A fascinating novel set in the intersection between tourism and native Venetian society, Through a Glass, Darkly is Donna Leon at her finest.
About 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.
Date of Birth:February 28, 1942
Place of Birth:Montclair, New Jersey
Education:B.A., 1964; M.A. 1969; postgraduate work in English literature
Read an Excerpt
Brunetti stood at his window and flirted with springtime. It was there, just on the other side of the canal, evident in the shoots he saw popping up from the earth. Over the last few days, someone – in all these years, he had never seen a person working in the garden – had raked the earth, though he noticed it only now. Tiny white flowers were visible amidst the grass, and those fearless little ones that hugged themselves close to the ground, the names of which he could never remember – the little yellow and pink ones – sprouted from the freshly turned earth.
He opened the windows and felt fresh air flood into his overheated room. It brought with it the scent of new growth or rising sap or whatever it was that led to spring fever and an atavistic urge towards happiness. Birds, he noticed, were busy on the ground, no doubt pleased to discover that the worms had somehow been lured to the surface. Two of them squabbled over something, then one flew away, and Brunetti watched it disappear to the left of the church.
'Excuse me,' he heard someone say behind him. He wiped away his smile before he turned. It was Vianello, wearing his uniform and looking far more serious than he should on such a lovely day. From the expression on the Inspector's face and the stiffness of his body, Brunetti wondered if he should address him with the formal Lei, a grammatical formality they had abandoned on Vianello's promotion to inspector. 'Yes, what is it?' Brunetti asked in a friendly tone while evading the grammatical issue.
'I wondered if you had a moment,' Vianello said, using the familiar tu and not referring to Brunetti as 'sir', thus increasing the likelihood that this would be an informal conversation.
Further to relax the atmosphere, Brunetti said, 'I was just looking at those flowers across the way –' gesturing with his head towards the garden –' and wondering what we were doing inside on a day like this.'
'First day you begin to feel it's spring,' Vianello agreed, smiling at last. 'I always used to play hooky.'
'Me, too,' said Brunetti, who had not. 'What did you do?'
Vianello sat in the chair on the right, his usual chair, and said, 'My older brother delivered fruit to Rialto, so that's where I'd go. Instead of going to school, that is. I'd go over to the market and meet him and help him carry crates of fruit and vegetables all morning, and then go home for lunch at the same time I usually got home from school.' He smiled again and then he laughed. 'My mother always knew. I don't know how she did, but she always asked me how things were at Rialto and why I hadn't brought her any artichokes.' Vianello shook his head at the memory. 'And now Nadia is the same with the kids: it's like she can read their minds and always knows when they haven't gone to school or have done something they shouldn't.' He looked at Brunetti. 'You have any idea how they do it?'
'You said, it, Lorenzo. They read minds.' Brunetti judged that the atmosphere was sufficiently relaxed and so asked, 'What was it you wanted?'
His question restored all of Vianello's nervousness. He uncrossed his legs and brought his feet together, sitting up straighter. 'It's about a friend of mine,' he said. 'He's in trouble.'
'What kind of trouble?'
'Here? In Venice?'
Vianello shook his head and said, 'No. In Mestre. That is, in Mogliano, but they were taken to Mestre.'
'The people who were arrested.'
'The ones outside the factory.'
'The paint factory?' Brunetti asked, recalling an article he had seen in that morning's paper.
The Gazzettino had devoted the front page of its second section to a report of the arrest of six people during a 'No Global' protest in front of a paint factory in Mogliano Veneto the previous day. The factory had been repeatedly fined for its failure to observe regulations on the disposal of toxic waste but had continued to operate regardless, choosing to pay the derisory fines rather than invest in changes to its production methods. The protesters were demanding that the factory be closed and had tried to prevent the workers from entering. This had led to a confrontation between the protesters and the workers, during which the police had intervened and arrested seven people.
'Is he a worker or a "No Global"?' Brunetti asked.
'Neither,' Vianello answered, then qualified his response by adding, 'Well, not a real "No Global," that is. Any more than I am.' This sounded, apparently even to Vianello himself, like a dead end as an explanation, so he took a breath and began again. 'Marco and I were at school together, but then he went to university and became an engineer. He's always been interested in ecology: that's how we know one another, from meetings and things. Once in a while we have a drink together, after a meeting.'
