had said the Mass, but a classmate of Sergio's who had once been close to the family and who was now a chaplain at the Ospedale Civile. Beside him, a man at least as old as Brunetti's mother held up a brass cup from which the priest took the dripping aspergill. Praying in a voice that only the people nearest to him could hear, he walked around the coffin, sprinkling it with holy water. The priest had to be careful where he placed his feet among the floral wreaths propped against their wooden frames on both sides of the grave, messages of love spelled out in golden letters across the ribbons that draped them.

Brunetti looked past the priest, back towards the tree. Another gust of wind slipped over the wall and ruffled the pink blossoms. A cloud of petals broke loose and danced up into the air, then fell slowly to the earth, surrounding the trunk in a pink areola. A bird started to sing from somewhere inside the remaining blossoms.

Brunetti pulled his arm free from Paola's and wiped his eyes with the inside of the sleeve of his jacket. When he opened them, another blossom cloud was flying up from the tree; his tears doubled it in size until nothing but a pink haze filled the horizon.

Paola grabbed his hand and squeezed it, leaving behind a light blue handkerchief. Brunetti blew his nose and wiped at his eyes, crushed the handkerchief in his right hand and stuffed it into the pocket of his jacket. Chiara moved up on his other side and took his hand. She held on while the words were said, prayers spoken up to the wind, and the workmen stepped forward on either side of the grave to lift the cords and lower the box into the ground. Brunetti had a moment of complete dislocation and found himself looking for the old man from Dolo, but it was the workers, and not the old man, who tossed earth down on to the coffin. It rang hollow at first, but when it had been covered by a thin layer, the sound changed. The spring had been wet, and the heavy clumps fell with a dull thud. And again, and then again.

And then someone on the other side, it might have been Sergio's son, dropped a bouquet of daffodils on to the earth at the bottom of the hole and turned away. The workmen paused, resting on their shovels, and the people standing around the grave took this opportunity to turn away and head back across the newly green grass, towards the exit and the vaporetto stop. Conversation went on by fits and starts as everyone tried to find the right thing to say and, failing that, at least something.

The 42 came and they all boarded. Brunetti and Paola chose to stay outside. It seemed suddenly cold in the shadow of the boat's roof. What had been a breeze within the cemetery walls blew here as wind, and Brunetti closed his eyes and lowered his head to escape it. Paola leaned against him, and, eyes still closed, he put his arm around her shoulder.

The engine changed tone, and he felt the sudden slowing of the boat as they approached Fondamenta Nuove. The vaporetto began the broad curve that would bring it to the dock, and the sun played across Brunetti's back, warming him. He raised his head and opened his eyes and saw the wall of buildings and behind them bell towers popping up here and there.

'Not much more,' he heard Paola say. 'Back to Sergio's and then lunch, and then we can go for a walk.'

He nodded. Back to his brother's to thank the closest friends who had come, and then the family would go for a meal. After that, the two of them – or the four of them if the kids wanted to come – could go for a walk: perhaps over to the Zattere or down to the Giardini to walk in the sun. He wanted it to be a long walk, so he could see the places that made him think of his mother, buy something in one of the shops she liked, perhaps go into the Frari and light a candle in front of the Assunzione, a painting she had always loved.

The boat grew closer. 'There's nothing ...' he started to say but then stopped, not certain what it was he wanted to say.

'There's nothing to remember about her except the good,' Paola finished for him. Yes, that was exactly it.


Friends and relatives stood around them as the boat pulled up to the imbarcadero, but Brunetti kept his attention on the approaching dock and distracted himself with the thought of the restoration of Sergio's house, completed only six months before. If talk of their health was the chief diversion of the elderly and talking of sports that of men, then talk of property was the social glue that held all classes of Venetians together. Few can resist the lure of the sound of prices asked and paid, great deals made or lost, or the recitation of square metres, previous owners, and the incompetence of the bureaucrats whose task it is to authorize restorations or modernizations. Brunetti believed that only food was more often a topic of conversation at Venetian dinner tables. Was this the substitute for stories of what one did in the war: had acumen in the buying and selling of houses and apartments been substituted for physical bravery, valour, and patriotism? Given that the only war the country had been involved in for decades was both a disgrace and a failure, perhaps it was better that people talk about houses.

The clock on the wall at Fondamenta Nuove told him that it was only a bit past eleven. His mother had always loved the mornings best: it was probably from her that Brunetti had got his early-morning cheerfulness, the quality of his which drove Paola closest to desperation. People filed off the boat, others filed on, then it took them quickly to the Madonna dell'Orto, where the Brunetti family and their friends got off the vaporetto and started back into the city, the church on their left.

