Donna Leon has won heaps of critical praise and legions of fans for her best-selling mystery series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, one of contemporary crime fiction’s most beloved characters. With The Jewels of Paradise, Leon takes listeners beyond the world of the Venetian Questura in her first stand-alone novel.
Caterina Pellegrini is a native Venetian, and like so many of them, she’s had to leave home to pursue her career elsewhere, mostly abroad. With a doctorate in baroque opera from Vienna, she lands in Birmingham, England, as a research fellow and assistant professor. Birmingham, however, is no Venice, so when she gets word of a position back home, Caterina jumps at the opportunity. The job is an unusual one. After nearly three centuries, two locked trunks, believed to contain the papers of a once-famous, now largely forgotten baroque composer, have been discovered. The composer was deeply connected in religious and political circles, but he died childless, and now two Venetian men, descendants of his cousins, each claim inheritance. With rumors of a treasure, they aren’t about to share the possible fortune.
Caterina has been hired to attend the opening of the trunks and examine any enclosed papers to discover the “testamentary disposition” of the composer. But when her research takes her in unexpected directions and a silent man follows her through the streets, she begins to wonder just what secrets these trunks may hold.
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A "mystery" of a different sort, . .
jewel of a book
I have followed Leon through the Brunetti series and--dare I say it--she and I seemed to be getting a bit tired of his problems. This new stand-alone, though, was a delight. There are all the same insider tidbits about Venetian life and the historical references woven into the story were superb. The reader Cassandra Campbell is clearly a fluent speaker of Italian and it showed; no halting pronunciations as have made me wince in other books. Leon is supremely understanding and forgiving about the foibles and obsessions of human beings and this wonderful quality is clearly evident in this academic puzzle focusing on Caterina and her sisters. Brava!
- Cynthia Curran