Unto Us a Son Is Given

by Donna Leon

Hardcover, 2019




William Heinemann (2019), 272 pages


"Your situation is always ambiguous, isn't it, Guido?", his father-in-law, Count Orazio Falier, observes of Donna Leon's soulful detective, Guido Brunetti, at the beginning of her superb 28th Brunetti novel,Unto Us A Son Is Given. "The world we live in makes that necessary," Brunetti presciently replies. Count Falier was urging his Venetian son-in-law to investigate, and preferably intervene in, the seemingly innocent plan of the Count's best friend, the elderly Gonzalo Rodríguez de Tejada, to adopt a much younger man as his son. Under Italian inheritance laws this man would then be heir to Gonzalo's entire fortune, a prospect Gonzalo's friends find appalling. For his part, Brunetti wonders why the old man, a close family friend, can't be allowed his pleasure in peace. And yet, what seems innocent on the Venetian surface can cause tsunamis beneath. Gonzalo unexpectedly, and literally, drops dead on the street, and one of his friends just arrived in Venice for the memorial service, is strangled in her hotel room--having earlier sent Gonzalo an email saying "We are the only ones who know you cannot do this," referring to the adoption. Now with an urgent case to solve, Brunetti reluctantly untangles the long-hidden mystery in Gonzalo's life that ultimately led to murder--a resolution that brings him way more pain than satisfaction. Once again, Donna Leon brilliantly plumbs the twists and turns of the human condition, reuniting us with some of crime fiction's most memorable and enduring characters.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Dokfintong
This is a novel about silence: the importance of thinking before speaking. It is about greed and indifference to it. As always, it is about love.

Brunetti's friends are aging. Men he has cherished all his life are growing frail and cantankerous. They are dying.

At the end of his long life, Gonzalo Rodreguez de Tejada, a wealthy art dealer, decides to reward his lover by adopting him as his son, a stratagem that skirts Italian inheritance law. Love, lust, beauty and desire, what better ingredients for a murder?

Unfortunately the plot and the murderer are instantly clear. That didn't bother me because I read Donna Leon for the thoughtful writing and her images of Venice. If you like suspense you won't be pleased with this one.

I received a review copy of "Unto Us a Son Is Given" by Donna Leon (Grove Atlantic) through NetGalley.com.
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LibraryThing member cmt100
I'm a passionate and long-time fan of the Brunetti series. Love the family, the food, the professional cohorts, the descriptions of Venice, and the mysteries to be solved. Compared to others in the series, this one was just OK.
LibraryThing member pennykaplan
Almost a novella, but the characters we love are there. A old family friend wants to adopt a son before he dies, but in the end things are not what they seem.
LibraryThing member Perednia
Another wonderful entry in this long-running series. The family dinner conversations get better and better, with the philosophical issues pinpointed and meaning far more than the crimes they illuminate.
LibraryThing member miss.mesmerized
Guido Brunetti is surprised when is father-in-law Count Falier asks him to meet him privately. The Count’s best friend is going to make a big mistake and he hopes that Guido could do something about it: the Spaniard Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada wants to adopt a much younger man. Even though nobody really is upset about his openly shown homosexuality, this seems to go too far for the upper society and is considered something absolutely inappropriate. But apart from that, Gonzalo’s friends fear that the chosen man, Attilio Circetti, Marchese di Torrebardo, is more interested in Gonzalo’s wealth than in the old man. When Gonzalo suddenly dies, the case isn’t abandoned but turns out to be much more complicated than expected.

Donna Leon’s 28th case for Commissario Guido Brunetti starts in a quite unique way since this time, no murder has been committed and Brunetti is not running after some evil criminal. It is a very personal story that reveals a lot about Venice’s society, especially the rich and noble and their very special views on the world. The actual murder case only appears after about two thirds of the novel which surprisingly does not reduce any suspense in it.