Brunetti chose not to inquire about these meetings. The Inspector continued. 'He's very concerned about what's going on at that factory. And in Marghera. I know he's been at the protests there, too, but he's never been involved in anything like this.'
'When things get violent.'
'I didn't know that was the case,' Brunetti said. The paper had reported only that people had been arrested; there had been no mention of violence. 'What happened?' he asked. 'Who started it?' He knew how people always answered this question, whether for themselves or for their friends: it was always the other guy.
Vianello sat back in his chair and crossed his legs again. 'I don't know. I only spoke to his wife. That is, she called me this morning and asked me if I could think of some way to help him.'
'Only this morning?' Brunetti asked.
Vianello nodded. 'She said he called her last night, from the jail in Mestre, and he asked her to call me, but not until the morning. She got hold of me just as I was leaving for work.' Vianello returned to Brunetti's question. 'So I don't know who started it. It could have been the workers, or it could have been some of the "No Globals".'
Brunetti was surprised to hear Vianello admit this as a possibility. The Inspector went on, 'Marco's a peaceful guy: he wouldn't start anything. I know that, but some of the people who go to these things, well, I think they use it as a way to have some fun.'
'That's a strange choice of word: "fun".'
Vianello raised a hand and let it fall to his lap. 'I know it is, but that's the way some of these people look at it. Marco's talked about them, says he doesn't like them and doesn't like it when they join a protest, because it increases the risk of trouble.'
'Does he know who the violent ones are?' Brunetti asked.
'He's never said, only that they make him nervous.'
Brunetti decided to bring the conversation back to its original purpose. 'But what did you want to ask me?'
'You know the people in Mestre. Better than I do. And the magistrates, though I don't know who this has been given to. So I wondered if you could call and see what you could find out.'
'I still don't understand why you don't do it,' Brunetti said, making this sound like what it was – a request for information – and not what it was not, a suggestion that Vianello take care of it himself.
'I think it would be better if the inquiry came from a commissario.'
Brunetti considered this for a moment and then said, 'Yes; maybe. Do you know what the charge is?' he asked.
'No. Probably causing a disturbance or resisting a public official in pursuit of his duties. Marco's wife didn't say. I told her not to do anything until I had time to talk to you. I figured you, or we, might be able to do something ... well, informally. It would save him a lot of trouble.'
'Did she tell you anything at all about what happened?'
'Just what Marco told her: that he was standing there with a placard, along with the other people from his group: about a dozen of them. Suddenly there were three or four men they didn't know, shouting at the workers and spitting at them, and then someone threw a rock.' Before Brunetti could ask, Vianello said, 'No, he didn't know who did it; he said he didn't see anything. Someone else told him about the rock. And then the police were there, and he got thrown to the ground and then they put him in a truck and took him to Mestre.'
None of this surprised Brunetti in any way. Unless someone had been there with a video camera, they would never know who had thrown the first punch, or rock, so it really was anyone's guess what the charges would be and whom they would be brought against.
After a brief pause, Brunetti said, 'You're right, but we better do this in person.' If nothing else, Brunetti caught himself thinking, it would be an excuse to get out of his office. 'You ready to go?'
'Yes,' said Vianello, getting to his feet.CHAPTER 2
As they left the Questura, Brunetti saw one of the launches approaching. The new pilot, Foa, stood at the wheel and he gave Brunetti a smile and Vianello a wave as he pulled up to the dock. 'Where are you going?' Foa asked, and then added, 'sir', to make it clear whom he was addressing.
'Piazzale Roma,' Brunetti said. He had called the substation there and asked that a car be ready for them. Because there had been no launch visible from his window, he had assumed that he and Vianello would have to take the vaporetto.
Foa looked at his watch. 'I don't have to be anywhere until eleven, sir, so I could easily take you there and get back.' Then to Vianello, 'Come on, Lorenzo: the weather's perfect today.'
They needed no more to lure them on to the deck, where they remained while Foa took them up the Grand Canal. At Rialto, Brunetti turned to Vianello and observed, 'First day of spring, and we're both playing hooky again.'
Vianello laughed, not so much at what Brunetti had said but at the perfect day, the certain slant of light on the water in front of them, and at the joy of playing hooky on the first day of spring.
