It all begins with an early morning phone call. In the chill of the Venetian dawn, a sudden act of vandalism shatters the quiet of the city, and Brunetti is shocked to find that the culprit waiting to be apprehended at the scene is his own wife, Paola. She has taken a stand against a travel agency known for a certain kind of shady tourism. Meanwhile, at work, Brunetti is under pressure from his superiors to solve a daring robbery with a link to a suspicious accidental death. Does it all lead back to the Mafia? And how are his family’s actions connected to these crimes?
About the Author
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 walked quietly into the empty campo. To her left stood the grill-covered windows of a bank, empty and sleeping the well-protected sleep that comes in the early hours of the morning. She crossed to the centre of the campo and stood beside the low-hung iron chains enclosing the monument to Daniele Manin, who had sacrificed himself for the freedom of the city. How fitting, she thought.
She heard a noise to her left and turned towards it, but it was nothing more than one of the Guardia di San Marco and his German shepherd, a gap-mouthed dog that looked too young and too friendly to present any real threat to thieves. If the guard thought it strange to see a middle-aged woman standing still in the middle of Campo Manin at three fifteen in the morning, he gave no sign of it and went about his business of wedging orange paper rectangles into the frames of doors and near the locks of the shops, proof that he had made his rounds and found their premises undisturbed.
When the guard and his dog left, the woman moved away from the low chain and went to stand in front of a large glass display window on the far side of the square. In the dim light from inside she studied the posters, read the prices listed for the various special offers, saw that MasterCard, Visa, and American Express were all accepted. Over her left shoulder, she carried a blue canvas beach bag. She pivoted her body and the weight of what was in the bag swung it round to the front. She set it on the ground, glanced down into it, and reached in with her right hand.
Before she could remove anything, she was so startled by footsteps from behind her that she yanked her hand from the bag and stood upright. But it was nothing more than four men and a woman, just off the number 1 boat that stopped at Rialto at three fourteen, now crossing the campo on their way to some other part of the city. None of them paid any attention to the woman. Their footsteps died away as they walked up, then down the bridge that led into Calle della Mandola.
Again, she bent and reached into the bag and this time her hand came out with a large rock, one that had stood for years on the desk in her study. She'd brought it back from a vacation on a beach in Maine more than ten years before. The size of a grapefruit, it fitted perfectly into her gloved palm.
She looked down at it, raised her hand, even tossed the stone up and down a few times, as if it were a tennis ball and her turn to serve. She looked from the rock to the window and again to the rock.
She stepped back from the window until she was about two metres from it and turned until she stood sideways, but still looking at the window. She pulled her right hand back level with her head and raised her left arm as counterweight, just as her son had taught her to do one summer when he had tried to teach her to throw like a boy, not a girl. For an instant it occurred to her that her life, at least part of it, would perhaps be divided in half by her next action, but she dismissed the idea as melodramatic self-importance.
In one sweeping motion she brought her hand forward with all her strength. At the full extension of her arm she released the rock, then staggered forward a half-step, powerless to resist the momentum of her own motion. Because the step pulled her head down, the fragments of glass that exploded from the shattering window landed in her hair and did her no injury.
The stone must have found some inherent fault line in the glass, for instead of punching out a small hole its own size, it shattered open a triangle two metres high and almost as wide. She waited until there was no more sound of falling glass, but that had no sooner stopped than from the back room of the office in front of her the sharp double-wail of a burglar alarm blared out into the silent morning. She stood upright and plucked absently at the shards of glass that stuck to the front of her coat, then shook her head wildly, as if just rising up from under a wave, to free it of the glass she could feel trapped there. She stepped back, picked up her bag and placed the straps over her shoulder, then, suddenly aware of how weak her knees had become, went and sat on one of the low pillars that anchored the metal chains.
She hadn't really considered what the hole would be like, but she was surprised to see it was so big, large enough for a man to walk through. Cobwebs in the shattered glass ran from the hole towards the four corners; the glass around the hole was milky and opaque, but the sharp shards that pointed inward were no less dangerous for that.
Behind her, in the top-floor apartment to the left of the bank, lights went on, then in the one that stood directly above the still wailing alarm. Time passed, but she was curiously uninterested in it: whatever was going to happen would happen, no matter how long or short a time it took for the police to get there. The noise bothered her, however. Its sharp double bleat destroyed the peace of the night. But then, she thought, that's what all this is about, the destruction of peace.
Shutters were flung out, three heads appeared and as quickly disappeared, more lights came on. Sleep was impossible so long as the alarm continued to scream out that crime was afoot in the city. After about ten minutes two policemen came running into the campo, one with his pistol in his hand. He went to the hole in the shattered window and called out, 'Whoever's in there, come out. This is the police.'