As the other novels before, the Guido Brunetti series lives on the special atmosphere of the Italian water city. Again, we get a glance behind the doors of the nobilità and how they resolve their cases. Brunetti’s has to do a lot of actually illegal work this time which does not seem to bother anybody too much. On the other hand, this is a very emotional and human story, it is the characters’ weaknesses, their longing for finding love and being loved that drives the story. It is much less about solving a crime than about revealing human nature and the core things of life. For me, definitely so far the strongest of Donna Leon’s novels since it goes far beyond just solving a murder case.
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LibraryThing member BrianEWilliams
I received my review copy from the publisher via Netgalley. The comments are my own.
This is a mellow intelligent story set in present day Venice, Italy. Of course Venice has a charm all of its own and the unique atmosphere is effectively captured in this book. A map of Venice would be helpful to follow the action as the characters go about their daily activity.
The book opens with an interesting human interest story. Gonzalo is a wealthy elderly gay man who risks alienating his longtime friends by legally adopting a man 40 years his junior. This will result in the man's considerable fortune passing to the young man virtually intact, free of mandatory bequests to his siblings from whom he's been estranged since his youth, except for a sister. They are strict Catholics and homophobic.
Commissario Guido Brunetti of the state police is asked by his father-in-law, Gonzalo's best friend since boarding school days, as a favour intervene and dissuade him from following through with the adoption. Once done, the adoption would irrevocable should the relationship not work out as planned. The old man dies suddenly of natural causes and it turns out that he adopted the man despite all the protestations.
The new son is portrayed as a grasping and shallow fortune-hunter. Readers do not get to know him as he plays little direct role in the story. Most of what is known is learned third hand through informed observers.
Following Gonzalo's sudden death, another long time friend arrives in Venice to arrange for a memorial service, but she is murdered the day she arrives. This presents Brunetti with a murder to solve, which he does, in his usual elegant fashion.
It's an enjoyable story. Its strength is Brunetti and his world: Venice, his family and friends At police headquarters, there's his boss the ambitious Vice-Questore Patta, who actually calls upon him for a favour, and the all-powerful Signorina Elettra Zorzi, Patta's secretary, Without her nothing would get done, her absence on vacation brings things to a halt at the police headquarters.
Strongly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Obi2015
An elderly family friend of his father-in-law and therefore of Commissario Guido Brunetti, contemplates adopting an adult man. His father-in-law asks Brunetti to intervene or at least talk some sense into the very wealthy,eighty-five year old Gonzalo. This adopted son would be the sole beneficiary of a more than substantial inheritance. But he is not the only one who looks upon this scheme with disguised,or not,horror. When Gozalo,while visiting his estranged family in Spain, unexpectedly dies from a brain haemorrhage waters start to stir in Venice. And old friend comes to Venice so she can organise a memorial service but just hours after her arrival she is found strangled in her hotel room. It is Brunetti's task to unravel any connection between Gonzalo and this victim and to find a murderer....
A Donna Leon novel hardly starts with murder and mayhem on page one,and it is not different here. And sometimes this slowly building up of both the story and the tension works and sometimes it doesn't and it is not to everyone's liking (this is by the way the 28th in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series,quite a feat...),but here it all comes together perfectly. It captures and keeps the attention and the curiosity of the reader well. The characters are well developed and it feels very (Venetian) Italian(food,way of life...)
And then there is Venice,not exactly heaven on earth and not exactly inhabited by angels ,but still fascinating and intriguing enough to play a discreet leading role in this series. Yes,both Brunetti and Venice are back on track...
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LibraryThing member browner56
Guido Brunetti, commissario of the Venice police, has just received a rather unusual request from his father-in-law, Conte Orazio Falier. It seems that il Conte’s oldest friend, Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada, is in failing health and he wants to adopt his much younger gay lover as a son before he passes. At stake is the nobleman’s considerable inheritance and Falier wants Brunetti’s help to prevent his friend from making a terrible mistake in judgment. After initially refusing, Guido does get involved in the affair but it is not until two people have died—one under sudden and unusual circumstances—that he is able to resolve the case.

So goes the basic plot of Unto Us a Son Is Given, the latest installment in Donna Leon’s long-running series of Italian police procedurals. For devoted readers of these novels, the pleasure of each new story is that it allows for a deeper dive into the everyday lives of characters who have become beloved fictional fixtures. (Indeed, the main reason why this series has reached its twenty-eighth volume is that the main protagonists are so compelling.) In the case of this novel, that is an especially good thing because the mystery itself is really quite thin and not particularly engaging. Further, a second storyline involving Guido’s attempt to help his boss deal with some unruly neighbors is mercifully forgotten almost as soon as it is introduced.

What is left, though, is more than enough to make this a satisfying reading experience. I loved the sense of place that the author was able to create throughout the novel. She has a great talent for making it feel as if we are walking the streets, dining in the restaurants, or moving through the canals of one of the world’s truly remarkable cities. I also enjoyed the frequent glimpses into the hearts and minds of Brunetti and his wife Paola, who is an independent and fully developed character in her own right. This is a novel in which relationships, rather than the whodunit aspects, are placed front and center and I think that was a good decision.
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LibraryThing member kimkimkim
I usually enjoy Donna Leon’s Police Commissario Brunetti’s novels. They always provide me with a look at life in Venice through the eyes of an an unusual police official. Leon’s Commissario is a well-read man of the classics, happily married to very wealthy and connected wife, who appears to be a great cook. All the usual characters make an appearance and there is a good deal of quiet, soft humor poked at authority and elsewhere. There are also some really interesting thoughts; “taking a look at one’s unconscious motives and prejudices was like walking barefoot in cloudy water: you never knew whether you were going to step on something disgusting or bang your toe into a rock.”

But this one left me adrift wanting more. The story opens with Brunetti being tasked by his father-in-law to do some digging into his dear friend’s recent questionable behavior. Brunetti wants no part of it but without his research and interference there is no story. What seemed like a very long wind-up delivered a very short punch and even shorter ending. My best description is the story lacked depth and felt unfinished. Three and a half stars and looking forward to the next installment.

Thank you NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for a copy
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LibraryThing member eyes.2c
A Venetian treat!

A brilliant, yet understated performance by Guido Brunetti, offset by his reading of The Trojan Women which seem to act as a reflective prompt for Guido all the way through.
Along the way we are treated to an insight into Venetian culture and practices. I love it!
Paolo's godfather, Gonzalo Rodríguez de Tejada, and a longtime family friend wants to adopt a younger man as his son. His friends, including Guido's father-in-law Count Orazio Falier, are shocked and try to dissuade him. For the younger man would inherit all.
Then Gonzalo fall and dies in the street, and a close friend from Gonzalo's days in Chile comes to Venice, along with a former lover of Gonzalo's to hold a memorial dinner. Unfortunately she is strangled in her hotel room.
All of Brunetti's instincts come to the fore. He is on high alert. Yet the way forward seemingly comes to a full stop. The past haunts the future, but how?
The delight is in Bruenetti's, instinctive and intelligent sleuthing, his pleasant ways with his co-workers and his accurate reading of situations and people.
A thoughtful crime mystery set in one of the world's great cities.

A NetGalley ARC
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LibraryThing member cfk
A wealthy, gay nobleman in Venice determines to subvert Italian Inheritance laws to win the love of a man half his age. Within weeks of adopting his lover as his son, Gonzalo dies of natural causes while visiting family in Spain. The fallout from the adoption, sudden death and inheritance leads to disillusionment and murder.
LibraryThing member SeasideBookClub
Brunetti helps his father in law and his nemesis boss Patta. Always enjoy the food his wife cooks and his children's place in the books. Wanted to stop reading it, when at the beginning when Signorina Electra goes on vacation for 3 wks. But the book spans a long time so she is a major part of the story. Love the author's play on her blouse with yellow collar and cuffs and the daffodils she has on her desk.… (more)
LibraryThing member siri51
short, predictable - rather too much detail of what he had to eat for every meal - while I have only read two of this long series perhaps the earlier ones were better?
LibraryThing member cyderry
I have been a fan of Commissario Guido Brunetti for many years look forward to every installment - good or bad - the characters and setting always bring a smile to my face. This unfortunately, I can't rank good or bad - it was pretty mediocre. The main story is that a family friend of Guido's father-in-law (he is gay) wants to adopt his young man so that he will inherit his estate. There apparently are no provisions in Italian law to leave your estate to whomever you wish - it has to go to family. Guido, is asked by his father-in-law to see if there is a way to prevent the adoption and more than half of the book is geared to this investigation. The friend dies and it appears that the adoption has taken place until an unexpected twist arrives. Then murder.

I love the series, this book not so much.
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LibraryThing member Judiex
In UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN, Brunetti’s father-in-law, Count Orazio Falier, comes to his office with an unusual request: His oldest friend, Gonzalo Rodrigues de Tejada, now in his mid-eighties, wants to adopt a son, someone none of his friends has met. Brunetti’s father-in-law is very much opposed to the idea and wants to learn more about the person.
Gonzolo was also raised in a wealthy Spanish family but had a falling out with them decades ago, possibly because he is gay. He became wealthy on his own, first through raising cattle in Argentina and then through art in Italy. According to the law, when he dies, his possessions will go to his siblings. If he had a son, the son would inherit. People suspect that he is being taken advantage of by the young man because of his money.
Soon thereafter, Gonzalo traveled to Spain where he met with his sister. While they were out walking, he died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. Orazio and his wife went to the funeral and another long-time English friend, originally from Chile, decided to have a memorial service in Venice for the people who couldn’t attend the funeral. Within a day, she was murdered.
As Brunetti gets busy working to find the murderer he discovers important secrets.
Commissario Guido Brunetti has been with the Venetian Police Department for a long time. He’s comfortable in his position and knows how to work with his colleagues (sometimes secretly) to accomplish what he has to do. He’s also married to a college professor whose parents are very wealthy. He has a wonderful relationship with all of them, as well as with his two children.
While Donna Leon’s series about him are very low in the violence and sex seen in many mystery novels, the books rank high in telling about the people and the community. It’s more like a small community with people knowing a lot about each other, willingly sharing gossip, and expressing their prejudices, including those regarding people who are not from Venice. The city is described lovingly but not unrealistically.
While less a murder mystery than most others of the genre, UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN is well-written with realistic characters and conversations. It is not necessary to have read any of the other books in the series to appreciate and understand it.
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LibraryThing member Overgaard
thumping good read
LibraryThing member DrLed
Synopsis: 'What does a father owe his son—and what do sons owe their fathers? Venice's most thoughtful detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti, has occasion to ponder these questions in several forms during his latest outing.The story begins with Brunetti's father-in-law, Conte Falier, asking him to look into something: There's gossip going around that the Conte's best friend, retired art dealer Gonzalo Rodríguez de Tejada, is planning to adopt his lover, Attilio Circetti, a much younger man, since that would be the only way Italy's inheritance laws would allow him to pass his entire estate to Attilio when he dies. The Conte is much too discreet to say it in so many words, but he wants to make sure his friend isn't being scammed. Brunetti doesn't want to get involved, but he finds himself moved when his father-in-law regretfully says, "I've just asked someone I love to spy on someone else I love." You can almost hear the song "Do You Love Me?" from Fiddler on the Roof playing in the background as Brunetti ponders the sentiment he's never heard from the Conte before. How can he say no after that? A few days later, another request: Brunetti's boss, Vice-Questore Patta, has a story about how his wife was insulted by an 8-year-old boy who lives in their building. He wants Brunetti to find out if there's "something wrong with the boy," and if not, to look into the parents' backgrounds. If the boy does have "real problems," he says, he doesn't "want to cause them more trouble." Could Patta be more sensitive than he always seemed? Eventually, of course, there are deaths—one natural, one not.'
Review: Surprisingly, Brunetti's own son, Raffi, doesn't play a large role, though we're treated to the usual Brunetti family conversations over delicious home-cooked lunches. The story is dark, as usual, with Guido searching his soul about the vagaries of love of family.
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LibraryThing member carole888fort
Unto Us a Son Is Given by Donna Leon is the 28th in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series but it easily reads as a standalone. Beautiful Venice is as much a part of this novel as Brunetti himself. Guido is approached by his father-in-law in the hope that he will discourage their mutual friend Gonzalo in his endeavour to adopt a much younger man as his son. The inheritance laws in Italy permit that this adoptee can then become heir to Gonzalo's entire fortune in the event of the old man's death. Guido sees nothing wrong with Gonzalo's plan but soon after, the old man collapses in the street and dies. It is at this point that the story becomes a mystery. I found that this book read more as a cozy than a police procedural. However, this takes nothing away from the enjoyment of this title. Although the action ramps up slowly, this novel packs quite a wallop. I look forward to reading other books by Donna Leon. Thank you to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.… (more)


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