As the boat slipped into one of the taxi ranks at Piazzale Roma, both men thanked the pilot and stepped up on to the dock. Beyond the ACTV building, a police car waited, engine running, and as soon as they got in, it pulled out into the traffic leading across the causeway to the mainland.
At the Mestre headquarters, Brunetti quickly learned that the case of the detained protesters had been assigned to Giuseppe Zedda, a commissario he had worked with some years before. A Sicilian and almost a head shorter than Brunetti, Zedda had impressed him then with his rigorous honesty. They had not become friends, but as colleagues they had shared a mutual respect. Brunetti trusted Zedda to see that things were done fairly and well and that none of the people arrested would be prevailed upon to give statements they might later retract.
'Could we speak to one of them?' Brunetti asked, after he and Vianello had turned down Zedda's offer to have a coffee in his office.
'Which one?' Zedda asked, and Brunetti realized he knew nothing more about the man under arrest than that his name was Marco and he was a friend of Vianello's.
'Ribetti,' Vianello supplied.
'Come with me,' Zedda said. 'I'll put you in one of the interrogation rooms and get him for you.'
The room was like every interrogation room Brunetti had ever known: the floor might have been washed that morning – it might have been washed ten minutes ago – but grit crunched underfoot, and two plastic coffee cups lay on the floor beside the wastepaper basket. It smelled of smoke and unwashed clothing and defeat. Entering it, Brunetti wanted to confess to something, anything, if only it would get him out of there quickly.
After about ten minutes Zedda came back, leading a man taller than himself yet at least ten pounds lighter. Brunetti often noticed that people who were arrested or held overnight in police custody quickly came to shrink inside their clothing: such was the case here. The bottoms of the man's trousers touched the ground, and his shirt bunched up and overflowed his buttoned jacket. He had apparently not been able to shave that morning, and his hair, thick and dark, stuck up on one side. His ears jutted out and gave him an ungainly look that went with the outsize clothing. He looked at Brunetti without expression, but on seeing Vianello he smiled with relief and pleasure, and when his face softened Brunetti saw that he was younger than he had first seemed, perhaps in his mid-thirties.
'Assunta found you?' the man asked, embracing Vianello and clapping him on the back.
The Inspector seemed surprised at the warmth of the greeting but returned Ribetti's embrace and said, 'Yes, she called me before I left for work and asked if there was anything I could do.' He took a step back and turned to Brunetti. 'This is my commander, Commissario Brunetti. He offered to come with me.'
Ribetti put out his hand and shook Brunetti's. 'Thank you for coming, Commissario.' He looked at Vianello, at Brunetti, then back to Vianello. 'I didn't want to ...' he left the sentence unfinished. 'That is, I didn't want to cause you so much trouble, Lorenzo.' And to Brunetti, 'Or you, Commissario.'
Vianello walked over to the table, saying, 'It's no trouble, Marco. It's what we do all the time, anyway: talk to people.' He pulled out two of the chairs on one side of the table and then the one at the head, which he held for Ribetti.
When they were all seated, Vianello turned to Brunetti, as if handing over to him. 'Tell us what happened,' Brunetti said.
'Everything?' Ribetti asked.
'Everything,' Brunetti answered.
'We've been out there for three days,' Ribetti began, looking at the two men to see if they knew about the protest. When both nodded in acknowledgement, he said, 'Yesterday there were about ten of us. With placards. We've been trying to convince the workers that what they're doing is bad for all of us.'
Brunetti had few illusions as to how willing workers would be to give up their jobs when told that what they were doing was bad for countless people they didn't know, but he nodded again.
Ribetti folded his hands on the table and looked at his fingers.
'What time did you get there?' Brunetti asked.
'It was in the afternoon, about three-thirty,' he answered, looking at Brunetti. 'Most of us on the committee have jobs, so we can go out only after lunch. The workers come back at four, and we like them to see us, maybe even listen to us or talk to us, when they go in.' A look of great perplexity came over his face, reminding Brunetti of his son, as Ribetti said, 'If we can make them understand what the factory is doing, not only to them, but to everyone, then maybe ...'
Again, Brunetti kept his thoughts to himself. It was Vianello who broke the silence by asking, 'Does it do any good, talking to them?'
