Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Doctored Evidence

A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

by Donna Leon

“It is [his] peculiar insistence on turning every case into a morality tale that gives Leon’s fiction its subtlety and substance and makes us follow Brunetti wherever we must—even into the sea.” —The New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date May 13, 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4601-4
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date December 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4899-6
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

The New York Times Book Review has raved that Donna Leon’s evocative, riveting crime novels “shimmer in the grace of their setting and are warmed by the charm of their characters.” Her highly anticipated new novel once again follows Commissario Guido Brunetti through the winding streets of contemporary Venice as he throws open the doors to a case his fellow policemen would rather leave closed.

After the body of a wealthy elderly woman is found brutally murdered in her Venetian apartment, the police suspect her maid, who has disappeared and is heading for her native Romania. When the woman is approached by the border police as her train is leaving Italy, she makes a run for it and is killed as she crosses the tracks. She has a considerable sum of money on her and her papers are obvious forgeries. Case closed.

But when the old woman’s neighbor returns from a business trip in London, it becomes clear that the maid could not have had time to kill the old woman before catching her train and that the money on her was not stolen. Commissario Guido Brunetti decides—unofficially—to take on the case himself.

At home, Brunetti’s loving wife, Paola, reads the chapter in her daughter’s religious instruction book about the Seven Deadly Sins. As he investigates the case, Brunetti realizes that this is probably not a crime motivated by Greed, rather that the motive may have more to do with the temptations of Lust. But perhaps Brunetti is following a false trail and thinking of the wrong sin altogether.

Doctored Evidence is an impeccable novel of suspense that once more finds Commissario Brunetti and his indispensable aid, Signorina Elettra, navigating the murky backwaters of Venetian society. Donna Leon brilliantly re-creates contemporary Venice, showing why she has been praised around the world as a masterful storyteller.

Praise

“[Leon’s] philosophical detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti, brings no romantic illusions to Doctored Evidence, only a weary commitment to his own sense of justice. . . . The detective’s humane police work is disarming, and his ambles through the city are a delight; but it is this peculiar insistence on turning every case into a morality tale that gives Leon’s fiction its subtlety and substance and makes us follow Brunetti wherever we must—even into the sea.” —Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

“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.” —Peter Mergendahl, The Rocky Mountain News

“No one is more graceful or accomplished than Leon at threading her detective’s home life into and out of the course of an investigation. She delivers luscious descriptions of meals; supplies lively accounts of Brunetti’s conversations with his wife, Paola, who is busy reading through some religious text on the seven deadly sins; and takes care to ensure that his children actually act like teenagers. . . . Like all the others, this 13th installment in the Brunetti series holds together as an elegant puzzle, as a character study and as a story of an officer’s need to reclaim truth in all its complexities from those who want to find easy answers to life’s, and death’s, perplexing mysteries.” —Paul Skenazy, The Washington Post Book World

“A trail of evidence that only Brunetti is wiling and able to follow leads to a compelling and intricate series of events as convoluted and intricate as the canals of Venice itself. Brunetti once again charms his devotees, and fans of Leon will not be disappointed as she crafts yet another expert mystery.” —Judith M. Redding, The Baltimore Sun

Doctored Evidence is the 13th mystery in Donna Leon’s delightful Guido Brunetti series. . . . Every one I’ve managed to get my hands on has been a smart and stylish fast-paced case of intrigue and corruption, which Leon. . . brings to her pages with wit, affection, and authority.” —Irene Wanner, The San Francisco Chronicle

“Though the case seems solved, Brunetti tries to uncover the real killer amid stifling heat and intra-office jealousy that is poisonous for him, but vastly entertaining to the reader. Most compelling of all is Brunetti’s queasy reliance on one colleague’s superb hacking skills. . . . [Doctored Evidence] is deeply satisfying and often very funny.” —Lev Raphael, The Miami Herald

