Donna Leon’s Death at La Fenice, the first novel in her beloved Commissario Guido Brunetti series, introduced readers to the glamorous and cutthroat world of opera and one of Italy’s finest living sopranos, Flavia Petrellithen a suspect in the poisoning of a renowned German conductor. Years after Brunetti cleared her name and saved the life of her female American lover in Acqua Alta, Flavia has returned to Venice and La Fenice to sing the lead in Tosca, and Brunetti has tickets to an early performance.
The night he and his wife, Paola, attend, Flavia gives a stunning performance to a standing ovation. Back in her dressing room, she finds bouquets of yellow rosestoo many roses. Every surface of the room is covered with them. An anonymous fan has been showering Flavia with these beautiful gifts in London, St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, and now, Venice, but she no longer feels flattered. A few nights later, invited by Brunetti to dine at his in-laws’ palazzo, Flavia confesses her alarm at these excessive displays of adoration. Brunetti promises to look into it. And when a talented young Venetian singer who has caught Flavia’s attention is savagely attacked, Brunetti begins to think that Flavia’s fears are justified in ways neither of them imagined. He must enter in the psyche of an obsessive fan before Flavia, or anyone else, comes to harm.
About the Author
Donna Leon is the author of the highly acclaimed, internationally bestselling Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series. The winner of the CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction, among other awards, Leon has lived in Venice for thirty years and now divides her time between Venice and Switzerland.
Date of Birth:February 28, 1942
Place of Birth:Montclair, New Jersey
Education:B.A., 1964; M.A. 1969; postgraduate work in English literature
Read an Excerpt
The woman knelt over her lover, her face, her entire body, stiff with terror, staring at the blood on her hand. He lay on his back, one arm flung out, palm upturned as if begging her to place something into it; his life, perhaps. She had touched his chest, urging him to get up so they could get out of there, but he hadn't moved, so she had shaken him, the same old sleepy-head who never wanted to get out of bed.
Her hand had come away red and, without thinking, she pressed it to her mouth to stifle her scream, knowing she must make no noise, not let them know she was there. Then horror overcame her caution, and she screamed his name again and again, telling herself he was dead, and it was all over; like this, in blood.
She looked at where her hand had been and saw the red blotches: how had so much blood come from them, so small, so small? She rubbed her clean hand across her mouth, and it came away coloured with the blood on her face. Panicked, seeing the blood, she spoke his name. All over, all over. She said his name again, this time louder, but he could no longer hear or answer her, or anyone. Unthinking, she leaned forward to kiss him, grabbed at his shoulders in a vain attempt to shake some life into him, but there was to be no more life, for either one of them.
A loud cry from the leader of the gang that had killed him came from her left, and she pressed her hand to her breast. Fear drove out speech, and she could only grunt 'Ah, ah', like an animal in pain. She turned her head and saw them, heard their shouting but had no idea what they were saying: all she knew was terror and, suddenly, fear for herself, now that he was dead, and for what they wanted to do to her.
She pushed herself to her feet and moved away from him: no looking back. He was dead, and it was all gone: all hope, all promise spent and dry.
The men, four of them on the left, then five more from the right, came out on to the littered rooftop where the murder had taken place. The leader of the pack shouted something, but she was beyond hearing him or hearing anyone or anything. She knew only the need to escape, but they had her blocked in from both sides. She turned and saw behind her the edge of the roof, no other building in sight: no place to go, no place to hide.
There was choice, but there was really no choice: death was better than any of this, either what had just happened or what was sure to happen once they got their hands on her. She stumbled once, twice, as she ran towards the ledge, stepped up on to it with unexpected grace and turned back to look at the men who were running towards her. 'O Scarpia, avanti a Dio,' she cried, turned, and leaped.
The music crashed out and then continued to boom around a bit, as it always did at the end of this shabby little shocker, and then there was a long moment of stunned silence as the audience realized what they had just heard and seen. Not since Callas – and that had been half a century ago – had anything like this Tosca been seen or heard. Tosca had really killed Scarpia, the chief of police, hadn't she? And her lover really had been shot by those creeps in uniform? And she'd really jumped into the Tiber. By God, the woman could act and, even better, she could sing. It's completely real: the murder, the fake execution that turned out to be real, and her final leap when there was nothing left and nothing to lose. It's romantic balderdash, the whole thing is beyond parody, but then why was the audience sitting there clapping the skin off their hands and shouting like banshees?
The curtains slowly parted at the centre, and Flavia Petrelli slipped through the narrow space. She wore red, redder than red, and a tiara that had apparently survived her plummet into the river. She looked out at the audience, and stunned delight slowly lit up her face. For me? All that noise for me? Her smile grew, and one of her hands – somehow magically free of blood or whatever had been used to resemble it – rose to the exposed flesh above her breasts and pressed at her heart, as if to force it to remain in place in the midst of all this excitement.
