Donna Leon Interview - March 2005


Our thanks to Donna Leon, and to Cassie Chadderton at Random House for this interview.

Originally appeared at:

Can you tell us about your new book Blood from a Stone?

Blood from a Stone deals with the hundreds of vu cumpra - African street peddlers - who now fill the city, indeed, all Italian cities.

Was your use of the vu cumpra a deliberate social comment on Venice today? Is the policing of them as half-hearted as you depict?

It's more a social observation than a comment. My observation is that very little is done about them, that is, see that they ply their trade at places other than the most crowded streets of the city.

Like several of your books, the story ends with little feeling of justice having been served. Is this a personal view or one created for the purpose of the book?

No, I'm a pessimist at mind, perhaps an optimist at heart. I see little evidence of social or legal justice, not only in Italy but in much of the world.

How responsible do you believe Venice itself is for the popularity of your books; what is it about the city that particularly lends itself to the crime genre?

I believe many people are drawn to the books by the location, perhaps because it is difficult, given the astounding beauty of the place, to believe that people spend their time buying washing machines and reading the newspaper. I have, in the past, had people ask me if we had washing machines, by the way. It's really quite ridiculous to set a crime book in Venice, since there is so little crime. But there are those narrow streets, the darkness, the water, the beauty.

I adore Signorina Elettra! Faithful, intelligent, resourceful and just a little bit devious. Is she typical of Italian or Venetian women?

No, I don't think she's particularly Italian; she's just a very clever woman with an agenda of her own. Even I don't know what it is yet, but I know she's up to something. After all, it doesn't make any sense she'd work for the cops, does it?

You tend to stray from depicting brutal or bloody scenes; the violence occurs 'off-page'. Do you prefer the reader's imagination to supply the images rather than your words? Do too many crime books today feature violence and graphic descriptions of murder?

I'm as one with Aristotle on this one: do the bloody deed offstage and then have the messenger come in and describe it. Yes, we are surrounded, suffocated by scenes of violence. That's the real pornography, I fear.

I have read that you dislike true crime books and mass tourism. Why is this? Do you resent the hoards of visitors who descend on Venice each year?

It's not that I particularly dislike true crime books: I simply fail to understand why anyone would want to read one. I have no right to resent anything that happens here (Venice). I don't like having my way blocked by milling crowds, whether it's here or anywhere else. It has come to me recently that there is something obscene about the combination of shopping and Venice. Think of it, a person has two days in a lifetime to see Venice, and they spend one of them shopping.

Venice is an incredibly beautiful city, and you use it to great atmospheric advantage - do you have to restrain yourself from getting carried away with huge descriptive passages?

It's easy: less is more.

How much research do you do for your books? Do you have a contact in the Italian police who assists with the procedural aspects?

Nope. I'm really not interested in all that police stuff. What I'm interested in is how things get done or get made. For Acqua Alta, I read about ceramic and art fraud for six months, and it's now been months that I've been going out to Murano a couple times a week to get a feel of the place for the next book.

I believe there is an interesting story about how you became a crime writer.

I was at an opera rehearsal at La Fenice with a friend who was conducting there. He and his wife began to speak badly of a recently-deceased conductor, and we began thinking of how to kill him in the dressing room. I found it a good idea for a crime book, so I wrote one.

In a few interviews in the past you have mentioned that your books are not translated into Italian, and won't be. Is this still the case? Why do you not wish it?

I like living like a normal, anonymous person. All of the articles that have appeared in the Italian press have displayed no familiarity with the books themselves, but they have all waxed on indignantly about how it's not nice for a foreigner to say these things about Italy. I agree with the second, but I'd prefer to know which things, in which books, they object to, but as they have not read the books, they fail to provide that information.

Other than writing, what are your passions in life?

Baroque opera and badgers. I work with Il Complesso Barocco, an Italian Baroque opera company, producing and recording Handel's operas. And I support badger protection societies, probably because badgers are so playful and so well-dressed.

© Donna Leon, Cassie Chadderton and Random House.

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) 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

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Mystery Series
Set in Italy


Donna Leon
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