Nothing happened. The alarm continued.
He called out again, but when there was still no response he turned to his partner, who shrugged and shook his head. The first one put his pistol back into its holster and moved a step closer to the shattered window. Above him, a window opened and someone called out, 'Can't you turn that damn thing off?' Then another angry voice called down, 'I want to get some sleep.'
The second policeman approached his partner and they peered in together, then the first raised a foot and kicked away the tall stalagmites of glass that rose up dangerously from the base of the frame. Together they climbed inside and disappeared into the back. Minutes passed and nothing happened. Then, in the same instant, the lights in the office went out and the alarm stopped.
They came back into the main room, one of them now leading the way with a flashlight. They looked around to see if anything appeared to be missing or destroyed, then stepped back through the hole in the window into the campo. It was then that they noticed the woman sitting on the stone pillar.
The one who had pulled out his pistol went towards her. 'Signora, did you see what happened?'
'What? Who was it?' Hearing his questions, the other policeman came up and joined them, pleased that they had so easily found a witness. That would speed things up, prevent their having to ring doorbells and ask questions, get them a description and out of this damp autumn cold, back to the warmth of the Questura to write up the report.
'Who was it?' the first one asked.
'Someone threw a rock through the window,' the woman said.
'What did he look like?'
'It wasn't a man,' she answered.
'A woman?' the second one interrupted and she stopped herself from asking if there were perhaps some other alternative she didn't know about. No jokes. No jokes. There were not going to be any more jokes, not until all this was over.
'Yes, a woman.'
With a sharp look at his partner, the first one resumed his questions. 'What did she look like?'
'She was in her early forties, blonde hair, shoulder-length.'
The woman's hair was tucked inside a scarf, so at first the policemen didn't get it. 'What was she wearing?' he asked.
'A tan coat, brown boots.'
He noticed the colour of her coat, then looked down at her feet. 'This isn't a joke, Signora. We want to know what she looked like.'
She looked straight at him and in the light cast down from the street lamps, he saw the glint of some secret passion in her eyes. 'No jokes, officer. I've told you what she was wearing.'
'But you're describing yourself, Signora.' Again, her own inner alarm against melodrama prevented her from saying 'Thou sayest it'. Instead, she nodded.
'You did it?' the first one asked, unable to disguise his astonishment.
She nodded again.
The other one clarified, 'You threw a stone through that window?'
Once more she nodded.
With unspoken agreement the two men backed away from her until they were out of earshot, though they both kept their eyes on her. They put their heads together and spoke in lowered voices for a moment, then one of them pulled out his cellular and punched in the number of the Questura. Above them, a window was flung open, a head popped out, only to disappear immediately. The window slammed shut.
The policeman spoke for several minutes, giving what information he had and saying they'd already apprehended the person responsible. When the night sergeant told them to bring him in, the policeman didn't bother to correct him. He folded the mouthpiece back into place and slipped the phone into the pocket of his jacket. 'Danieli told me to take her in,' he told his partner.
'And that means I get to stay here?' the other one asked, making no attempt to disguise his irritation at having been finessed into staying there in the cold.
'You can wait inside. Danieli's calling the owner. I think he lives around here somewhere.' He handed his partner the phone. 'Call in if he doesn't show up.'
With an attempt at good grace the second officer took the phone with a smile. 'I'll stay until he shows up. But next time I get to take the suspect in.'
His partner smiled and nodded. Good feelings restored, they approached the woman who, during their long conversation, had remained exactly where she was, seated on the pillar, eyes studying the damaged window and the shards of glass that spread out in a monochrome rainbow in front of it.
'Come with me,' the first policeman said.
Silently she pushed herself away from the pillar and started towards the entrance to a narrow calle to the left of the destroyed window. Neither policeman made note of the fact that she knew the way to begin the shortest route to the Questura.
It took them ten minutes to walk there, during which time neither the woman nor the policeman spoke. Had any of the very few people who saw them bothered to pay attention to them as they walked across the sleeping expanse of Piazza San Marco and down the narrow calle that led towards San Lorenzo and the Questura, they would have seen an attractive, well-dressed woman walking in company with a uniformed policeman. Strange to see at four in the morning, but perhaps her house had been burgled or she'd been called in to identify a wayward child.
There was no one waiting to let them in, so the policeman had to ring repeatedly before the sleep-dulled face of a young policeman popped out from the guard room to the right of the door. When he saw them, he ducked back and re-emerged seconds later, pulling on his jacket. He opened the door with a muttered apology. 'No one told me you were coming, Ruberti,' he said. The other dismissed his apology, but then waved him back towards his bed, remembering what it was to be new to the force and dead with heavy sleep.
