So Shall You Reapby Donna Leon
In the thirty-second installment of Donna Leon’s bestselling series, a connection to Guido Brunetti’s own youthful past helps solve a mysterious murder
On a cold November evening, Guido Brunetti and Paola are up late when a call from his colleague Ispettore Vianello arrives, alerting the Commissario that a hand has been seen in one of Venice’s canals. The body is soon found, and Brunetti is assigned to investigate the murder of an undocumented Sri Lankan immigrant. Because no official record of the man’s presence in Venice exists, Brunetti is forced to use the city’s far richer sources of information: gossip and the memories of people who knew the victim. Curiously, he had been living in a small house on the grounds of a palazzo owned by a university professor, in which Brunetti discovers books revealing the victim’s interest in Buddhism, the revolutionary Tamil Tigers, and the last crop of Italian political terrorists, active in the 1980s.
As the investigation expands, Brunetti, Vianello, Commissario Griffoni, and Signora Elettra each assemble pieces of a puzzle—random information about real estate and land use, books, university friendships—that appear to have little in common, until Brunetti stumbles over something that transports him back to his own student days, causing him to reflect on lost ideals and the errors of youth, on Italian politics and history, and on the accidents that sometimes lead to revelation.
An Instant New York Times Bestseller
Named a Best Book of the Month by Amazon (Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense)
“A real-estate query leads to more troubled waters for Venice’s Commissario Guido Brunetti . . . The commissario’s company and sensibility keep a reader in thrall throughout this and every entry in Ms. Leon’s indispensable series.”—Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal
“Donna Leon provides another delectable slice of the thoughtful policeman’s life at work and at home—where his wife, Paola (an expert on Henry James), keeps him and their two children, Chiara and Raffi, on their toes. So Shall You Reap is as witty and wise as anything Leon has written. To read her is to restore the soul.”—Mark Sanderson, Times (UK)
“As always, Brunetti’s sensitivity to the human factor in his work—apparent in his sense of responsibility to the victims and his empathy with nearly all those he encounters—is what draws the reader to care for this character in a way that is very different from how we respond to most fictional sleuths. Add to that the richness of Brunetti’s domestic life—loving but never sentimental, defined more by a raised eyebrow than a rhetorical flourish—and you begin to see why this series occupies a very special place in the crime-fiction world. Over several decades, Leon has built an adoring band of readers who can’t get enough of Guido Brunetti and his family of colleagues and loved ones.”—Booklist (starred review)
“There is no better literary tour guide to Venice and the surrounding landscape than Leon, and each entry provides complex, memorable characters and storylines that touch the moral center of the human spirit . . . So Shall You Reap is authentic throughout and lives up to the lofty reputation that Donna Leon has rightly earned for this series, which never fails to enlighten with each new intriguing mystery.”—Book Reporter
“The torture murder of an undocumented Sri Lankan immigrant, whose body was dumped in a Venice canal, drives bestseller Leon’s enjoyable 32nd outing for Commissario Guido Brunetti . . . Brunetti’s respect for his squad, coupled with his detectives’ regard for him, plays a major part in the crime solving, while the portrait of his strong marriage and solid relationship with his family serves to reinforce his beloved character. As usual, the rich backdrop of Venice complements the well-designed plot. Leon shows no signs of losing steam.”—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
Excerpted from So Shall You Reap © 2023 by Donna Leon. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
On a Saturday in early November, Guido Brunetti, reluctant to go outside, was at home, trying to decide which of his books to remove from the shelves in Paola’s study. Years ago, some months before the birth of their daughter, he had renounced claim to what had been his study so that their second child could have her own bedroom. Paola had offered his books sanctuary on four shelves. At the time, Brunetti had suspected this would not suffice, and eventually it had not: the time had come for The Cull. He was faced with the decision of what to eliminate from the shelves. The first shelf held books he knew he would read again; the second, at eye level, held books he wanted to read for the first time; the third, books he’d not finished but believed he would; and the bottom shelf held books he had known, some- times even as he was buying them, that he would never read.
He decided to begin with the books at the bottom. He knelt on one knee and studied the spines. Halfway along, he saw the familiar face of Proust, and the face of Proust, and the face of Proust. Slipping his hands into the space before the first book and after the last, he said aloud, ‘Now,’ and extracted them in one block. He stood and carried them over to Paola’s desk, tilted his hands, and set them down in a wobbly pile, then patted them into order. He stepped back and counted the faces of Proust: seven.
He went to the kitchen and returned with one of the paper bags the city distributed to hold paper for collection. He opened it and lowered the Prousts carefully inside, then returned to the shelf, carrying the bag. He set it beside him, knelt again, and glanced more carefully at the remaining books, making a series of visceral judgements, adding the books to the bag without bothering to give them the opportunity to plead for their lives from the temporary safety of Paola’s desk. Moby Dick; The Man of Feeling; I Promessi Sposi, which he’d been forced to read as a student in liceo and had hated. It had survived this long because, until now, he’d lacked the courage to believe a ‘classic’ could be such a bore, but into the bag it went. He came to four volumes of D’Annunzio’s plays and poetry and knew instantly that they were for the bag: was it because he was a bad writer or a bad person? To settle it, he opened one of the books of poetry at ran- dom and read the first line of the first poem his eye fell upon. ‘Voglio un amore doloroso, lento…’
Brunetti’s hand, still holding the book, fell to his side. ‘You
want a love that’s painful and slow, do you?’ he asked the deceased poet. ‘How about fast and painless?’ He bent and picked up the sixteen centimetres of D’Annunzio and tucked them in beside Manzoni. ‘If ever a marriage was made in heaven,’ he said, looking down into the bag, content with his decision. The used book-store at Campo Santa Maria Nova would gladly have them all.
Brunetti studied the empty spaces on the shelf, wondering how he could fill them. Before an answer came, his phone rang. He started to give his name, but a voice he recognized as Vianello’s spoke over his, asking, ‘Guido, can you meet me at
‘It’s Saturday, Lorenzo,’ he told his friend and colleague. ‘And it’s raining and it’s cold.’
‘And it’s important,’ Vianello added. ‘Tell me.’
Pausing only long enough to give a heavy sigh, Vianello said, ‘I had a call from Fazio.’ It took Brunetti a moment to recognize the name, a sergeant on the Treviso force and someone with whom both he and Vianello had worked. ‘Alvise’s been arrested.’ ‘
‘Alvise?’ Brunetti asked, unable to disguise his astonishment.
Then, to be sure, he repeated, voice lower but no less shocked, ‘Alvise?’
What in God’s name, Brunetti wondered, would Alvise be doing in Treviso? Indeed, what would anyone be doing there, especially on a day like this?
‘What was he doing there?’ ‘He was at the protest.’
Brunetti paused a moment and searched his memory for any protest threatened for that weekend. Not the train drivers, not the remaining No-Vax, not the workers at Marghera – who seemed in a perpetual state of protest – and not medical professionals, who had protested two weeks before.
‘Gay pride,’ Vianello said with absolute dispassion.
‘Gay pride?’ Raising his voice, Brunetti repeated, ‘Alvise? We don’t have anything to do with patrolling Treviso,’ he reminded the Ispettore.
‘He wasn’t on patrol.’
‘Then what was he doing there?’
‘That’s why we’re going to Treviso. To find out.’ ‘What happened?’
Over the line came the sound of a vaporetto changing into reverse to slow for a station stop. A voice – not Vianello’s – came over the line: ‘Ca’ Rezzonico.’
Brunetti was already walking towards the door, where he’d left his raincoat and umbrella that morning after coming home from having a coffee and picking up the newspapers.
Switching his phone to his left hand, he felt in the pocket of his raincoat for his house keys. ‘All right. I’ll meet you in front of the taxis,’ he said. Then, before Vianello could disappear, Brunetti asked, ‘What was he arrested for?’
Brunetti could find no words.
‘And violence to a public official,’ Vianello added.
Brunetti had no trouble making the translation from police vocabulary to reality. ‘Violence? Alvise?’
‘Fazio wasn’t sure what happened. He called me when they brought Alvise into the Questura. He asked me to come. And bring you,’ Vianello said.
‘All right. I’m leaving now.’ Brunetti broke the connection.
1. Why does long-serving police officer Alvise “not register fully . . . as a person” with his colleagues, including his supervisor, Commissario Brunetti (p. 5)? How does Alvise’s professional persona contribute to his obscurity? How does Brunetti feel about Alvise, and about himself, when he learns more about his colleague’s personal life?
2. What is the nature of Brunetti’s relationship with his father-in-law, and how has it changed over time? How has his well-connected father-in-law “made the path . . . easier” for Brunetti (p. 35)? How does Brunetti feel about this assistance?
3. When Claudia Griffoni informs Brunetti that Luigi Rubini, an art thief, may be operating in Venice again, the Commissario has a surprising reaction. How does Brunetti attempt to explain his response? Do you think he admires Rubini’s dedication to his daughter, his expertise in art, or both? Is Brunetti’s regard for Rubini ultimately justified?
4. Why does Brunetti go through the trouble of changing his suit for his meeting with Vice-Questore Patta? How does he behave during their conversation? Is he effective in his encounters with his boss, and why or why not?
5. When Brunetti begins to investigate the murder of Inesh Kavinda by visiting his residence, he is struck by the contrast between the victim’s clean, spare living quarters and the overrun, disorderly garden. Why does Brunetti find this so concerning? What kind of jarring incompatibility does he observe on Kavinda’s bookshelf? Do you agree with his assessment?
6. What was Inesh Kavinda’s status in Venice’s society? Which spheres of public life could he access, and which were closed to him? What personal connections supported and sustained him? Why do you think he remained in Italy for as long as he did?
7. What kinds of relationships does Carlo, the proprietor of the bookshop on Campo Santa Maria Nova, have with his customers? What kinds of insights does he glean from their reading preferences? What does he offer Brunetti about Inesh Kavinda?
8. “The firebrands of social equality and universal justice had moved on to a different world,” Brunetti thinks as he considers the lucrative careers pursued by once-radical friends from his student days, much as his father had once predicted (p. 147). Do you agree with this observation that young radicals eventually age into centrists or even conservatives? Why or why not?
9. What kind of person is Professore Renato Molin? What does he seem to value or appreciate? How does his “adult” persona square with his “student” one?
10. As Brunetti considers the effects of political rhetoric, he recalls an evening hosting university friends whose class-conscious views he particularly admired—and his mother’s stinging criticism of them after they left. Why did Brunetti’s mother find his friends’ words so hollow? What made her “invisible” to them? What parallels, if any, are there to the “invisibility” of the Toulouse statistician whose presentation Signorina Elettra attends?
11. “We knew everything about politics, my friends and I. Even at eighteen, we understood it all,” Vianello tells Brunetti and Griffoni when recounting an incident that nearly derailed his life (p. 219). What combination of factors caused him to behave the way he did? Was he aware of the risks involved? What ultimately saved him?
12. “Young people longed to change the world, regardless of the cost to themselves or others. Older people longed for the world not to change so there would be no cost to themselves” (p. 221). Do you agree with either or both of these statements? In what situations do they best apply? In what circumstances are they reversed, if ever?