“Venice can be a suitably creepy setting for thrillers. . . . But Venice is a charming and surprisingly small town in Donna Leon’s fine procedurals about police detective Guido Brunetti. Brunetti’s an honorable man, though not above bending the law to serve a greater good or subvert his incompetent superiors. And, this being Italy, he’s never too involved in his work to forgo excellent food and drink.” —Adam Wong, The Seattle Times

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

“[Doctored Evidence] is a terrific investigative novel that showcases how stereotyping can hamper truly solving a case. The story line is cleverly designed so that readers can see why the brass wants the case left ‘solved’ though counter evidence has surfaced. Brunetti is a wonderful lead character whose inquiries into who murdered the shrew make for a fine tale.” —Harriet Klausner, The Midwest Book Review

“New Jersey-born Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti mysteries constitute one of the most intricate and likely the most overlooked series of the past 15 years.” —Betsy Willeford, Times (NJ)

“Set in contemporary Venice and filled with memorable details of the unique flavors of that city, this tale of Brunetti’s latest investigation includes his usual heartfelt attention to culinary detail and the realities of raising two teenagers, and his own pitiful shortcomings in adjusting to the computer age. An overall lovely read.” —Carol Howell, I Love a Mystery

“With her masterful flair, Donna Leon . . . charges this riveting new novel, Doctored Evidence, with suspense and evokes a contemporary Venice. . . . Leon evokes the real Venice, not the place of romantic novels or glitzy travel guides but the gritty, inbred city of dishonest politicians and hamlet-like neighborhoods filled with gossip.” —Sir Read a Lot

“Leon has created a very likeable character in the person of Commissario Brunetti. Cynical, honest, hardworking, and a lover of food, he is an excellent cop. . . . Another plus in this mystery is seeing how Venetian politics and civil service agencies work. It does appear that they are more corrupt than we are in similar situations. And everyone seems to understand and accept that, including Brunetti. Overall, a clever plot, fun characters, and a colorful setting. Recommended.” (3 stars out of 4) —Deadly Pleasures

“Author Leon, who goes way beyond the Venice familiar to tourists (or, perhaps, some locals), never forgets that even fictional detectives can’t investigate all the time. Consequently, we get to look over this complex, oddly likable investigator’s shoulder as much while he squabbles with his redoubtable wife and challenging offspring as we do while he sifts through some well concealed and potentially life-threatening clues.” —Rod Cockshutt, Raleigh News and Observer

“[Leon’s] series of mysteries featuring Guido Brunetti, a Venice cop, reflects her personal take on that fabled city and its inhabitants with an intimacy and warmth. . . . If you’re heading to Venice, take along a few of her books to use for both entertainment and travel directions.” —Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Comissario Guido Bruntetti is beloved by Donna Leon’s legions of fans and her latest book . . . will only add to his popularity. . . . It’s always appealing to travel to Venice with Brunetti, especially at mealtime.” —Diana Pinckley, Times-Picayune

Doctored Evidence is. . . a good old-fashioned mystery. . . . But there is something more to [the novel] than a murder and a search for whodunit- a subtle critique, through Brunetti’s eyes, of a society far along in the process of decay.” —Frank Wilson, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Leon has captured the essence of everyday Venice from a native’s point of view. . . . I got so immersed in this city. . . through the book, Doctored Evidence, that I. . . picked up a couple of Italian phrases and made a vow to visit someday.” —Jan Smith, The Commercial Appeal

“Every new book in Donna Leon’s outstanding is a reason to celebrate! Thoughtful, intelligent, clever, and filled with the atmosphere of Venice, these books are among the best being published today. . . . The mystery is filled with surprising developments and the solution is a surprise. Anyone who starts reading Donna Leon with this book will surely search out all the others.” —Mary Helen Becker, Mystery News (5 quills)

“This is not your average police procedural and you will definitely come out of it learning something new about human nature. . . . Try her work today. You will not be disappointed.” —Angel L. Soto, I Love a Mystery