They turned left at the canal, right over the bridge, and then they were at the door. Sergio opened it, and they filed quietly up the stairs and then into the apartment. Paola went towards the kitchen to see if Gloria needed help, and Brunetti walked over to the windows and looked out towards the façade of the church. The corner of a wall allowed him to see only the left hand side and just six of the apostles. The brick dome of the bell tower had always looked like a panettone to him, and so it did now.

He sensed the motion of people behind him, heard voices talking, and was glad that they were not lowered in one of those false genuflections to grief. He kept his back to them and to the talk and looked across at the façade. He had been out of the city that day more than a decade ago when someone had walked into the church and quietly removed the Bellini Madonna from the altar at the left and walked out of the church with it. The art theft people had come up from Rome, but Brunetti and his family had remained on holiday in Sicily, and by the time he got home, the art police had gone south again and the newspapers had tired of the case. And that was the end of that. And then nothing: the painting might as well have evaporated.

There was a change in the murmur of voices around him, and Brunetti turned away from the window to see why. Gloria and Paola and Chiara had emerged from the kitchen, the first two with trays of cups and saucers, and Chiara with another one that held three separate plates of home-made biscuits. Brunetti knew that this was a ceremony for friends, who would drink their coffee and soon leave, but he could not stop himself from thinking what a miserable, mean ending it was to a life so filled with food and drink and the warmth they generated.

From the kitchen Sergio appeared with three bottles of prosecco. 'Before the coffee,' he said, 'I think we should say goodbye.'

The trays ended up on the low table in front of the sofa, and Gloria, Paola, and Chiara went back into the kitchen to return a few minutes later, each with six prosecco glasses sprouting out from the fingers of her upraised hands.

Sergio popped the first cork, and at the sound the mood in the room changed, as if by magic. He poured the wine into the glasses, making the round as the bubbles subsided. He opened another bottle and then the last, filling more glasses than there were people. Everyone crowded round the table and picked up a glass, then stood with it half raised, waiting.

Sergio looked across at his brother, but Brunetti raised his glass and nodded towards his elder brother, signalling that the toast, and the family, were now his.


Excerpted from "The Girl of His Dreams"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Donna Leon and Diogenes Verlag AG Zurich.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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

" Gorgeously written . . . the seventeenth book in this superlative series restates Leon's themes with more intensity than usual."
-Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