She took her hand away and opened one arm as if to embrace them all, then the other, exposing her entire body to the assault of the applause. Then both hands again found their way to her breast, and she sank in a graceful motion, half bow, half genuflection. The applause increased, and voices, both male and female, shouted out 'Brava', or, for those who were either blind or not Italian, 'Bravo'. She didn't seem to mind, so long as they shouted. Another bow, and then she raised her face as if to bathe it in the cascade of applause.
The first rose, long-stemmed and yellow as the sun, fell just in front of her. Her foot pulled back from it involuntarily, as if she were afraid of doing it an injury, or it her, and then she bent, so slowly as to make her motion seem studied, almost practised, to pick it up. She pressed it to her bosom and crossed her hands upon it. Her smile had faltered when she saw it – 'This is for me? For me?' – but the face she raised to the upper balconies gleamed with joy.
As if summoned by her reaction, the roses continued to fall: first two, then three more, tossed individually from the right side, and then more and more, until dozens of them lay at her feet, turning her into a Joan of Arc, brushwood rising to her ankles, and above.
Flavia smiled into the thunder of the applause, bowed again, stepped back from the roses, and slipped through the curtains. A few moments later, she emerged, holding her no-longer dead lover by the hand. Like the shouts of Scarpia's henchmen, the applause mounted at the sight of him, heading towards that delirium that so often rose at the sight of a handsome young tenor who had all the high notes and used them generously. Both of them looked nervously below them, trying to avoid stepping on the carpet of roses, then they abandoned the attempt and crushed them underfoot.
Responding instinctively to some note in the applause that told her it was for him, Flavia took a step backwards and joined in, raising her hands high as she clapped with the audience. Just at the moment when the applause started to diminish, she stepped up beside him, took his arm and leaned into his side, then kissed him briefly on the cheek, the companionable peck one gives a brother or a good colleague. He, in his turn, grabbed her hand and thrust their joined hands above their heads, as if announcing the winner of a contest.
The tenor took one step back to make room for her, crushing more roses, and she slipped in front of him and through the curtains; he followed her. After a moment, the resurrected Scarpia, the front of his brocade jacket still incarnadined, stepped through the curtains and moved to the right, avoiding most of the roses. He bowed, bowed again, and crossed his hands on his bloody chest to show his thanks, then, returning to the opening in the curtain, he reached in and withdrew Flavia, whose other hand was attached to the hand of the young tenor. Scarpia led the conga line of three no-longer-dead people to the right, crushing the blossoms, the hem of Flavia's gown sweeping them aside. They raised their linked hands, bowing together, their faces equally radiant and transformed by pleasure and gratitude at the audience's appreciation.
Flavia unhooked herself from the two men and slipped behind the curtain again, this time to emerge hand in hand with the conductor. He was the youngest person on the stage, but his self-possession matched that of his older colleagues. He walked forward, not even noticing the roses, and scanned the audience. He smiled and bowed, then waved the orchestra to its feet for their share of the applause. The conductor bowed again, then stepped back and placed himself between Flavia and the tenor. The four of them moved forward and bowed, then again, always pleased and grateful. The level of applause diminished minimally; sensitive to this, Flavia waved happily to the audience, as if she were about to board a train or a ship, and led her male colleagues behind the curtain. The applause tapered, and when the singers did not appear again, trickled to a halt, until one male voice rose up from the first balcony, shouting, 'Evviva Flavia,' a cry which evoked some wild clapping, and then silence and only the sound of murmurs and low talk as the audience wormed its way towards the exits.CHAPTER 2
Behind the curtain, the acting stopped. Flavia walked away from the three men without a word and made towards her dressing room. The tenor looked after her with the same sort of look that had animated Cavaradossi's face when he thought of her 'dolci baci, o languide carezze', the loss of which would be worse than death. Scarpia pulled out his telefonino to call his wife and tell her he'd be at the restaurant in twenty minutes. The conductor, who had no interest in Flavia save that she obey his tempi and sing well, left his colleagues with a silent nod and headed for his own dressing room.
Halfway down the corridor, Flavia caught the heel of her shoe in the hem of her scarlet gown and lurched forward, managing to save herself from falling only by lunging towards one of the costume assistants. The young woman proved surprisingly strong, as well as quick-thinking: she wrapped her arms around the singer and managed to support her weight and thrust without being knocked to the ground.
As soon as Flavia was steady on her feet, she pulled herself free of the younger woman, asking, 'Are you all right?'
