Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Unto Us a Son Is Given

by Donna Leon

For the 28th novel in Donna Leon’s bestselling mystery series, the apparent indiscretion of an elderly family friend involves a reluctant Commissario Guido Brunetti . . . until the sudden natural death of his friend sets in motion a murder

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date March 05, 2019
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2911-6
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $26.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date March 05, 2019
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4682-3
  • US List Price $0.00

About the Book

“Your situation is always ambiguous, isn’t it, Guido?”, his father-in-law, Count Orazio Falier, observes of Donna Leon’s soulful detective, Guido Brunetti, at the beginning of her superb 28th Brunetti novel, Unto Us A Son Is Given. “The world we live in makes that necessary,” Brunetti presciently replies. Count Falier was urging his Venetian son-in-law to investigate, and preferably intervene in, the seemingly innocent plan of the Count’s best friend, the elderly Gonzalo Rodríguez de Tejada, to adopt a much younger man as his son. Under arcane Italian inheritance laws this man would then be heir to Gonzalo’s entire fortune, a prospect Gonzalo’s friends find appalling. For his part, Brunetti wonders why the old man, a close family friend, can’t be allowed his pleasure in peace.

And yet, what seems innocent on the Venetian surface can cause tsunamis beneath. Gonzalo unexpectedly, and literally, drops dead on the street, and his good friend Berta Dodson, just arrived in Venice for the memorial service, is strangled in her hotel room—having earlier sent Gonzalo an email saying “We are the only ones who know you cannot do this,” referring to the adoption. Now with an urgent case to solve, Brunetti reluctantly untangles the long-hidden mystery in Gonzalo’s life that ultimately led to murder—a resolution that brings him way more pain than satisfaction.

Once again, Donna Leon brilliantly plumbs the twists and turns of the human condition, reuniting us with some of crime fiction’s most memorable and enduring characters.

Praise for Unto Us a Son Is Given:

A New York Times Bestseller
Los Angeles Times Bestseller
A Library Journal Bestseller (Mystery)
Named One of the Year’s Best Crime Novels by Booklist
An Amazon Best Book of the Month (Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense)
A Most Anticipated Book of 2019 at Crime Reads

“Venetians love to gossip, Donna Leon advises us in Unto Us a Son Is Given, her latest mystery featuring that most compassionate of policemen, Guido Brunetti, Commissario di polizia. There’s bound to be talk when Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejeda, the rich Spanish godfather of Brunetti’s wife, Paola, adopts his lover and makes the young man his legal heir . . . This cop is neither jaded nor callous, and he has that rare quality Italians would call ‘un cuore d’oro,’ a heart of gold.”—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review

“Here is what makes the [Commissario Brunetti series] so special; Leon invests time in conversations. Often an entire chapter is a talk between two people that seems to be about nothing, but you are riveted to the page, wanting to here it. This is true in her latest book, Unto Us a Son Is Given . . . The books are interesting because of the crimes, the revelations of who really does all the work at the police station, the beauty of Venice with all of its traditions and charms, but it is the conversation over dinner or coffee or wine that hold everything together, and in this Leon excels, making ordinary words most extraordinary.”—Ashton Gazette

“Redolent, as always, with the sights, smells, sounds, and mealtimes of the water-immersed city . . . In Leon’s latest, a pleasantly deceptive lull—imposed by contemplative discussions of familial and non-familial obligations as well as a telling reading of Euripides’s The Trojan Women—is dissolved with deadly force.”—Seattle Review of Books

“Donna Leon’s latest Commissario Brunetti mystery is an intriguing look at love [and] family life. There is a mystery and a murder here, but they appear very late in this intriguing yarn . . . The real focus is on the intricate social realities and old rich families of Leon’s beautiful, mysterious and labyrinthine Venice.”—Providence Journal

“Donna Leon is a master at creating a sense of place; as a result, Venice shines through the pages of this novel. I can think of no other fictional detective with the heart and soul of Guido Brunetti, who is devoted to his family, his job, and his city. With vivid and intriguing narrative, Leon brings the reader right into the minds of the characters, and each one is more interesting than the next. Coupled with unexpected twists and turns Unto Us a Son Is Given doesn’t disappoint.”—Tulsa Book Review

“Another excellent mystery . . . If you are looking for a mystery series with lots of atmosphere and wonderful characters, you should try them. Donna Leon makes you feel like you are there, having a glass of white wine in a little bar—in Venice!”—Concord Insider

“Once again, Leon transforms what might have been a straightforward mystery into something much richer and more resonant—in this case, a meditation on love, loss, family, and prejudice . . . Many crime novels place domestic story lines alongside crime plots, but Leon masterfully blends the two, enhancing our understanding of both . . . Far more than a whodunit, the real subject of this novel (and Leon’s work in general) is what we all do to one another. Like Louise Penny, Leon has cultivated an utterly devoted audience, ever anxious to get to know more about her characters.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Each year brings the delight of a new Commissario Guido Brunetti novel, and this twenty-eighth book featuring the ever-reflective Venetian detective does not disappoint . . . As always, the skillful Leon weaves deft plot threads . . . Along the way, murder and perfidy abound, providing Brunetti with numerous investigative challenges. Ultimately, Brunetti muses about the profound nature of family ties and the danger of family secrets, inviting readers to do likewise.”—Library Journal (starred review)

