Blood from a Stone by Donna Leon: A review

Corruption is rampant in Donna Leon's Venice. Venetians might have invented quid pro quo. It seems impossible to get anything done there without one hand washing the other, so to speak. 

That holds true for the police as well. That is the milieu in which Commissario Guido Brunetti must operate. It's what he must deal with to extract information, investigate crimes, and achieve justice for the victims. In fact, in these dark stories, there is very little justice achieved.

Leon always manages to bring a bit of current-day politics into her tales which contributes to their feeling of verisimilitude. In this case, her reference is to refugees and immigrants from Africa that are coming into Italy, some legally and some illegally. Some of the men work as street vendors. They buy knock-off handbags and then resell them to customers on the streets after shops are closed for the day. The community is tolerant toward them. They seem harmless and don't cause any trouble.

Then one of the men is assassinated while standing next to his wares and in the company of his fellow vendors. The time is just before Christmas and the streets are crowded but no one seems to have seen clearly what happened. Two American tourists were standing nearby and saw two men who, in retrospect, were clearly the assassins, but they are not able to give good descriptions.

Brunetti and his sidekick Vianelli investigate and, as usual, are aided by the computer-savvy Signorina Elettra. (Computers are still a mystery to Brunetti in this book first published in 2005. At some point, he's going to have to get a clue!) But soon Brunetti is warned off the case by his boss. No reason is given but Brunetti understands the exigencies of Venetian politics and how they affect the police. Especially his very politically sensitive boss.

Of course, he continues his investigation on the down-low and when he and Vianelli go to the man's apartment to search it, in a container of salt they find a hundred or more diamonds. Brunetti calls on outside experts to try to determine where the diamonds are from and learns that they are likely "blood diamonds". What to do with them?

Leon attempts to address a number of social issues in this one, including treatment of refugees and immigrants, incipient racism in Italian society, the disruptions to society as a result of a flood of immigrants from Africa, as well as the everyday tension between the honest cops and the corruption in government which they have to navigate. It's a lot to try to cover. Maybe too much. Sadly, I felt that the problems she was describing were very familiar because they have their counterparts in current American society.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  



  1. My wife tried one book by Donna Leon, but she didn't really enjoy it. She says she is going to give it another shot. I just enjoy enjoy reading your always excellent reviews.

    1. Thank you, David. I have mostly enjoyed Leon's series, although some books are better than others. I find they are more focused on the Brunetti family relationships and the gourmet meals they seem to sit down to twice a day than on the actual mysteries. Not everyone's cup of tea, I'm sure.


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