'It's nothing, Signora,' the assistant said, reaching across her body to rub at her shoulder.
Flavia placed a hand on the woman's forearm. 'Thank you for catching me,' she said.
'I didn't really think about it: I just grabbed you.' Then, after a moment, 'One fall is enough for tonight, don't you think?'
Flavia nodded, thanked her again, and continued down the corridor to her dressing room. She started to open the door but paused, shaking in delayed reaction to her near-fall and with the adrenalin rush that always followed performances. Feeling slightly faint, she rested her other hand against the jamb and closed her eyes. Moments passed, and then the sound of voices at the other end of the corridor energized her, and she opened the door and went in.
Roses here, roses there, roses, roses everywhere. She caught her breath at the sight of the flowers, every surface covered with vases filled with dozens of them. She stepped into the room and closed the door. Motionless, she studied the sea of yellow, growing even more uneasy when she noticed that the vases were not the usual catch-alls that most theatres kept for such occasions: chipped, even paint-smeared, some of them obviously taken from the prop room to be put to less visible use.
'Oddio,' she muttered, going back through the open door. Her usual dresser stood to the left, a dark-haired woman old enough to be the mother of the costume assistant who had saved her from falling. As she had after every performance, she'd come to take Flavia's costume and wig back to the storeroom.
'Marina,' Flavia ventured, 'did you see who brought these flowers?' She waved vaguely and stepped back to let her into the room.
'Oh, che belle,' Marina exclaimed when she saw them. 'How much they must have cost. There's dozens and dozens.' Suddenly she, too, noticed the vases and asked, 'Where'd those come from?'
'Don't they belong to the theatre?'
Marina shook her head. 'No. We don't have anything like that. They're real.' Seeing Flavia's confusion, she pointed to a tall vase of alternating white and transparent stripes. 'Glass, I mean. That one's Venini,' she said. 'Lucio used to work there. I can tell.'
'I don't understand,' Flavia said, wondering how the conversation had led to this. She turned her back on the woman and said, 'Can you unzip me?'
She raised her arms, and Marina helped her step out of the shoes and then the costume. Flavia pulled her dressing gown from the back of a chair and sat in front of the mirror and, almost without thinking, began to wipe at the thick makeup. Marina hung the dress on the back of the door and stood behind Flavia to help her remove her wig. She slipped her fingers under the back and prised it from Flavia's head, then peeled away the tight rubber cap that covered her hair. As soon as her head was free, Flavia dug her fingers into her hair and scratched her head for a full minute, sighing with relief and pleasure.
'Everybody says that's the worst part,' Marina said. 'The wig. I don't know how all of you stand it.'
Flavia spread her fingers and ran them through her hair repeatedly, knowing it would dry quickly in the overheated room. It was as short as a boy's, one of the reasons she was so seldom recognized on the street, her fans having in mind the long-haired beauty they saw on stage, not this woman with a short cap of curly hair in which there were already faint traces of grey. She rubbed harder, enjoying the continued relief as her hair dried.
The phone rang; with some reluctance, she answered with her name.
'Signora, could you tell me how much longer you'll be?' a man's voice asked.
'Five minutes,' she answered, the response she always gave, whether she would be that amount of time or half an hour longer. They'd wait.
'Dario,' she said before he could hang up. 'Who brought those flowers?'
'They came on a boat.'
Well, since they were in Venice, it was unlikely they'd come any other way, but she said only, 'Do you know who sent them? Whose boat it was?'
'I don't know, Signora. There were two men, and they brought everything to the door here.' Then, after a moment, he added, 'I didn't see the boat.'
'Did they give a name?'
'No, Signora. I thought that ... well, I thought that, with so many flowers, you'd know who they came from.'
Ignoring this, Flavia repeated, 'Five minutes,' and replaced the phone. Marina had gone, taking the gown and the wig with her, leaving Flavia to the silence and solitude of the dressing room.
She stared at her reflection, grabbed a handful of tissues and wiped her face until most of the makeup was gone. Remembering that there would be people waiting for her at the exit, she lined her eyes with mascara and smoothed some makeup over the signs of tiredness under her eyes. She picked a lipstick from the table and applied it carefully. A wave of tiredness swept over her, and she closed her eyes to wait for the adrenalin to fight it away and buoy her up again. She opened her eyes and studied the objects on the table, then took the cotton shoulder bag from the drawer and swept everything – makeup, comb, brush, handkerchief – into it. She no longer carried anything of value into the theatre – into any theatre. Once, in Covent Garden, her coat had been stolen; at the Palais Garnier, it had been her address book, the only thing taken from the purse she had left in a drawer. Who in God's name would want her address book, and given the fact that she had had it for ages, who would be able to decipher the hodgepodge of cancelled names and addresses, updated email addresses and phone numbers that kept her in touch with other members of this strange geographically liquid profession of hers? Luckily, most of the addresses and numbers were also in her computer, but it had taken her weeks to get some of the others back. Then, unable to find an address book she liked, she decided to trust to her computer and prayed that no virus or crash would sneak in and erase them all.
