Blood From A Stone by Donna Leon (Book Review)

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Set in Venice
(Veneto)
© 2005

.

Donna Leon

The Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery Series

Blood From A Stone

Donna's comments about the book:  "BLOOD FROM A STONE, the newest of the books, deals with the problem of immigration in Venice. There are many many, hundreds probably of illegal immigrants from Senegal known as vú cumprá because they come and say ‘vú cumprá?, vú cumprá?’ ‘Do you wanna buy?’ They’re selling ripoff bags--Louis Vuitton, Missoni bags, Gucci bags which are fake and cost whatever you can bargain the price down to. In the beginning of the book, one of these black street vendors is murdered in what is obviously a contract hit and everybody in the city thinks well it’s mafia, it’s trouble, it’s racially motivated and then they find a way to quiet the whole thing up. Brunetti is unsatisfied with the explanation and discovers that there is something going on beyond what seems to be a vendetta among small groups. The more he investigates, the more he encounters evidence that it is something other than what people wanted to believe. And the more he discovers an attempt of a coverup of the murder of this black street vendor. What he discovers in the end takes the dealings of the book way beyond the limits of the city and well beyond the limits of the murder of one individual black street vendor.
I wanted to call it Vú Cumprá, which would be a great international title but my editor here said, ‘No, no, nobody’s going to understand Vú Cumprá call it something else. Well, I said BLOOD FROM A STONE, because it has to do with blood and it has to do with stones. "
(Transcribed from a video inverview shown on the Random House UK website, 2005)


JACKET NOTES:  On a cold Venetian night shortly before Christmas, a man is killed in a scuffle in Campo San Stefano. The closest witnesses to the event are the tourists who had been browsing the man's wares before his death - fake handbags of every designer label. Officially termed a venditore ambulante or extracomunitario, the dead man was working as a vu cumpra, one of the many Black Africans purveying goods outside normal shop hours and without work permits.

Arriving on the scene, Commissario Brunetti's response matches that of everybody involved: why would anyone kill a vú cumprá? With few social connections and little money, in-fighting amongst these workers is the obvious answer. But once Brunetti begins investigating this Venetian underworld, he discovers that matters of great value are at stake within the immigrant society.

Warned by Patta, his superior, to resist further involvement in the case, Brunetti only becomes more determined to unearth the truth behind this mysterious killing. However, reluctant as he is to let this event be smugly relegated to the category of 'not worth dealing with', how far will Brunetti be able to penetrate the murky subculture of Venice's illegal community?
(©William Heinemann)


Product Description: Blood from a Stone brings Donna Leon's celebrated character Commissario Guido Brunetti back on the scene: On a cold Venetian night shortly before Christmas, a street vendor is killed in a scuffle in Campo San Stefano. The closest witnesses to the event are the tourists who had been browsing the man's wares before his death-fake handbags of every designer label. The dead man is one of the many African immigrants purveying goods outside normal shop hours and trading without a work permit. Like everybody involved, Commissario Brunetti wonders why anyone would kill an illegal immigrant. But once Brunetti begins to investigate this unfamiliar Venetian underworld, he discovers that matters of great value are at stake within the secretive society. Warned by Patta, his superior, to resist further involvement in the case, Brunetti only becomes more determined to unearth the truth behind this mysterious killing. Reluctant as he is to let this event be smugly relegated to the category of "not worth dealing with," how far will Brunetti be able to penetrate the murky subculture in this illegal community? Blood from a Stone is an exquisite and irresistible mystery offering an unexpected take on life in contemporary Venice.
(© Atlantic Monthly Press)
Author Feedback
We recently posed the following question to Donna Leon:
 How did you do the research for this book?

Donna: As usual, I did the research by talking to people and reading the newspaper. I also spoke to the cops, who are leery of the subject of the vú cumprá. In passing years, more and more of them have appeared on the streets, and the people in the city are less tolerant, or at least that's my sense of what I hear in the bars.


Vú Cumprá selling designer handbags on Venice's Strata Nuova


BOOK REVIEW

Donna Leon’s 14th Guido Brunetti mystery novel explores contemporary issues in Italy and the magical city of Venice. She skillfully uses her good Commissario, his family, and his colleagues to make political and social statements about Italy and global problems.

The story begins with the execution-style murder of an illegal African street vendor in a busy Venetian campo while he was attempting to sell his fake designer handbags to a group of American tourists. (An African street seller is called a vú cumprá, which is an Italian slang term for you wanna buy? -- the official and more PC Italian term is extracomunitario.) Commissario Brunetti, called to investigate the killing, realizes just how little he knows about these illegal street sellers -- where they’re from, how they got to Italy, where they live, how they survive. With the help of his loyal sidekick Vianello, and the stunning, computer savvy Signorina Elettra, he gets a foothold on the case when he locates where the victim lived. He finds some critical evidence in the vú cumprá's apartment, but doesn't report it because he doesn't trust it in the hands of the police hierarchy. Just when he is making progress on the case, Vice Questore Patta, Brunetti’s annoying, slow-witted boss, orders him to stop the investigation which has been taken over by not one but two Italian ministries in Rome. Naturally, Brunetti, determined to find out what is behind all this intrigue, disobeys and has to tap into his connected and powerful father-in-law, Count Falier, in his search for answers.

The book is set at Christmas time in Venice. Leon describes the seasonal festivities in marvelous detail. As always, Brunetti’s wife Paola and kids Chiara and Raffi get a fair amount of stage time. We join them for gourmet lunches and dinners, go Christmas shopping with them, and witness major disagreements between mother and daughter. Leon is sympathetic to the plight of the vú cumprá and to the misfortunes of Africa. As usual, American tourists and the corrupt Italian bureaucracy come under here critical gaze.

In Blood from a Stone, we are introduced to some interesting characters -- Claudio Stein, who was close to Brunetti’s father during and after World War II; Don Alvise, a socially active ex-priest who left the church because of disagreements on giving assistance to African immigrants; Renato Sandrini, a resentful criminal defense attorney who owes Brunetti some favors and is married to the daughter of a local mafia don; and, Azir Mahani, an Iranian immigrant teenager who is Chiara's new friend.

This book is a must read. Donna Leon is such a marvelous writer.

  - Carlo Vennarucci, January-2005


Donna Leon Book List
Death at La Fenice | Death in a Strange Country | The Anonymous Venetian
A Venetian Reckoning | Acqua Alta | The Death of Faith | A Noble Radiance
Fatal Remedies | Friends in High Places | A Sea of Troubles
Wilful Behaviour | Uniform Justice | Doctored Evidence | Blood From A Stone
Through a Glass Darkly | 
Suffer the Little Children | The Girl of His Dreams | About Face
A Question of Belief | Drawing Conclusions | Beastly Things | The Golden Egg
By Its Cover | Falling in Love |  | The Waters of Eternal Youth

Interviews & Articles
MHz Networks Interview with Donna Leon
April 2013 Interview on BBC's Meet the Author
Exclusive Donna Leon Interview
Donna Leon 2003 Interview - La Maga Abbandonata CD
2009 Interview by The Gypsy's Guide Blog
La Serenissima (December 2005)
An American in Venice (Washington Post)
Amazon.de Interview
Meet The Author 2005
March 2005 Interview
New Zealand Herald Interview
Conversation about Acqua Alta (Penguin)
German Interview Translated into English
Swiss EducETH Interview (July-2004)
A Patron of the Arts of Opera and Murder
Barnes & Noble Interview
BBC Radio 4
CBS Sunday Morning
At Lunch With Donna Leon