Unto Us a Son Is Given takes a familiar detective and his wife and adds intriguing layers to their backstory. Fans of other quiet mystery authors, like Louise Penny or Jacqueline Winspear, are sure to enjoy Brunetti’s soul-searching. And, as always, Brunetti’s introspection is framed by the sights and tastes of Venice, which Leon brings to life.”—Shelf Awareness

“Leon gives her readers a murder, a mystery or three, and a great deal of other wonderful things in this twenty-eighth installment, which is arguably her best to date . . . Leon makes it look easy and continues to top herself time after time after time. Brunetti is an immediately likable and unforgettable protagonist . . . Even at this late date, Leon remains amazing. With each installment of the series, she continues to find and reveal new layers to her familiar characters and to Venice, which is full of quiet and enjoyable surprises . . .You can start with any volume, but if you begin with Unto Us a Son Is Given, you’ll want to devote time to reading the backlist. You won’t be able to help yourself.”—Book Reporter

“Leon is a multifaceted, effortlessly assured writer. Her plots are innovative and layered, her characters have developed and matured over the course of a lengthy series, and her prose is imbued with wit and compassion on virtually every page. If you are a fan of Louise Penny (and who isn’t?), Leon should be on your short list.”—BookPage

“As usual the mystery takes a back seat to Leon’s beautiful writing and the pleasure of spending time with Brunetti and company . . . Readers can trust her to guide them safely to dry land.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Donna Leon never disappoints, and Unto us a Son is Given is no exception. In this novel, Commissario Brunetti investigates the best friend of his father-in-law, who is contemplating adopting his adult, male lover to circumvent estate and inheritance laws. As always, the descriptions of Venice are beautiful, the discussions of relationships are thought-provoking and ring true, and the meals are hunger-inducing. Recommended for fans of Leon and Brunetti, obviously, as well as for those who like well-written police procedurals, foreign mysteries, and beautiful language.”—Mary Robinson, Vernon Area Public Library District, Lincolnshire, IL

Praise for Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries:

“[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

“Donna Leon’s Venetian mysteries never disappoint, calling up the romantic sights and sounds of La Serenissima even as they acquaint us with the practical matters that concern the city’s residents.”—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review

“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

1. As the novel opens, Brunetti is paying an after-work visit to Conte Falier, his father-in-law. How would you describe Brunetti’s relationship with his wife Paola’s side of the family? Do the disparities in social status and wealth, which once complicated their courtship, continue to affect family dynamics? In what ways is Brunetti’s situation “always ambiguous,” as his father-in-law describes it? (p. 6)

2. In what capacity does Brunetti know Gonzalo Rodríguez de Tejeda? What is Brunetti’s most recent impression of Gonzalo after a chance encounter on the street?

3. Brunetti feels uncomfortable about Conte Falier’s request to look into Gonzalo’s private life, in part because he is reluctant to use police resources. What ultimately leads him to agree to his father-in-law’s request? Is it love, a sense of indebtedness, familial obligation, or something else?

4. When Claudia Griffoni probes Brunetti’s instinctive disapproval of Gonzalo’s plan to adopt his lover, what does Brunetti realize about his own assumptions and predispositions? Does the realization help Brunetti overcome them?

5. Explaining to Chiara why her grandfather is concerned about Gonzalo’s use of the legal mechanism of adoption, Brunetti describes the unequal obligations stipulated by law for each of the parties. Do you think that accurately describes the reasons behind Conte Falier’s objection?

6. Who is Dami Padovani, and what are his assessments of Marchese di Torrebardo and of Gonzalo? Why is Padovani not a “reliable witness,” as he admits (p. 113), and why does Brunetti still trust him?

7. When Gonzalo visits Brunetti at the Questura, what does he share about his original plans to help Attilio? Why did they not come to fruition? What does Brunetti try to suggest as an alternative course of action, and why does Gonzalo reject it?

8. “The pity of the people we love is worse than the pity of strangers,” Gonzalo tells Brunetti (p. 126). Do you agree with the sentiment? Why? Brunetti reassures Gonzalo that he doesn’t pity him, but is that true of others who are trying to dissuade him from his plans?

9. How does Rudy Adler describe Berta Dodson and Gonzalo’s relationship? Why is Brunetti surprised to hear about it? Does it appear that any of Gonzalo’s other friends and family know Berta?

10. What is Brunetti’s impression of Berta Dodson? How does she treat Rudy, and how does she behave towards others around her?

11. Why does Brunetti call his old law school acquaintance Giovanni Constantini? What does the lawyer reveal about how Gonzalo’s estate will be distributed and how that distribution has been received by the various heirs?

12. What does Signorina Elettra’s discovery of a Spanish marriage certificate, and the lack of a divorce certificate, mean for Gonzalo’s adoption? Do you agree with Brunetti’s conclusion that Gonzalo fully anticipated that this fact would become known and that Attilio would never inherit, or was he counting on the fact that Berta would pre-decease him?

13. Ultimately, Brunetti discovers that his love for Gonzalo has withered into pity. Why? What is Brunetti’s greatest disappointment in the family friend? Why does he believe Gonzalo never had the capacity to love?