Earthly Remains by Donna Leon


I’m always surprised when the Naperville Public Library not only has something I want to read, but I’m not the 863d hold on one of three copies. And so it is that I have been able to settle down with an aching jaw, an ample supply of Motrin, a pot of tea, and Earthly Remains, Donna Leon’s latest mystery with Commissario Guido Brunetti.

What a pleasure it is to spend the evening with him, this old “friend” from previous novels. In the beginning of this book, he has just been diagnosed with the need for rest and relaxation from work and is preparing to leave his office for Sant’Erasmo in the south. How I long to accompany him and partake in his plans of rowing, or reading in bed with a fresh cup of coffee should it rain.

He is staying at a villa his wife’s aunt owns, and there he befriends Signor Davide Casati, a man whom Brunetti discovers once rowed with his own father. The skill with which this older man is able to guide the boat is compared to the old peasant in Anna Karenina with whom Levin scythes, barely able to keep up. Such a beautiful comparison, in my literary mind’s eye.

But after a terrible storm, neither Casati nor his boat are able to be found. Where could he be? Checking on his bees in their various hives all around Venice? Talking with his deceased wife at the cemetery? Brunetti calls in reinforcements to help investigate his friend’s disappearance, which, of course, is ultimately a death.

“While he waited, Brunetti went and looked out the window and allowed anomalous information to move around in his mind: a few dead bees in a plastic vial, the Aral Sea, two thousand Euros a week, dark mud in another vial. If they were pieces on a board, would he be able to move them round so that they formed a picture?”

Of course Commissario Brunetti carefully puts together the pieces, moving them around so that an answer emerges, and in the course of his detective work reminds us of the honor, and dishonor, within each of us. Although surely some, who have grown accustomed to luxurious comfort, are able to excuse their dishonorable side which can lead to murder.

While this novel is carefully executed, each piece of the mystery ringing true to current crises, my favorite part of Donna Leon’s writing is how she is able to make me dwell in Venice. Even if only for a night.

21 thoughts on “Earthly Remains by Donna Leon”

  1. Love this series too. I have been trying to read them in order of publication so it may be awhile before I reach this one. Cheers!


    1. I think that is a good idea, to read them in order of publication. I was going to do that with Louise Penny’s books, too, but somehow I seem to pick up the one at hand. Still, it’s nice to become familiar with the characters. I remember how much I loved Spenser, hero of Robert B. Parker’s series.


    1. Especially when one needs an escape, physically or mentally! This was a perfect read after oral surgery, as well as after a steady stream of (often heavy) translated books for the MBIP 2017. Not that I didn’t love reading the long list, mind you. Glad you appreciate Venice with me!


  2. A nice Sunday to you Meredith 😊
    Venice holds special meaning for me. I will have to look up this latest Donna Leon. Thank you for your review. Feel better.
    Here is a Historical novel I acquired through NetGalley and the publisher Delphinium Books, “THE MAPMAKER’S DAUGHTER” by Katherine Nouri Hughes.
    You might like this book, Venice in the 16 century and a young woman who became the most powerful woman in the Ottoman Empire.
    I do not believe it is published as of now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have found the book you suggest on Net Galley, and requested it, though I doubt they’ll grant me access as I review so little from their site. Oops.

      A very Happy Sunday to you, Sylvie, and thanks for the comment accompanying your suggestion. I love books set in Italy! (And, of course, France!)


  3. Hope you are feeling better, M! Having returned just yesterday from Venice, I can say this was a wonderful surprise o find on your blog 🙂 I enjoy the series, so this will be on my must read list. I was planning to read something Venice related while in Venice, but this time it did not work. I was so tired of walking and strolling and sightseeing that I could hardly read a few pages by a Romanian writer, so it’s not about what you plan, it’s about what you fancy at that time :)) Get well and have a blessed week!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ally, I’m so happy (and envious in a good way!) that you were actually there! I haven’t been to Venice since the mid 80’s, and I so miss it. It’s funny how Leon’s character whines a bit about the tourists, which must be a little frustrating for the Venetians, but how can they keep us away?

      I know what you mean about needing the right book for the right time. For example, when I’m reading a book set in a certain country, I always long for the food from there! I have developed a huge passion for samosas and biryani, I must admit, which accompanies a passion for Italian food. And German. Oh, I’m always hungry. 😉


  4. I’m reading my first Donna Leon right now and enjoying it very much! I love starting a new series and having so many more of her books to look forward to!


  5. I know just what you mean about being the 8ooth person on a waiting list at the library! I, too, prefer to pick up what’s in front of me, rather than wait a year. I’m in the mood for some relaxation lit and will ahve to try Donna Leon.


  6. I know you may not want to discuss the ending of Donna Leon’s “Earthly Remains,” since many of your followers haven’t read the book yet, but, having just finished the novel last night, I am troubled by the ending and cannot for the life of me get it out of my mind. I know that life is messy, that things don’t always wrap up in a nice, neat bow, and that justice is often not served. Brunetti seems to embody these contradictions. On the one hand, his humanity wants to spare Frederica from learning the truth about her father Casati, a guilt-ridden, but repentant man. On the other, he has always been dogged in the pursuit of what’s right, but here he seems resigned, that, in spite of wanting to do something, there is nothing he can do. This depresses me. Is this the fate of the earth? I can’t believe Ms. Leon would want us to feel that way.


    1. Mike, I wish I could remember the ending (novel) more accurately, and therefore respond to your comment more articulately. But, I do recall feeling discouraged when I finished the book as well. There was not a lot of hope in it; weren’t all the elderly men in the home guilty of conspiracy to a great fault? That’s what I seem to recall, and I think Ms. Leon is “simply” pointing out the fact that we are fallen. That sometimes, sadly, good does not prevail despite our best efforts.

      Does that ring true for your interpretation?


      1. Yes, both men had been seriously injured in the same accident that so brutally scared Casati. The two were placed in a luxurious nursing home to live out their lives (Casati declined), with their company, in order to hide its crimes, paying out millions of euros for their care. Those two provided Brunetti and Griffoni with the details of the industrial accident that had occurred. That company had been polluting the Laguna, which all three men were involved in. In the end, Brunetti decided not to pursue Casati’s murderer nor the criminal activities of GCM Holdings.

        In an interview in the Guardian, Ms. Leon spoke of her passion concerning our planet. It just surprised (and disappointed) me that she would not have Brunetti do something about the degradation of the Laguna. So, yes, I think I agree with your interpretation.

        BTW, I didn’t notice that your original post and the comments of your followers were over a year old before I posted my comment. Anyway, thanks for replying to me. I’m going to encourage some of my friends to read this book so we can discuss it.


        1. I wonder why she didn’t have Brunetti pursue the murderer or the criminal activities. Maybe her focus was only to bring it all to our attention. Surely she can’t be saying that nothing can be done. I would be interested to hear what your friends think should they read it, too. It’s interesting enough having this short discussion with you. Again, my apologies for not being terribly clear in my recollection of it.


          1. I think it says a lot about Italy, where corruption is a way of life. It also says something about the great city of Venice. This book, more than just about any of her others in this phenomenal series, is about the moral, economic, and physical erosion of a city. It’s no wonder Brunetti needed to get away for some reading and rowing, and nice that Paola was so understanding. I missed her in this book, but I expect she’ll be back. It’s nice chatting with you!!

            Liked by 1 person

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