Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

A Refiner’s Fire

A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

by Donna Leon

In the thirty-third installment of Donna Leon’s magnificent series, Commissario Guido Brunetti confronts a present-day Venetian menace and the ghosts of a heroism that never was

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 288
  • Publication Date July 09, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6254-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $28.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date July 09, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6255-7
  • US List Price $28.00

Around one AM on an early spring morning, two teenage gangs are arrested after clashing violently in one of Venice’s squares. Commissario Claudia Griffoni, on duty that night, perhaps ill-advisedly walks the last of the boys home because his father, Dario Monforte, failed to pick him up at the Questura. Coincidentally, Guido Brunetti is asked by a wealthy friend of Vice-Questore Patta to vet Monforte for a job, triggering Brunetti’s memory that twenty years earlier Monforte had been publicly celebrated as the hero of a devastating bombing of the Italian military compound in Iraq. Yet Monforte had never been awarded a medal either by the Carabinieri, his service branch, or by the Italian government.

That seeming contradiction, and the brutal attack on one of Brunetti’s colleagues, Enzo Bocchese, by a possible gang member, concentrate Brunetti’s attentions. Surprisingly empowered by Patta, supported by Signorina Elettra’s extraordinary research abilities and by his wife, Paola’s, empathy, Brunetti, with Griffoni, gradually discovers the sordid hypocrisy surrounding Monforte’s past, culminating in a fiery meeting of two gangs and a final opportunity for redemption.

A Refiner’s Fire is Donna Leon at her very best: an elegant, sophisticated storyteller whose indelible characters become richer with each book, and who constantly explores the ambiguity between moral and legal justice.

Praise for A Refiner’s Fire:

Named a Most Anticipated Summer Read by the Boston Globe

“Showcas[es] the emotional depth and intellectual acumen of Commissario Guido Brunetti . . . With the understated elegance and empathy imbued throughout this internationally acclaimed series, Leon once again examines the confluence of solid police work with issues of redemption and social justice.”—Booklist

“As usual in Leon’s books, the mystery plays second fiddle to the characters and relationships from whom hints of secret misbehavior gradually coalesce into revelations as sordid and violent as you could wish. Is all this really ‘the stuff of television drama,’ as Brunetti fears? Only of a very high order indeed.”—Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries:

“This endlessly enjoyable series, with its deep thoughts about justice and vengeance and charming classical allusions, can’t help making you smile.”—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review

“[Leon] has never become perfunctory, never failed to give us vivid portraits of people and of Venice, never lost her fine, disillusioned indignation.”—Ursula K. LeGuin, New York Times

“You become so wrapped up in these compelling characters . . . Each one is better than the last.”—Louise Erdrich, PBS NewsHour

“Few detective writers create so vivid, inclusive, and convincing a narrative as Donna Leon . . . One of the most exquisite and subtle detective series ever.”Washington Post

“The sophisticated but still moral Brunetti, with his love of food and his loving family, proves a worthy custodian of timeless values and verities.”Wall Street Journal

“[Leon] uses the relatively small and crime-free canvas of Venice for rips about Italian life, sexual styles and—best of all—the kind of ingrown business and political corruption that seems to lurk just below the surface.”Chicago Tribune

“Hers is an unusually potent cocktail of atmosphere and event.”New Yorker

“For those who know Venice, or want to, Brunetti is a well-versed escort to the nooks, crannies, moods, and idiosyncrasies of what residents call La Serenissima, the Serene One . . . Richly atmospheric, [Leon] introduces you to the Venice insiders know.”USA Today

“Donna Leon is the undisputed crime fiction queen . . . Leon’s ability to capture the social scene and internal politics [of Venice] is first-rate.”—Baltimore Sun

“Terrific at providing, through its weary but engaging protagonist, a strong sense of the moral quandaries inherent in Italian society and culture.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Brunetti is one of the most attractive policemen in crime fiction today.”—Philadelphia Inquirer

“As always, Brunetti is highly attuned to (and sympathetic toward) the failings of the humans around him.”—Seattle Times

“Leon’s writing trembles with true feeling.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Leon started out with offhand, elegant excellence, and has simply kept it up.”—Guardian

“Compassionate yet incorruptible, Brunetti knows that true justice doesn’t always end in an arrest or a trial.”—Publishers Weekly

“[Brunetti] is a superb police detective—calm, deliberate, and insightful as he investigates with a reflective thoroughness.”—Library Journal

“The appeal of Guido Brunetti, the hero of Donna Leon’s long-running Venetian crime series, comes not from his shrewdness, though he is plenty shrewd, nor from his quick wit. It comes, instead, from his role as an Everyman . . . [his life is] not so different from our own days at the office or nights around the dinner table. Crime fiction for those willing to grapple with, rather than escape, the uncertainties of daily life.”—Booklist

“It’s difficult to describe the work of Donna Leon other than in superlatives . . . An annual blessing, a fine series—one of the finest (see what I mean) in the mystery (or any) genre . . . There are few reading joys that equal cracking the binding of a new Leon novel . . . If you have not experienced this world, so exotic and yet so familiar, you can pick up literally any volume in the series and begin a comfortable entry into Brunetti’s Venice.”—BookReporter

“One of the most popular crime series worldwide . . . While the Brunetti books, with their abundance of local color and gastronomic treats, appeal to the fans of the traditional mystery, Leon has something darker and deeper in mind.”—Life Sentence

“No author has delved into Venetian society quite like Leon, whose insider’s view shows how crime seeps throughout the city, touching all strata of society.”—Mystery Scene

Reading Group Guide

Written by Jane Levenson for A Refiner’s Fire 

1. What are the circumstances under which Commissario Claudia Griffoni encounters Orlando? What is her first impression of him? How does Griffoni establish a rapport with the teen?

2. After deciding to escort Orlando home, Comissario Griffoni ends up parting ways a bit earlier than expected. Why does she make the decision to leave Orlando at the local pizza place instead? What kind of establishment is it, and who are its patrons? How does Griffoni present herself there, and why?

3. After considering his father-in-law Count Falier’s characterization of the Aeneid as vital to learning “how to behave” (p. 37), Commissario Guido Brunetti concludes that books “were no longer sacred touchstones of any culture, any society” (p. 43). Do you agree with Brunetti’s assessment? If you agree, what, if anything, has replaced books in this regard, and to what effect? If you disagree, what is an example of a book that is a cultural touchstone today?

4. As he considers his longtime colleague Signorina Elettra and her various talents, Brunetti realizes “how much her sense of decorum rendered her virtually invisible” (p. 86). What is the more common purpose or effect of decorum? What does invisibility mean in Signorina Elettra’s case, and what does it allow her to do?

5. When prompted by Signora Wilson, Brunetti describes his initial impression of Dario Monforte as “honest and conscientious,” even though he senses “unspoken antagonism” between the prospective client and security consultant (pp. 58-59). How does Dario Monforte conduct himself during the site visit to the palazzo? What does Brunetti observe about him that seems to either support or call into question his brief characterization of Monforte to Signora Wilson?

6. Brunetti realizes that he enjoys working with Griffoni because she “judged gossip as an invaluable asset in the gathering of information” (p. 69). What is gossip’s role in society? Do you agree with Brunetti that it is “certainly a feminine behaviour”? If so, why do you think that gossip is coded as feminine in our society?

7. Why does Griffoni take Brunetti to meet Orlando? What is Orlando’s father’s reaction to seeing his son with two strange adults, and how do Griffoni and Orlando try to downplay the situation? Do you think Dario Monforte’s reaction is appropriate?

8. While reading Alvise’s report about Dario Monforte, Brunetti is surprised by its clarity. What kind of details and observations does Alvise, known as “the least brilliant of the squad” (p. 89), include? How much of his report is based on what is spoken relative to what is implied? What do you think makes Alvise such an effective “auditor to tales of human peculiarity” (p. 90)? Do Brunetti or Griffoni share any of these characteristics?

9. During the Iraq War, Brunetti learns, antique Koran volumes from the Baghdad Library “passed invisibly into the hands of private collectors to await the return of peace and security to Iraq” (p. 95). A similar argument has been made for keeping antiquities such as the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum or the Benin Bronzes in collections in Europe and the US. Are the West’s “protective hands” trustworthy and appropriate stewards of treasures from other cultures? Who sets these objects’ value and decides appropriate custody arrangements?

10. What does Brunetti recall about the Hero of Nasiriyah at first? How do additional details—and even information gaps that Brunetti encounters in his research—complicate the picture of the celebrated war hero in ways that surprise Brunetti?

11. Why does the sometime-lawyer Beni Cresti come to see Brunetti? What does he allege—and what kinds of explicit and implicit threats does he make—on behalf of his client? Does Brunetti handle the interaction effectively, or does he exacerbate the situation?

12. What kind of person is Bocchese? How does Brunetti connect with and engage his longtime coworker? Why do you think Bocchese ultimately trusts and turns to Brunetti?

13. In the final chapter, both father and son Monteforte take tremendous risks—Orlando in response to peer pressure, and Dario in response to his son’s expectations. To what degree are each of these actions surprising given their personalities? Are both actions perhaps an attempt to become someone each character aspires to be?