“Donna Leon’s latest features likable characters and a masterful tour of Venice along with the reappearance of a truly great detective in the person of Guido Brunetti. This is a wonderful read.” —Carol Erfe, Book Tales, Westerly, RI, Book Sense quote

“This long-running series stars both the city of Venice and Brunetti. He’s most intersting when he leaves the office and takes readers on a native’s tour of a fascinating place.” —Lorraine Gelly, RT Bookclub (3 stars)

“Offers many pleasures, including a clever puzzle. . . . Leon evokes the real Venice, not the place of romantic novels or glitzy travel guides but the gritty, inbred city of dishonest politicians and hamlet-like neighborhoods filled with gossip.” —Publishers Weekly

“[Leon] looks for nuance behind the formula. She finds it in the victim’s relatives. . .and, of course, she finds it in Brunetti’s lovingly detailed but never sentimentalized family life—always the greatest source of pleasure in a series that reminds us again and again just what ‘character driven’ really means.” —Bill Ott, Booklist

“Everyone joined in disliking the victim in Commissario Guido Brunetti’s latest case—but who hated her enough to kill her? . . . It’s even clearer than in Brunetti’s earlier cases, however, that his colleagues, variously lazy, stupid, and malignant, are more dangerous enemies than the inoffensive suspects could ever be.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Brunetti is a wonderful character, wry and compassionate, surrounded by a richly drawn cast of family, friends and colleagues (especially the terrifyingly brilliant and efficient secretary Elettra). But it’s modern-day Venice that’s the star of the series, and Leon, who brings it to life with her graceful words.” —Calgary Herald

“Superb . . . As always, Leon manages to bring the sights, sounds, and smells of Venice alive. . . . Not to be forgotten, these novels are great fun. If you haven’t read them, start now.” —Globe & Mail

“Guido Brunetti, reader of Greek philosophers, is the central figure in the absorbing series of crime novels. . . . The character Leon has created, the rigorous Brunetti, is far from the hairshirt that the task in life he has set himself might make him seem. He happens to be kind, amusing, fond of good food and wine, a man tuned to the habits and rhythms of the lovely city where he lives.” —Jack Batten, Toronto Star

Awards

Winner of the CWA MacCallan Silver Dagger

Excerpt

She was an old cow and he hated her. Because he was a doctor and she his patient, he felt guilty about hating her, but not so guilty as to make him hate her any the less. Nasty, greedy, ill-tempered, forever complaining about her health and the few people who still had the stomach for her company, Maria Grazia Battestini was a woman about whom nothing good could be said, not even by the most generous of souls. The priest had given up on her long ago, and her neighbours spoke of her with distaste, sometimes with open animosity. Her family remained connected to her only by means of the laws governing inheritance. But he was a doctor, so he had no choice but to make his weekly visit, even though it now consisted of nothing more than a perfunctory inquiry as to how she felt, followed by the speedy measuring of her pulse and blood pressure. He’d been coming for more than four years now, and his aversion had become so strong that he had lost the fight against his repeated disappointment at the continued absence of signs of illness.

Just past eighty, she looked and acted a decade older, but she’d live to bury him; she’d live to bury them all.
He had a key and used it to let himself into the building. The whole place was hers, all three floors, though she occupied only half of the second. Spite and meanness caused her to maintain the fiction that she occupied all of it, for by so doing she kept her sister Santina’s daughter from moving into either the floor above or the one below. He forgot how many times, in the years since the death of her son, she had hurled abuse upon her sister and told him how much pleasure it gave her perpetually to frustrate her family’s designs upon the house. She spoke of her sister with malice that had gathered momentum ever since their shared childhood.
He turned the key to the right, and because it is in the nature of Venetian doors not to open at first try, he automatically pulled the door towards him as he turned the key. He pushed the door open, stepping into the dim entrance hall. No sunlight could penetrate the decades of grease and dirt that covered the two narrow windows above the door to the calle. He no longer noticed the dimness, and it had been years since Signora Battestini had been able to come down the steps, so the windows were unlikely to be cleaned any time soon. Damp had fused the wires years before, but she refused to pay for an electrician, and he had lost the habit of trying to switch the light on.

