Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

By its Cover

by Donna Leon

Commissario Guido Brunetti must question his own assumptions about culture, virtue, and class in order to solve a shocking case of rare book theft from a Venetian library.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 264
  • Publication Date March 10, 2015
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2347-3
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 256
  • Publication Date April 01, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2264-3
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $26.00

About The Book

Donna Leon’s critically acclaimed, internationally bestselling Commissario Guido Brunetti series has attracted readers the world over with the beauty of its setting, the humanity of its characters, and its fearlessness in exploring politics, morality, and contemporary Italian culture. In the pages of Leon’s novels, the beloved conversations of the Brunetti family have frequently drawn on topics of art and literature, but books are at the heart of this twenty-third installment in a way they never have been before.

One afternoon, Commissario Guido Brunetti gets a frantic call from the director of a prestigious Venetian library. Someone has stolen pages out of several rare books. After a round of questioning, the case seems clear: the culprit must be the man who requested the volumes, an American professor from a Kansas university. The only problem—the man fled the library earlier that day, and after checking his credentials, the American professor doesn’t exist.

As the investigation proceeds, the suspects multiply. And when a seemingly harmless theologian, who had spent three years at the library reading the Fathers of the Church, turns up brutally murdered, Brunetti must question his expectations about what makes a man innocent, or guilty.


“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

“Think of Leon’s latest Guido Brunetti novel as a love letter to her fans. . . . This will likely be one of his most-loved adventures.” —Bill Ott, Booklist (starred review)

“With its loudly reverberating echoes of the recent real-life thefts from the Girolamini Library in Naples, By its Cover will both delight and strike fear into bibliophiles’ hearts. . . . Leon offers a finely drawn tale that encompasses theft, blackmail, emotional violence, and murder, as well as a rich array of characters . . . [and] compellingly combines their workaday crime-solving with a detailed picture of a vanishing Venice.” —Daneet Steffens, Boston Globe

“Whenever some fresh instance of blatant corruption or rank depravity comes to light in Italy . . . Commissario Guido Brunetti, the principled protagonist of Donna Leon’s uplifting Venetian mysteries, looks to his family and to the wise philosophers of ancient Rome to restore his faith in humanity. Leon tends to console herself by writing a new book.” —Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review

“Brunetti and Venice and books—there’s a totally delectable combination! . . . Truly a must-read for Brunetti fans.” —Carol Howell, I Love a Mystery

“Fans will rejoice that staples of the Brunetti canon—including conversations with his smart wife and frequent breaks for food and coffee—are very much in evidence.” —Adam Woog, Seattle Times

“Donna Leon’s books . . . are routinely some of the finest mystery novels to come out of Europe (or anywhere else, for that matter). Her latest, By its Cover, will do nothing but burnish that reputation.” —Bruce Tierney, BookPage

“One of her best in a long line of super efforts. . . . Brunetti’s wry internal observations and musings about everything from his superiors to his family are reason enough to come to the feast.” —Joe Hartlaub, Bookreporter

“Donna Leon is one of the more unusual and satisfying writers of crime fiction in the current pantheon. . . . Brunetti is exceptional among detectives. . . . . Not since Simenon’s Maigret have we seen a detective so devoted to the reality and complexity of everyday life.” —Sydney Morning Herald


New England Independent Booksellers Association Bestseller (#3, 4/6/2014)
Southern California Independent Bestseller (#5, 4/6/2014)
Northern California Bookseller Association Bestseller (#6, 4/6/2014)
NAIBA Indie Bestseller List (#13, 4/6/2014)
Washington Post Bestseller (#5, 4/11/2014)
Buffalo News Bestseller (#10, 4/13/2014)
NAIBA Bestseller (#8, 4/16/2014)
PNBA Bestseller (#12, 4/16/2014)
New York Times Bestseller (#7, 4/20/2014)
New York Times Bestseller (#14, 4/27/2014)
Boston Globe Bestseller (#2, 4/19/2014)
A Seattle Times Best Mystery and Crime Novel of 2014

Reading Group Guide

1. What kinds of collections are available at the Biblioteca Merula, and what kind of patrons do these types of works attract? What is the nature of the crime that has been committed at the library, and what does it suggest about the perpetrator?

2. What is Brunetti’s connection to one of Biblioteca Merula’s benefactors, Contessa Morosini-Albani? What is her family’s standing and reputation in Venice? Why is Brunetti, as well as members of his family, surprised to hear that the Contessa donated rare books to the library?

3. What does Brunetti learn about the Biblioteca Merula’s most consistent visitor? What does Brunetti assume about him based on the behavior—and literary preferences—the library staff describe?

4. Both Brunetti and his father-in-law, Conte Orazio Falier, despair at the irresponsibility and corruption demonstrated by their fellow Venetians. What are some of the more conspicuous signs that the city’s elite value short-term profits over preserving the city and its treasures? What is Conte Falier’s response to these problems, and do you agree with his course of action?

5. What does Brunetti learn about the rare books market from Contessa Morosini-Albani? How is value determined? Who are the players in this market, and which of them knowingly participate in illegal activity? Given the often murky provenance of individual objects, is it ethical to participate in this type of market at all?

6. Signorina Elettra and Contessa Morosini-Albani each have strong views about collectors. How does each woman characterize collectors or collecting? Does Brunetti agree? Do you?

7. What is the difference between how Contessa Morosini-Albani defines books and the way in which Brunetti sees them? Are there instances in which illustrations or format are more important or valuable than the text itself? Or is text always more essential than the art or a work’s presentation?

8. What do the police find when they are summoned to Aldo Franchini’s apartment by his brother? What does the manner of his death suggest to Brunetti? What new details does Brunetti learn about the victim from a conversation with his brother?

9. How did Signora Marzi meet Signor Franchini, and what was the nature of their relationship? Why does Signora Marzi cooperate with Brunetti?

10. At what point does Brunetti begin to suspect something about the library’s security guard, Piero Sartor? What does Brunetti learn about how Franchini, Nickerson, and Sartor worked together? Who benefitted most from the arrangement, and who was most vulnerable?

11. What is Commissario Claudia Griffoni doing while Brunetti questions Sartor? Is her approach effective? Is it ethical?