He led the woman to the steps on the left and up to the first floor, where the officers had their room. He opened the door for her and held it politely while she came in, following her into the room and taking a seat at his desk. Opening the right drawer, he pulled out a heavy block of printed forms, slapped it down on the desk in front of them, looked up to the woman and motioned with one hand that she should take the seat in front of him.
While she sat and unbuttoned her coat, he filled out the top of the form, giving the date, the time, his name and rank. When it came to 'Crime', he paused for a moment, then wrote 'Vandalism' in the empty rectangle.
He glanced up at her then and, for the first time, saw her clearly. He was struck by something that made no sense to him at all, by how much everything about her — her clothing, her hair, even the way she sat — gave off the self-assurance that comes only from money, great amounts of it. Please let her not be a crazy, he prayed silently.
'Do you have your carta d'identità, Signora?'
She nodded and reached into her bag. At no time did it occur to him that there was any danger in letting a woman he had just arrested for a crime of some violence reach into a large bag to pull something out.
Her hand emerged holding a leather wallet. She opened it and took out the beige identity card, pulled it open, reversed it and placed it on the desk in front of him.
He glanced down at the photo, saw that it must have been taken some time ago, when she was still a real beauty. Then he looked down at the name. 'Paola Brunetti?' he asked, unable to disguise his astonishment.
'Jesus Christ, you're Brunetti's wife.'CHAPTER 2
Brunetti was lying on the beach when the phone rang, his arm placed across his eyes to protect them from the sand stirred up by the dancing hippos. That is, inside the world of his dreams, Brunetti lay on a beach, his location no doubt the result of a fierce argument with Paola some days before, the hippos a hold-over from the escape he had chosen from that argument, joining Chiara in the living-room to watch the second half of Fantasia.
The phone rang six times before Brunetti recognized it for what it was and moved to the side of the bed to reach for it.
'Sì?' he asked, stupid with the restless sleep that always followed unresolved conflict with Paola.
'Commissario Brunetti?' a man's voice asked.
'Un momento,' Brunetti said. He put down the receiver and switched on the light. He lay back in bed and pulled the covers up over his right shoulder, then looked towards Paola to see that he hadn't pulled them away from her. Her side of the bed was empty. No doubt she was in the bathroom or had gone down to the kitchen for a drink of water or, if the argument still lingered with her as it did with him, perhaps for a glass of hot milk and honey. He'd apologize when she came back, apologize for what he'd said and for this phone call, even though it hadn't woken her.
He reached over and picked up the phone. 'Yes, what is it?' he asked, sinking down low in the pillows and hoping this wasn't the Questura, calling him from his bed to go to the scene of some new crime.
'We've got your wife, sir.'
His mind went white at the juxtaposition of the opening remark, certainly the sort of thing every kidnapper has ever said, with the use of 'sir'.
'What?' he asked when thought returned.
'We've got your wife, sir,' the voice repeated.
'Who is this?' he asked, anger surging into his voice.
'It's Ruberti, sir. I'm at the Questura.' There was a long pause, then the man added, 'I have night duty, sir, me and Bellini.'
'What are you saying about my wife?' Brunetti demanded, not at all concerned with where they were or who had night duty.
'We do, sir. Well, I do. Bellini's still in Campo Manin.'
Brunetti closed his eyes and listened for noises from some other part of the house. Nothing. 'What's she doing there, Ruberti?'
There was a long pause, after which Ruberti said, 'We've arrested her, sir.' When Brunetti didn't say anything, he added, 'That is, I've brought her down here, sir. She hasn't been arrested yet.'
'Let me talk to her,' Brunetti demanded.
After a long pause he heard Paola's voice. 'Ciao, Guido.'
'You're there, at the Questura?' he asked.
'Then you did it?'
'I told you I was going to,' Paola said.
Brunetti closed his eyes again and held the receiver at arm's length. After a while, he pulled it back and said, 'Tell him I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Don't say anything and don't sign anything.' Without waiting for her response, he put down the phone and got out of bed.
He dressed quickly, went into the kitchen and scribbled a note for the children, saying that he and Paola had had to go out, but would be back soon. He left the house, careful to close the door quietly behind him, and crept down the stairs as though he were a thief.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fatal Remedies"
Copyright © 1999 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.
What People are Saying About This
"One of the most exquisite and subtle detective series ever"
-The Washington Post
"No one knows the labyrinthine world of Venice . . . like Leon's Brunetti."
"[Brunetti's] humane police work is disarming, and his ambles through the city are a delight."
- The New York Times Book Review
"The sophisticated but still moral Brunetti, with his love of food and his loving family, proves a worthy custodian of timeless values and verities."
-The Wall Street Journal