He started up the first flight of stairs, glad that this was his last call of the morning. He’d finish with the old horror and go and have a drink, then get some lunch. He didn’t have to be at his surgery to see patients until five; had no plans after lunch and nothing he particularly wanted to do, so long as he could be free of the sight and sound of their wasted and bloated bodies.

As he started up the second flight, he found himself hoping that the new woman—he thought this one was Romanian, for that was how the old woman referred to her, though they never stayed long enough for him to remember their names—would last. Since her arrival, the old shrew was at least clean and no longer stank of urine. Over the years he’d watched them come and go; come because they were drawn by the prospect of work, even if it meant cleaning and feeding Signora Battestini and submitting to her unrelenting abuse; go because each had eventually been so worn down that even the most abject need could not resist the assault of the woman’s nastiness.

From the habit of politeness, he knocked at her door, though he knew it a futile courtesy. The blaring of her television, which had been audible even from outside the building, drowned out the sound: even the younger ears of the Romanian—what was her name?—seldom registered his arrival.

He took the second key and turned it twice, then stepped into the apartment. At least it was clean. There had been a time, he thought it was about a year after her son died, when no one had come for more than a week, and the old woman had been left alone in the apartment. He still remembered the smell of the place when he’d opened the door for his then bi-monthly visit, and, when he’d gone into the kitchen, the sight of the plates of decomposing food left on the table for a week in the July heat. And the sight of her, body encased in layers of fat, naked and covered with the drips and dribbles of what she had tried to eat, hunched in a chair in front of the eternally blaring television. She’d ended up in hospital that time, dehydrated and disoriented, but they’d wanted quit of her after only three days, and since she demanded to be in her own home, they’d gladly taken the option and had her carried there. The Ukrainian woman had come then, the one who’d disappeared after three weeks, taking a silver serving plate with her, and his visits had been increased to once a week. But the old woman had not changed: her heart pounded on, her lungs pulled in the air of the apartment, and the layers of fat grew ever thicker.

He set his bag on the table by the door, glad to see that its surface was clean, a sure sign that the Romanian was still there. He took the stethoscope, hooked it behind his ears, and went into the living room.

Had the television not been on, he probably would have heard the noise before he went in. But on the screen the much-lifted blonde with the Shirley Temple curls was giving the traffic report, alerting the drivers of the Veneto to the potential inconvenience of traffico intenso on the A4 and drowning the industrious buzzing of the flies at work on the old woman’s head.

He was accustomed to the sight of death in the old, but deaths in old age were usually more decorous than what he saw on the floor beneath him. The old die softly or the old die hard, but because death seldom comes as an assault, few resist it with violence. Nor had she.
Whoever had killed her must have taken her completely by surprise, for she lay on the floor to the left of an undisturbed table on which stood an empty cup and the remote control of the television. The flies had decided to divide their attention between a bowl of fresh figs and Signora Battestini’s head. Her arms were flung out in front of her, and she lay with her left cheek on the floor. The damage was to the back of her head, which reminded him of a soccer ball his son’s dog had once bitten, deflating it on one side. Unlike her head, the skin of the soccer ball had remained smooth and intact; nothing had leaked from it.

He stopped at the door, looking around the room, too stunned by the chaos to have a clear idea of what he was looking for. Perhaps he sought the body of the Romanian; perhaps he feared the sudden arrival from some other room of the person who had done this. But the flies told him that whoever had done this had had more than enough time to flee. He glanced up, his staggered attention caught by the sound of a human voice, but all he learned was that there had been an accident involving a truck on the A3 near Cosenza.

He walked across the room and switched off the television, and silence, neither hushed nor respectful, filled the room. He wondered if he should go into the other rooms and look for the Romanian, perhaps try to help her if they had not succeeded in killing her, too. Instead, he went into the hall and, taking his telefonino from his pocket, dialled 113 and reported that there had been a murder in Cannaregio.

The police had little trouble finding the house, for the doctor had explained that the victim’s home was at the beginning of the calle to the right of the Palazzo del Cammello. The launch glided to a halt on the south side of the Canale della Madonna. Two uniformed officers jumped on to the riva, then one of them leaned back into the boat to help the three men from the technical squad unload their equipment.

It was almost one. Sweat dripped from their faces, and their jackets soon began to cling to their bodies. Cursing the heat, wiping vainly at their sweat, four of the five men began to carry the equipment to the entrance to Calle Tintoretto and along to the house, where a tall, thin man waited for them.

“Dottor Carlotti?” the uniformed officer who had not helped in unloading the boat asked.

“Yes.”

“It was you who called?” Both men knew the question was unnecessary.

“Yes.”

“Could you tell me more? Why you were here?”

“I came to visit a patient of mine—I come every week—Maria Grazia Battestini, and when I went into the apartment, I found her on the floor. She was dead.”

“You have a key?” the policeman asked. Though his voice was neutral, the question filled the air around them with suspicion.

“Yes. I’ve had one for the last few years. I have the keys to the homes of many of my patients,” Carlotti said, then stopped, realizing how strange it must sound, his explaining this to the police, and made uncomfortable by the realization.

“Would you tell me exactly what you found?” the policeman asked. As the two men spoke, the others deposited the equipment inside the front door and went back to the launch for more.

“She’s dead. Someone’s killed her.”

“Why are you sure someone killed her?”

“Because I’ve seen her,” Carlotti said and left it at that.

“Have you any idea who might have done it, Dottore?”

“No, of course I don’t know who he was,” the Doctor insisted, trying to sound indignant but managing only to sound nervous.

“He?”

“What?” said Carlotti.

“You said, ‘he,’ Dottore. I was curious to know why you think it was a man.”

Carlotti started to answer, but the neutral words he tried to pronounce slipped out of his control and, instead, he said, “Take a look at her head and tell me a woman did that.”

His anger surprised him; or rather, the force of it did. He was angry not with the policeman’s questions but at his own craven response to them. He had done nothing wrong, had merely stumbled upon the old woman’s body, and yet his unthinking response to any brush with authority was fear and the certainty that it would somehow cause him harm. What a race of cowards we’ve become, he caught himself thinking, but then the policeman asked, “Where is she?”

“On the second floor.”

“Is the door open?”

“Yes.”

The policeman stepped into the dim hallway, where the others had crowded to escape the sunshine, and made an upward motion with his chin. Then he said to the doctor, “I want you to come upstairs with us.”

Carlotti followed the policemen, resolved to say as little as possible and not to display any unease or fear. He was accustomed to the sight of death, so the sight of the woman’s body, terrible as it was, had not affected him as much as had his instinctive fear of being involved with the police.

At the top of the stairs, the policemen entered the apartment without bothering to knock; the doctor chose to wait outside on the landing. For the first time in fifteen years, he wanted a cigarette with a need so strong it forced the beat of his heart into a quicker rhythm.

He listened to them moving around inside the apartment, heard their voices calling to one another, though he made no attempt to listen. The voices grew softer as the policemen moved to the next room, where the body was. He moved over to the windowsill and half sat on it, heedless of the accumulated filth. He wondered why they needed him here, came close to a decision to tell them they could reach him at his surgery if they wanted him. But he remained where he was and did not go into the apartment to speak to them.

After a time, the policeman who had spoken to him came out into the corridor, holding some papers in a plastic-gloved hand. “Was someone staying here with her?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know her name, but I think she was a Romanian.”

The policeman held out one of the papers to him. It was a form that had been filled in by hand. At the bottom left was a passport-sized photo of a round-faced woman who could have been the Romanian. “Is this the woman?” the policeman asked.

“I think so,” Dottor Carlotti answered.

“Florinda Ghiorghiu,” the policeman read, and that brought the name back.

“Yes. Flori,” the doctor said. Then, curious, he asked, “Is she in there?” hoping the police would not find it strange that he had not looked for her, and hoping they had not found her body.

“Hardly,” the policeman answered with barely disguised impatience. “There’s no sign of her, and the place is a mess. Someone’s been through it and taken anything valuable.”

“You think . . .” Carlotti began, but the policeman cut him off.

“Of course,” the officer answered with anger so fierce it surprised the other man. “She’s from the East. They’re all like that. Vermin.” Before Carlotti could object, the policeman went on, spitting out the words. “There’s an apron in the kitchen with blood all over it. The Romanian killed her.” And then, speaking the epitaph for Maria Grazia Battestini that Dottor Carlotti would perhaps not have given, the policeman muttered, “Poor old thing.”

Reading Group Guide

1. Donna Leon’s stories paint a vivid picture of a Venice full of intrigue, with beauty and corruption in almost equal measures. How does the Venice in her books compare to the Venice of popular imagination or to the real Venice?

2. In Doctored Evidence do people behave in specifically Italian or Venetian ways?

3. What are the roles of food and wine in this book?

4. In the beginning of Doctored Evidence, the Venetian police conclude that Signora Battestini’s Romanian housekeeper, Florinda Ghiorghiu, committed the murder. To what extent is this conclusion marked by ethnic prejudice? What other prejudices do the characters exhibit in the novel?

5. Donna Leon characterizes Venice as “a sleepy provincial town.” What does she mean by this? What is the effect of gossip? A loud television?

6. When Signora Grismondi goes to the Questura to report what she knows about the morning of the murder, Lieutenant Scarpa is suspicious of her motives yet Commissario Brunetti trusts her. Would you have believed her? Why or why not?

7. In the Commissario Brunetti series, Signora Elettra’s hacking prowess is the key to solving the crimes at hand. Brunetti frequently bends the rules in the pursuit of truth. Do you think that the end justifies the means?

8. In the beginning of the case, Brunetti feels the crime is one of lust but finds out otherwise. Which deadly sin results in murder?

9. Personality conflicts abound at the Questura. In your opinion, does Brunetti handle these well? What are the sources of the alienation between Brunetti and Patta? Between Brunetti and Scarpa? Is there more than just a North/South rivalry?

10. When Brunetti confronts Rossi with the knowledge that his diploma is a forgery, Rossi says, “But I’ve got two children.” Brunetti also has two children but is unsympathetic. Why?

11. In what way do the discussions between Guido and Paola illuminate issues of everyday morality? Are her opinions helpful to him in solving the case?

12. Donna Leon seems to take on religion throughout Doctored Evidence: Paula explains the sacrament of Extreme Unction as a method for the church to acquire real estate, and the old woman is murdered with a statue of Padre Pio. A statue of the Madonna, which contains the final clue, lacerates Brunetti’s knee. What is the role of religion in this book?

13. In how many ways is Signora Elettra totally fabulous?

14. How is the pleasure of reading the book enhanced by the depiction of the experience of Venice?

15. Donna Leon is extremely careful about the locations in Venice. Try reading Doctored Evidence or any of her other Brunetti novels with a map or guidebook. Where are San Lorenzo and the Questura? The Miracoli? Alberoni? Castello? Misericordia?

Suggested Further Reading:

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon; Dead Lagoon by Michael Dibdin; The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri; The Last Gondola by Edward Sklepowich; Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell; Belshazzar’s Daughter by Barbara Nadel; Murder in the Marais by Cara Black; Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli; Death of an Englishman by Magdalen Nabb; The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith