Give unto Othersby Donna Leon
Brunetti is forced to confront the price of loyalty, to his past and in his work, as a seemingly innocent request leads him into troubling waters
A New York Times Bestseller
What role can or should loyalty play in the life of a police inspector? It’s a question Commissario Guido Brunetti must face and ultimately answer in Give Unto Others, Donna Leon’s splendid 31st installment of her acclaimed Venetian crime series.
Brunetti is approached for a favor by Elisabetta Foscarini, a woman he knows casually, but her mother was good to Brunetti’s mother, so he feels obliged to at least look into the matter privately, and not as official police business. Foscarini’s son-in-law, Enrico Fenzo, has alarmed his wife (her daughter) by confessing their family might be in danger because of something he’s involved with. Since Fenzo is an accountant, Brunetti logically suspects the cause of danger is related to the finances of a client. Yet his clients seem benign: an optician, a restaurateur, a charity established by his father-in-law. However, when his friend’s daughter’s place of work is vandalized, Brunetti asks his own favors—that his colleagues Claudia Griffoni, Lorenzo Vianello, and Signorina Elettra Zorzi assist his private investigation, which soon enough turns official as they uncover the dark and Janus-faced nature of a venerable Italian institution.
Exploring the wobbly line between the criminal and non-criminal, revealing previously untold elements of Brunetti’s past, Give Unto Others shows that the price of reciprocity can be steep.
New York Times Bestseller
Named a Best Crime Book of the Year by the Guardian
An Amazon Best Book of the Month (Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense)
“Meddling from above is aggravating but not surprising to Brunetti. Throughout Ms. Leon’s long-running series, he’s had to deal with all sorts of ambitious and untrustworthy types, chief of which is the “ever-helpful” Lt. Scarpa . . . No matter. Brunetti goes door to door, seeking valuable information on behalf of his old neighbor. The cultivated Commissario, seeking the truth behind this strange imbroglio, reads the heart all the way back to Greek tragedy’s bitter truths.”—Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal
“The book is steeped in a gray, murky atmosphere as Leon describes the pandemic-related devastation of Venice’s tourist-dependent economy—a devastation that mirrors Brunetti’s inner turmoil as he tries to determine where his loyalty lies in the increasingly disturbing—and puzzling—investigation.”—Karen MacPherson, Washington Post
“Leon’s thirty-first novel in the Brunetti series is about human weakness of all kinds: drugs, dementia and dietrologia or, to put it another way, the need to know. Isn’t that why we read mystery novels? There has always been another reason to read Leon: the sheer elegance and wit of her prose. Virtually every page contains a sentence that demands to be quoted . . . Acknowledges the horrors that lurk in daily life.”—Times (UK), “Book of the Month”
“One of her strongest works . . . As Venice’s winter chill comes, so do revelations that keep Brunetti chasing the answer to the Foscarini puzzle. The pace of this novel is slow and stately but save it for the weekend when you don’t have to put it down even for a meal.”—Globe and Mail
“Donna Leon doesn’t write thrillers — quite the opposite. Guilt or innocence, just what kind of crime has been committed, if any, depends so much on a character’s own sense of ethics and integrity and, indeed, on the reader’s. Yes, Give Unto Others is a whodunit, and a whydunit, and a howdunit, but it’s quite unlike any other mystery writer’s view of the world. Find a comfortable chair, pour a goblet of Italian wine, maintain social distancing at all times and settle back for several hours of living inside Guido Brunetti’s head.”—Nick Martin, Winnipeg Free Press
“Unarguably one of the most humane—and absorbing—of the series . . . The dilemmas demand the best of Brunetti, which is what he delivers.”—Toronto Star
“The true victim of the crime at the center of this book is trust—in those we love and in ourselves as well . . . Even as an entry in such an idiosyncratic (and appealing) series, this case is one of the most personal our protagonist – a thoughtful, compassionate man – has faced. Fraud, and the lax Italian laws that accommodate it, may be at the center of this narrative, but the issues at its heart are human rather than legal: loss, aging, and the ways in which time plays on our character, for good or ill.”—Arts Fuse
“Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti novels are an absolute treasure . . . When reading a Brunetti novel, you expect to get more than just the story with which to immerse yourself. There are the sights, sounds and foods of Venice and the surrounding area . . . Of course, Brunetti and his team will wrap up everything but not without some big surprises and revelations that were never meant to see the light of day.”—Book Reporter
“Once again, Brunetti’s remarkable empathy with people takes him into shark-infested waters, forced to confront how ‘revenge, that deformed child of justice, fed itself with blind desire.’ Another moving meditation on the vagaries of human relationships posing as a mystery novel. There is no ambiguity about the unalloyed affection millions of readers feel toward Guido Brunetti, one of crime fiction’s most popular protagonists.”—Booklist (starred review)
“This book is classic Leon: Brunetti is less focused on any actual crime than on figuring out whether some other unknown crime has been committed, whether he himself is doing something wrong by using official resources on an unofficial investigation, whether the ends of finding information he needs justifies Signorina Elletra’s shadowy means of procuring it . . . Still the next best thing to moving to Venice.”—Kirkus Reviews
“As is the case with most of the other 30 Brunetti novels that precede it, Give unto Others is a largely character- and milieu-driven novel. There is a central mystery, to be sure, but the characters and their evolving relationships are the driving force of the series as it explores Venice, its history, its culture and, of course, its crime.”—BookPage
“Established fans will enjoy spending time with the charming Brunetti.”—Publishers Weekly
“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
1. Why does Brunetti feel “little delight” (p. 13) in seeing his former neighbor, Elisabetta Foscarini, at the Questura? What kinds of memories and associations resurface during her visit? Do the new social norms of the pandemia—the “icy formality . . . imposed upon them all” (p. 15) by social distancing exacerbate this dynamic?
2. What type of person was Elisabetta’s mother? How did she interact with Brunetti when he was a boy, and how did she behave towards his family?
3. How does Elisabetta describe her son-in-law? Why does Brunetti mention his own marriage? What kind of a relationship does Brunetti have with his mother-in-law, Contessa Falier?
4. “I’ve always thought that the people who want to help save the world are probably the worst people to be in charge of a charity,” Claudia Griffoni tells Brunetti (p. 47). Do you agree or disagree? What do you think has led Griffoni to make this assessment?
5. As Brunetti considers how information travels around Venice, he realizes that “long before computer chips could collect someone’s personal data, their neighbors did” (p. 52). How are the two “collections” different, in Brunetti’s opinion? Is one more intrusive than the other, and if so, why?
6. When speaking to the junior officer Pucetti about Signorina Elettra’s methods, Brunetti realizes that he wants to avoid “[getting] himself involved . . . in a discussion of whether the end [justifies] the means” (p. 60). How has his own opinion changed, and why does he not want to share it with “a person so much younger than himself” (p. 60)?
7. Where does Brunetti first encounter Matteo Fullin, and what is his initial impression of him? How is Fullin treated by his friends and family? In what ways is he protected, and in what ways is he vulnerable?
8. When the crime-scene team surveys the burglarized veterinary clinic of Dottoressa del Balzo, its members appear to have a wide range of reactions. Why do you think some of the technicians appear unbothered while their chief, Bocchese, seems disturbed?
9. Brunetti refers to the “invasive lethargy of the pandemia” (p. 166), to which he attributes the increasing difficulty of making decisions and completing routine tasks such as replying to email. What other situations or events cause similar responses? How are those similar, or different, from the Covid-19 pandemic experience?
10. Brunetti ultimately realizes that because Elisabetta’s request was “clothed in the trappings of old friendship” (p. 247), he behaved in ways contrary to his instinct and his training. What is the turning point in his approach to the puzzle that Elisabetta’s visit sets into motion? How do his brother’s recollections of their childhood help refocus the issue for Brunetti?
11. Brunetti tells Paola that police are taught that “witnesses are unreliable, people repeat distorted versions of what they’ve seen or heard, and evidence is always open to question” (p. 293). Who turns out to be Brunetti’s most unreliable witness in this case? Who shares the most distorted version of events? And which evidence is most open to question?