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The Girl of His Dreams (Guido Brunetti Series #17) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
schenectadyfan More than 1 year ago
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.
NY-Guam-Girl More than 1 year ago
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.
highway99 More than 1 year ago
I usually like Donna Leon's books. This one had a very unsettling ending. She let me down by not getting justice.
Anonymous 12 months ago
sharonzuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sure to be another hit, but I find the un-American comments a bit disturbing.
Joycepa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
#17 in the Commissario Brunetti series, set in Venice, Italy.The story opens on the funeral of Brunetti¿s mother, at last released from the madness of dementia. Giving the blessing at the graveside is an old boyhood acquaintance of Bruneti and his brother, Sergio, Padre Antonin Scallon. In the days after the funeral, runetti receives a visit from Padre Antonin at the Questura. Antonin has a request--that Brunetti look into the activities of a fringe preacher, a Brother Leonardo, who, Antonin fears, is running a religious scam to which a friend of Antonin¿s seems vulnerable. In response, Bruntetti, Paola, Vionello and his wife Nadia, decide to investigate undercover.While on this purely personal investigation, Brunetti and Vianello recover from the Grand Canal the body of a 10 year old girl who turns out to be one of the Rom, as the Gypsies are now to be called in the latest sensitivity edicts from the Italian government in general, and Patta in particular. The girl is in possession of what are clearly stolen goods. Brunetti and Vianello carry out the investigation, which seems straightforward, but the girl¿s death haunts Brunetti.This latest of her published books--#18 will be released in April--continues and strengthens a change in Leon¿s writing that she seems to have started with the previous book, Suffer the Little Children. Up until that time, Leon wrote (with one glaring exception) outstanding but very straightforward police procedurals. Whether as part of the plot or the way she wove daily Venetian life into her stories, there were themes that always stood out, the most prominent of which was the omnipresent government corruption that penetrates every aspect of Venetian life. She almost always incorporated some theme of social justice into her plots as well.In this book, even more than Suffer the Little Children, all that is practically nonexistent. The only theme she can say to bring out, and that briefly, is the Mafia, who were brought back into power by the US after World War II to counteract ¿international Communism,¿ in another move of monumental stupidity on the part of the US. But that makes just a brief appearance and is a sidelight.In almost all of her books, the excomunitari--illegal immigrants--are present to some degree or another and even form the matrix of some of her plots. Here, the Rom and their culture are integral to the story.There are two aspects to this book that are really striking. One is the frustration and despair that Brunetti and Vianello feel in trying to carry out their jobs decently. Given that Leon is writing realistically about Venice, that has always been an undercurrent, but in this book i is very pronounced. You wonder how Brunetti can continue.The other aspect is that Leon, starting with her previous book and continuing very strongly in this one, has moved away from an easily classifiable genre--police procedural--into what is for her uncharted territory--a more ambiguous, much more subtle story in which she seems to be taking on more profound questions than her usual ones of corruption, environmental crimes, and the like. Now she seems to be trying to examine not just the impact on society but where Venetian society itself is heading. The result is far more of a literary endeavor than it is a crime story. Indeed, crime is the least important element in the book.In one of her books, Brunetti, an atheist, reflects that while he does not agree at all with the Catholic Church and dislikes the power it wields, he is afraid of what would replace it should Christianity just simply die out. Since I have had exactly the same reaction, it struck me strongly at the time; I was reminded of that brief segment while reading this book. The Girl of His Dreams has all of the standard Leon strengths; in particular her wry sense of humor is back, which had been missing from some of her previous works. While Paola plays a part, she and the family are not so prominent in this book a
carka on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ending was disappointing--felt like the book just ended without really wrapping up the events in the story, or rather, that they were wrapped up too tidily but unrealistically.
mojacobs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like the Commissario Brunetti books a lot, but must admit this one is very thin in the crime/mystery department. For lovers of the Brunetti family it is a good enough read, but if this were the first Brunetti book that I read, I doubt I would buy more from the series.
tututhefirst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another marvelous Commissario Brunetti story. The urbane, well-read Brunetti discovers the body of a young girl floating in a canal. The search to discover how and why she died takes him to a camp of gypsies where he must struggle with the prejudices of his fellow workers, and his own distress at the lack of apparent interest in the girl's death. As usual, Leon provides us with an outstanding plot, incredibly rich characters, and a resolution that is true to real life.
cameling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Commissario Guido Brunetti mourns the passing of his mother and is approached by Padre Antonin who delivered the service at the cemetery to look into a preacher whom he suspects to be a fake out to scam money from the gullible people of Venice. Brunetti went to the same school as Padre Antonin and remembers him as a bully to many younger and smaller kids. He decides to investigate not just the preacher but also Padre Antonin.In the midst of his investigations, he's called out because someone's found a body in the water. The body is that of a young girl, drowned. The coroner, in autopsy, discovers a watch and a wedding ring hidden in the girl's person. They eventually manage to identify her as a gypsy child who apparently burgled a house before she fell or was pushed into the river.This girl haunts Brunetti and he's at his best trying to find the murderer, even if clues as to why or how she ended up in the river aren't forthcoming, the family who were burgled raises his hackles, and her Romany family don't want to talk to him.One of the things I like about this series is watching Brunetti move among the darkness of human nature and find his balance in the light and love of his family.
CarltonC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If only all authors could be as consistent in pleasing their readers. Another enjoyable, thoughtful story with Commissario Brunetti and the solid cast of characters that people his Venice. This story touched on political correctness, prejudices to stereotypes and our belief in the inviolable state of childhood and when it ends.I find that I now read the novels as much to find out about the progress of the Brunetti family and friends as to the mystery in the novel.Very enjoyable.
SkyRider on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the features that run through all Donna Leon's Venetian crime novels featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti is Brunetti's (and presumably Leon's) somewhat jaundiced view of what justice looks like in modern Venice. In some cases this is because Brunetti's superiors are loathe to move against the gentry who have the protection of their name, scared to move against the Mafia or unwilling to accord civil rights to some underclass of (often immigrant) society. Brunetti is jarred by the contrast of the darkness of this society against the idyllic home life he leads and is frustrated at his inability to change things.The Girl of His Dreams is no exception to this overall pattern with the gypsies ("these days we're meant to call them Rom") acting as the disenfranchised underclass this time around. It feels to me as if there's a lot less detective work and a lot more social commentary than there were in the early books of the series - it's a full hundred pages before a body is found and the main investigation begins and it feels as if there are still a number of loose ends when the book comes to an end. It also felt as if the difference between Brunetti's home life and the twilight world in which he operates was being so strongly contrasted that it made his family time seem impossibly perfect.Despite these misgivings, I greatly enjoyed the book. The main reason for this is that Brunetti isn't really the main star of the story - the city of Venice is. Donna Leon is remarkably skilled at bringing the colour and vibrance of the city to life with a surprising economy of words. Few writers can evoke a location as vividly as she does Venice, and there are few better locations to inhabit, even if it's only for the duration of a short novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best one of the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like author but this one was darker than usual.
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I wouldn't call it compelling, but it did keep me coming back.
xyz47 More than 1 year ago
Another good one in the series. Interesting read. Enjoy the whole series.
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JulianNM More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago