Fiona Giusto
Article by Fiona Giusto

Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti: Why is this fictional hero so beloved?

Guido Brunetti was ‘invented’ 26 years ago; a literary invention of the American crime novelist Donna Leon who lived for over 35 years in Venice, before moving to Switzerland last year.

After her degree in the States she moved to Europe, worked in different countries before settling 1981 in Venice where she taught English Literature at the University of Maryland close to Vicenza, for several years.

Why did she invent the witty and highly skilled commissario Guido Brunetti?

Donna Leon was with friends at a rehearsal in the Venetian Theatre La Fenice; one of her friends, a conductor himself, did not enjoy the rehearsal nor like the conductor. Donna Leon replied, she would murder the conductor for her friend, but not to worry, just in a novel, as a ’kind of a joke’.

That is why she wrote 1992 Death at La Fenice: the conductor ‘maestro’ Wellauer is found poisoned in his dressing room shortly before the beginning of the last act. Brunetti starts investigating. The novel won the Suntory Mystery Fiction Grand Prize and she was asked to write 2 further novels, after which she decided to write one a year. Now her novels are translated in over 35 languages and she has sold over 2 million books.


Uwe Kokisch alias Guido Brunetti
Uwe Kokisch alias Guido Brunetti (

Commissario Brunetti became even more famous, especially in the German speaking countries, when the German television turned the novels into films, the first 4 novels with the actor Joachim Kroll and since 2003 with the actor Uwe Kockisch. The movies are well acted, in a nice setting and scenario, Venice serves as a great background.

But why do all readers and viewers fancy so much Brunetti?


Brunetti is first of all a good-looking man, that is Kockisch is a charming actor (please note he is now over 70 !). But not only; he takes his work very seriously, he is intellectually interesting and ethically correct. He is aware that real criminals cannot always be brought – in our present society – to justice in court and tried, but nonetheless higher justice is his goal (and not statistics as for his boss, the vain and clown-like Vice Questore Patta).

Brunetti fights like a modern Hero against the underground of Venetian society as the novels deal with environmental degradation and pollution, toxic waste scandals, the terrible state of bureaucracy and mainly with corruption at all levels and social problems.

Donna Leon wrote her thesis about ‘the changing moral order in the universe of Jane Austen’s novels’, so the theme of higher justice, the difference between good and evil has interested her from the very beginning.

Joachim Kroll alias Guido Brunetti in the first 4 films
Joachim Kroll alias Guido Brunetti in the first 4 films (,89756,ApplicationMovie.html)



Who would not want to meet such a man, capable and learned? Brunetti loves reading and reflecting on the writers of ancient times such as Tacitus and Ovid and confronting himself with the well-read Franca Marinello i.e. in About Face.

In all the crimes the point is not necessarily brutal and bloody action or to understand ‘whodunnit’, but the reasons and motive why the crime was committed. The psychological interior of the characters and their dark side is what appeals most to Donna Leon.

Paola his wife, Brunetti, Vice Questore and Elettra are character studies and repeat a successful pattern the reader and viewer can easily stick to as this pattern contains many elements from our daily life.

Uwe Kockisch live in Venice in 2014, Beastly Things
Uwe Kockisch live in Venice in 2014, Beastly Things


Brunetti is a Gourmet, at work and at home. Paola says in one novel she married a man, and now she lives with a stomach (Blood from a Stone).

Brunetti loves a plate of fried sole with artichoke bottoms and a rucola salad (Blood from a Stone) or in the Crazy bar by the Questura he orders ‚a Tramezzino, a toasted cheese sandwich‘ (Friends in High Places) or he approaches ‚the barman for his plate of tramezzini and a glas of wine ‘ (Suffer the Little Children). In the wine bar 2 Mori by Rialto ‚he ate a few of the fried shrimps … then decided to have a tramezzino, thick with ham and artichoke ‘ (Death in a Strange Country). He cannot refuse ‚a piece of prosciutto wrapped around a thin breadstick and a glass of Chardonnay‘ (The Death of Faith).

In many movies he grabs, once back home, a slice of cheese with a glass of wine, but not to excess.

Reading the novels as a non-Italian you would expect all wives to be like Paola, a perfect cook, a great chef – it would be nice! When Brunetti walks though the Rialto Market, he hopes to find Puntarelle, a kind of salad: ‘When he was a boy puntarelle cost a few hundred of lire a kilo (The Death of Faith), and nowadays they have become a delicacy or he admires Porcini mushrooms and ‘was filled with the momentary that Paola would see them too and serve them with polenta for lunch‘. (Fatal Remedies).


He is different from usual policemen who live alone, misanthropic. He is married, likes spending time (and eating) with his family. He is perfect also in his role as a loving father. He loves his smart wife Paola and their children, Chiara and Raffael, called Raffi. Over the years they turn from teenagers into adults, and nonetheless he still worries about Chiara (Beastly Things).

During a guided tour with BestVeniceGuides as visiting fans you will learn more about the crime series with Brunetti, Paola Falier, Vice Questore Patta, well-connected Signorina Elettra and we will visit the locations of Questura and the famous terrace of the novels and movies.

Questura location in the films
Questura location in the films

Fiona Giusto