Ribetti answered this with a smile. 'Who knows? If they're alone, sometimes they listen. If there's more than one of them, though, they just walk past us, or sometimes they say things.'
'What sort of things?'
He looked at the two policemen, then at his hands. 'Oh, they tell us they aren't interested, they have to work, they have families,' Ribetti answered, then added, 'or they get abusive.'
'But no violence?' Vianello asked.
Ribetti looked at him and shook his head. 'No, nothing. We've all been trained not to react, not to argue with them, never to do anything that could provoke them.' He continued to look at Vianello, as if to convince him of the truth of this by the sincerity of his expression. 'We're there to help them,' he said, and Brunetti believed he meant it.
'But this time?' Brunetti asked.
Ribetti shook his head a few times. 'I have no idea what happened. Some people came up to us – I don't know where they came from or whether they were with us or were workers – they started to shout, and then the workers did, too. Then someone pushed me and I dropped the placard I was carrying, and after I picked it up, it looked like everyone had suddenly gone crazy. People were shoving and pushing one another, then I heard the police sirens, and then I was on the ground again. Two men pulled me up and put me in the back of a van, and they brought us here. It wasn't until almost midnight that a woman in uniform came into the cell and said I could call someone.' He hurried through this summary, his voice sounding as confused as the events he described.
He turned back and forth between Brunetti and Vianello, then said to the latter, 'I called Assunta and told her where I was, what had happened, and then I thought of you. And I asked her to see if she could find you and tell you what had happened.' His voice changed as he asked, 'She didn't call you then, did she?' he asked, forgetting that Vianello had already told him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Through a Glass, Darkly"
Copyright © 2006 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
No one knows the labyrinthine world of Venice or the way favoritism and corruption shape Italian life like Leon’s Brunetti . . . the thoughtful Venetian cop with a love of food, an outspoken wife, and a computer-hacker secretary who plays man Friday to his detective. (Time)
One of the best of the international crime writers is Donna Leon, and her Commissario Guido Brunetti tales set in Venice are at the apex of continental thrillers. (Rocky Mountain News)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Yes, the other books have been filled with more mystery and adventure but I love the characters & setting of Donna Leon's Books. I look forward to reading them because I know I will have an authentic vacanza a Venezia.
I fully agree with the only other review posted thus far. I have read and enjoyed nearly all of the Brunetti series. Most of the pleasure has come from the nearly unique combination of serious police work with the charm and family fullness of Brunetti, his wife and children, and the Venetian atmosphere. Absolutely none of this charm, family appeal or Venetian loveliness and uniqueness is present in this truly terrible, boring, uninspired story. Were this to be the first Brunetti story for a reader, there would be no indication of the pleasures of the earlier novels, and no reason for the reader to give Leon another chance. What a pity.
Another disappointing book from Donna Leon whose main themes are now political correctness and 'green' topics rather than crime. Readers should go back to her earlier books to see that she is capable of outstanding detective story writing with great characters in fascinating locations and terrific plots.
Through A Glass, DarklyDonna Leon#15 in the Commissario Brunetti series, set in Venice, Italy.As any serious reader of Leon¿s knows, she is a great fan of opera; there¿s always an appropriate quote from one of Mozart¿s opera¿s at the beginning of every book. And an operatic soprano has figured in two of her books.But she may have let her love of opera interfere with this particular book, which is a disaster.She dedicates it to Cecilia Bartoli, who is one of the world¿s premier mezzo-sopranos. The short author bio for this book says that Leon is ¿the author of the libretto for Dona Gallina, a comic opera set in a chicken coop.¿Perhaps she spent too much time on the opera libretto and contracted out Through A Glass Darkly to an 8 year old Donna Leon wannabee with mediocre writing talents.To me, a long-time fan of Leon, this book is so bad that it is impossible for me to believe that she wrote it. The plot is mediocre, barely believable, and that¿s the best thing about the book. The writing is worse and her greatest strengths through the middle and later installments, her characterizations especially of Brunetti¿s family, are non-existent. You would never recognize Paola, Brunetti¿s wife, who is one of the strongest characters in the series. She¿s a stick figure in this one, as is just about everyone else.I was so shocked when I read this book that I wondered if Leon had joined the ranks--and they are legion--of those crime writers who have lost it. There¿s an entire thread in the Mystery/Thriller group that talks about this sad fact. The one who comes to mind instantly, of course, is Patricia Cornwell. But there are many others.However, I can say as a preview, that her next book, which I bought and read with great trepidation, shows her almost back to form.Personally, I think a likely scenario is that due to her involvement in the chicken coop libretto, she submitted to her publishers what is basically a rough draft and, given her popularity, they decided to publish it anyway, hoping that no one would notice, and that the book could slide by until the next one--after Leon had indulged herself writing about Dona Hen. But you can only get away with that one time.If I were Cecilia Bartoli, I¿d be embarrassed to have this piece of trash dedicated to me. Avoid like the plague.
