Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

A Noble Radiance

A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

by Donna Leon

“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)

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 256
  • Publication Date February 12, 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4579-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

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.


“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)

“Venice is so brilliantly evoked you can smell its waterways on every page, but it is the universal human warmth that lingers long after the book is closed.” —Sunday Express (UK)


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 and floorboards, 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 up-right 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.

Reading Group Guide

1. By the late twentieth century, the Lorenzoni family, whose long and illustrious history was woven into the fabric of its native city since the eleventh century, had become notorious primarily for what recent act by one of its members? What was the effect, if any, on the extended family’s standing in Venice? Did noble roots provide any immunity against the taint of collaboration?

2. What were the circumstances of Roberto Lorenzoni’s kidnapping? Why were the family’s funds frozen, and what other avenues did the family have for trying to secure the young man’s return?

3. When Brunetti begins to re-interview Roberto Lorenzoni’s friends and family about his behavior leading up to the kidnapping, what kind of a portrait emerges? Which details seem to surface again and again?

4. How would you describe the dynamic between Brunetti and his father-in-law, Count Falier? To what extent do their differences in class, temperament, and profession dictate the terms of their relationship?

5. Why is it important to Brunetti that justice be carried out? What is the difference between bad things and illegal things, and should the former be the province of law enforcement officials?

6. Why does Brunetti refuse to recommend Lieutenant Scarpa for promotion? What are the consequences of his decision? How adept is Brunetti at playing office politics, and where does he draw the line?

7. Brunetti “knew that the rigor of the law was most often exercised on the weak and the poor, and he further knew that the law’s severity was no impediment to crime.” Yet he is not immune to the desire for more punitive laws. Is there a cultural component to this impulse—grounded in the broader tradition of an eye for an eye—or is this a universally human response to certain types crime?

8. What sort of young man is Maurizio Lorenzoni? What are his feelings toward his late cousin, and toward his aunt and uncle? Why does he shoot at Brunetti and Vianello, and what kind of impression does he leave on the commissario?

9. When Brunetti questions Count Lorenzoni about his business activities, the Count is blunt: “Of course I deal with companies involved in criminal activity. This is Italy. There’s no other way to do business.” To what extent is his statement true, and to what extent is it self-serving?

10. How does Signorina Elettra account for the astronomical charges on Roberto Lorenzoni’s credit cards during his trips abroad? How do the hotels benefit by serving as the facilitators and middlemen of various transactions?

11. Why does Count Falier warn Brunetti to be careful when dealing with the people who kidnapped Lorenzoni? What about the kidnapping and disposal of the victim’s body begin to seem odd to Brunetti?

12. What are the circumstances of Maurizio Lorenzoni’s death? How does Brunetti treat the Count when he arrives at the scene of the crime? Why does Brunetti begin to doubt the Count’s version of events?

13. What is unusual about the results of the medical tests carried out in Padova for Roberto Lorenzoni shortly before his death? Which original assumptions about the case does Brunetti begin to question?

14. What does Count Lorenzoni reveal to Brunetti when the policeman confronts him with his newfound suspicions about the family business? Why does he confess as much as he does, and what does he choose to lie about?

15. Why does Brunetti say he doesn’t care whether Count Lorenzoni goes to jail? What kind of a resolution does he crave, and is it possible to achieve?