It was only the third performance in the run, so there were sure to be people waiting. She pulled on a pair of black tights and put on the skirt and sweater she had worn to the theatre. Slipping on her shoes, she took her coat from the closet and wrapped a woollen scarf – red as her dress had been – around her neck: Flavia often referred to her scarves as her hijab: she could never leave the house without wearing one.
At the door, she paused and looked back into the room: was this the reality that came to replace the dream of success? she wondered. A small, impersonal room, used for a time by one person, the next month by another; a single wardrobe; a mirror surrounded – just as in the movies – by light bulbs; no carpet on the floor; a small bathroom with shower and sink. And that was it: if you had this, you were a star, she supposed. She had it, so she must be a star. But she didn't feel like one, only like a woman in her forties – she forced herself to say – who had just worked like a dog for more than two hours and now had to go and smile at nameless people who wanted a part of her, wanted to be her friend, her confidant; for all she knew, her lover.
And all she wanted to do was go to a restaurant and eat and drink something and then go home, call both of her children to see how they were and to say goodnight to them, and when the rush of performance began to dissipate and normal life started slipping back, go to bed and see if she could sleep. During productions where she knew or liked her colleagues, she looked forward to the conviviality of dinner after the show, of jokes and stories about agents and managers and theatre directors, of being in the company of those with whom she had just experienced the miracle of making music. But here, in Venice, a city where she had spent a great deal of time and where she should know a lot of people, she had no desire to mingle with her colleagues: a baritone who spoke only of his success, a conductor who disliked her and found the feeling hard to disguise, and a tenor who seemed to have fallen in love with her – and she looked herself in the eye when she maintained this silently – with certainly no encouragement from her. Not only was he little more than a decade older than her son; he was far too innocent to interest her as a person.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Falling in Love"
Copyright © 2015 Donna Leon and Diogenes Verlag AG Zurich.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Detective Brunetti is back. I think this is Donna Leon's best ever. The story begins with the opera Tosca. Brunetti and his wife are at the opera hearing Flavia Petrelli singing the role of Tosca. And from there the fun begins. If you love opera, you will enjoy the latest in the Detective Brunetti series. All the characters are back too. Highly recommend and you will not be disappointed.
so nice.A capable author and a detective who is normal, likable, with Characters well delineated. I' m so tired of detectives whose ten thousand Psychoses stretch simple plots out to a thousand pages. This is a good Read with a good guide.
Commissario Brunetti is back where we met him, the opera house. There is a mystery, but not much crime. A meditation on love, friendship and family life.
Beautifully plotted, with characters that are easy to believe in and care about, and conversations that manage to be both menorable and entirely natural.
Flavia Petrelli, a renowned opera singer, appeared in the very first Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery, in which he saved her life. Now, 27 novels later, she reappears singing Tosca at the Venice opera house, La Fenice. In the first book, she was a suspect in the poisoning of a renowned German conductor. Now, she is the victim of an unidentified admirer who inundates her with yellow roses, not only in Venice, but in London and St. Petersburg, where she had sung earlier. The plot unfolds as the soprano becomes more and more concerned about the flowers, especially when she arrives at the apartment she is temporarily occupying and finds more roses. How was the person who delivered them able to enter the building? The Commissario and his wife, Paola, attend an early performance and meet with the singer following the opera and invite her to dinner at his titled in-laws. During dinner, Brunetti learns of her fears and begins to connect her apprehensions with another case he is investigating, that of an assault on a young woman who was pushed down the steps of a bridge resulting in a broken arm and stitches on her head. The story gives the author the means to not only highlight Venice and its attributes, as is usual in the series, but also the world of opera and the mind of a stalker, as he narrows his efforts to nab the culprit before any further harm occurs. Somehow, some of the endearing aspects of prior novels are downplayed in this latest effort. Brunetti’s prodigious appetite is muted, relegated too often to the equivalent of fast food restaurants; the more-than-adequately described succulent meals (and recipes) Paola prepares are seemingly offered as an afterthought; the tender relationship between husband and wife is almost ignored as well as the precociousness of the son and daughter, much less the conversations over the dinner (or luncheon) table we have come to love. While these are charming, their lack hardly takes away from the Commissario’s skills as a detective as he pursues the case. The novel is well worth reading, and recommended.