this book is just too folksy, homey for me. The mystery is not engrossing, nor do I care for the characters. it's a detailed look at the minutiae od daily italian life, and it just doesn't catch my attention. Didnt finish
The same formula as the other books about commissario Brunetti. But it works.
A truly different story for Guido Brunetti. This one almost more concerned with illegal dumping of dangerous chemicals by the glass making factories in Murano, near Venice then with solving the murder of the night watchman at the factory. Brunetti, the urbane sophisticate with a professed (and almost disdainful) ignorance of any and all scientific or modern technological information, must get up to speed on glass-making and hazardous waste disposal. While giving the reader short courses on these subjects, she also has Brunetti exploring Dante's Inferno for clues and the juxtaposition of the old with the new, in a centuries old setting, makes for a very different story than previous ones in the series. Brunetti has always had more of a social conscience than others of his profession, though he seems to take his time acknowledging that. Less food, less banter with Paola, but definitely another well-done episode in a series that continues to delight me.
This is the 15th book in the Commissario Brunetti series, which, aside from the fact that I started with the first book in the series, I've been reading completely out of sequence. In this story, a woman who is the daughter of a glass factory owner on the island of Murano approaches Brunetti because she fears that her father, who detests her husband and has often been heard to remark that he'd like to see his son-in-law dead, might take matters into his own hands and actually kill him. But when a night watchman is killed in that same factory, it becomes apparent that the crime may have been committed because of the man's frequent harangues against the dangers of working in proximity with toxic substances. I enjoyed the descriptions of how glass objects are created in this one and I've been enjoying this series so far. I find it entertaining and quite good on the whole, but can't say it knocks my socks off either.
Another fabulous entry in the Guido Brunetti series. Leon finds different ways to present a mystery story about a crime so that you don't seem to be reading cookie-cutter books.Love the main character, his family and co-workers, and Venice itself. The landscape, the food, the culture are all characters in the story too.Can't wait for the next one to come out in paper.
I thought it was never going to get to a crime! Good on character and atmosphere but weak on plot.
Donna Leon delivers with every book she writes and this #15 in the Guido Brunetti series is excellent.
Donna Leon writes such good mysteries. I could not put the book down. Read it in a day. Love Detective Brunetti and the other characters.
People who are familiar with Donna Leon's mystery series set in Venice and featuring Guido Brunetti know what to expect and won't be disappointed. People who are new to the series will not be disappointed either - it isn't necessary to have read previous books to enjoy this one. This time out we are introduced to the art of glass-blowing, which takes us out into the Venice lagoon to the island of Murano. At first, Brunetti is not sure that he has a reason to go there, as there has not been a crime committed, but he is asked to follow up on threats that have been made and takes on an unofficial investigation. In time, of course, a murder is committed, but the victim is not who we expect. Along the way we learn a great deal about the environmental threats to Venice and its people. Leon's style is, as always, engaging and informative and her love of Venice and its people comes through clearly. All in all, a very enjoyable book.
Have you ever cooked a meal from a favorite recipe, only to have the dish turn out 'not quite right'? If so, then you know what Through a Glass, Darkly is like. Many of Leon's standard ingredients are there: Paola, Patta, Signorina Elettra, corruption, canals, food, etc. However, there is some key spice, some magical seasoning, some trick in la cucina, that is missing this time. I found myself, as I turned each page, hoping that the book would begin to feel like the vibrant, engrossing Donna Leon novels that I have enjoyed 14 times before. Alas, I left the table full, but not satisfied.