By Its Cover

by Donna Leon

Hardcover, 2014

Call number





Atlantic Monthly Press (2014), Edition: First Edition, 237 pages


One afternoon, Commissario Guido Brunetti gets a frantic call from the director of a prestigious Venetian library. Someone has stolen pages out of several rare books. After a round of questioning, the case seems clear: the culprit must be the man who requested the volumes, an American professor from a Kansas university. The only problem--the man fled the library earlier that day, and after checking his credentials, the American professor doesn't exist. As the investigation proceeds, the suspects multiply. And when a seemingly harmless theologian, who had spent years reading at the library turns up brutally murdered, Brunetti must question his expectations about what makes a man innocent, or guilty.

User reviews

LibraryThing member tututhefirst
I like these books, but I'm beginning to tire of Leon's increasing tendency to phone them in. This one concerns the theft and/or destruction of ancient, priceless books and manuscripts, a subject that should be close to my heart. Brunetti's apparent ignorance of the subject and his skillful
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questioning of those involved so he can make himself smart is handled well and gives the reader at least a smattering of knowledge. But there's nothing deep to this one. Leon presumes we all know all the background of the cast, gives us very little motivation for anything or anybody, offers some flip remarks about the in depth, inbred crime rampant in modern day Venice, offers enchanting descriptions of Venetian scenery, throws in a few mentions of food (the hallmark of previous volumes), and comes to such an absolutely abrupt halt that I had to go and double-check to make sure my download of the e-galley hadn't been corrupted. Sorta like she ran out of steam and said "ok,,, I'm done now....I'm off to the opera."

Really disappointing. I guess it could be a stand alone, but I'm not sure if I started here if I'd ever want to read any others. The subject matter should have made it much more interesting than it did, and I miss the sharp repartèe so common to her characters in earlier books. Much as I hate to see Brunetti go, I may be more reluctant to read any more of these if she doesn't find the old spark again.
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LibraryThing member Perednia
Donna Leon's love of books and literature has shone in her Inspector Brunetti mysteries, especially through the character of Brunetti's wife, Paola. In By Its Cover, books as objects are at the heart of the story's mystery.

Because this is a Brunetti story, in which differences matter, a distinction
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is made between books as art objects and the text contained on the pages of those objects. For rich collectors, the objects have more value. For the Brunettis, who live a book-strewn life in which volumes are left open and upside down, snuggled into cushions of furniture and perhaps even dog-eared, books are far more valuable for what they contain than for their appearance. And because this is a Brunetti story, perhaps this is a way to view people as well.

Brunetti is called to a Venetian scholarly library where old and revered volumes reside. Someone has been cutting out specific pages that are highly valued by collectors, while other rare and costly volumes are missing.

Suspicion immediately falls on a visiting American scholar, whose credentials soon prove to be false. Brunetti would like to speak with another man who spends many hours in the library -- a former priest who reads the works of older religious figures.

Adding to Brunetti's knowledge of this world are a library employee who helps retrieve books, the elegant library director and the woman whose generous donations form part of the damaged and stolen bounty. The benefactress is known to Paola's patrician parents, as is her wastrel stepson. But because she is not Venetian, she is not as valued by the small group that makes up the highest rung of Venetian society.

Donna Leon's compact story delves into the mystery of the underground market of rare books. But By Its Cover also touches on the idea of judging people by their covers, by their outside appearances and background. And because this novel is written by Donna Leon, that touch is light yet incisive.

By Its Cover is a shining example of how an author can keep a long-running crime fiction series fresh, relevant and highly entertaining.
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LibraryThing member susanamper
Ah, I remember it well. Searching the dusty shelves of the library in the basement of the gothic building, amidst ancient tomes and tattered volumes, I stumbled across a 19th century edition of Gustave Doré’s Illustrations for Paradise Lost. Breathtaking, and I couldn’t believe that the
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library would loan such a treasure. But loan they did. I so wanted to keep it that I renewed it several times. Reluctantly I returned the book, but I’ve thought of it several times over the years, and each time I think, “I should have kept that book.” I love books, all types of books, but I’d never before or since for that matter had such a strong desire to become a book thief. So I can identify with the thief in By Its Cover, Donna Leon’s latest addition to her Guido Brunetti series of novels set in Venice.

Brunetti, Commissario di Polizia of the city of Venice, is called to the Biblioteca Merula where Dottoressa Fabbiani, chief librarian, tells him of the theft of material:

“From the collection?” Brunetti asked. He knew the library, had used it once or twice as a student but had not given it a thought for decades.


“What’s been taken?” he asked.

“We don’t know the full extent yet. So far, all I’m sure of is that pages have been cut from some volumes.”

After questioning other staff members, it seems clear that the thief must be the American Professor from a Kansas university who has been working at the library for several days. He disappeared the day before the theft was noticed, and Brunetti finds, of course, that his credentials are phony.

Soon Brunetti is called to the scene of a murder. The victim: a regular patron of the Biblioteca. Are the two crimes somehow related? Brunetti thinks so, and talks to the victim’s brother Franchini for more clarification. Apologizing for the intrusion, Brunetti tells the man he is sorry, “but we need to know as much as we can about him”:

“Will that bring him back?” Franchini asked, as had so many other people in the same circumstances.

“No. Nothing will, I’m afraid. We both know that. But things like this can’t be allowed to happen . . .”

“It already has,” Franchini interrupted.

The Latin came to Brunetti unsummoned “Nihil non tatione tractari intellegique voluit.”

The words washed over Franchini, who moved to the side and turned to take a better look at Brunetti. “There is nothing God does not wish to be understood and investigated by reason.” He failed to hide his astonishment. “How do you know that?”

“I don’t know why I said it, Signor Franchini. I’m sorry if offended you.”

The man’s face softened into a smile. “No, it surprised me; it didn’t offend me. It was the sort of thing Aldo was always doing. Not only from Tertullian, but from Cyprian and Ambrose. He had a quotation for everything,” he concluded and then had to wipe his eyes again.

“Signore,” Brunetti began, “I think it’s right to find out who killed your brother. Not because of God. Because things like this are wrong and should be punished.”

This brief exchange sums up Brunetti’s effectiveness. He is empathetic, learned, and believes in justice.

If any readers have drifted away from this long running series, it’s time to return. This is a story about books, and it’s set in Venice. Need I say more?
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LibraryThing member Judiex
BY ITS COVER describes both the crime and the suspects in Dona Leon’s latest Commissario Guido Brunetti series. Brunetti is called to a library to investigate the mutilation of several rare books and manuscripts. Some books have been stolen and pages have been cut from many others. In order to
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access the items, patrons must present identification. Nonresidents must also show their passports and have letters attesting to their legitimate purpose in viewing them.
One man who claimed to be a college professor from the US quickly becomes the main suspect. Another regular, possibly a former priest, has been there so often that the staff regards him as part of the decor.
Possible reasons for the thefts are explored as well as the effects they may have on the library itself. I was surprised that Brunetti seemed so unaware of most of that information already.
The plot deepens when one of the suspects is found brutally murdered and trying to solve that crime adds to the original charge.
For Brunetti fans, BY ITS COVER continues with the daily life of the Commissario. His children play very minor roles and his relationship with his father-in-law improves. The work atmosphere is the same as it has been though his encounters with his boss are minimal. Corruption and incompetence are still present and are offered as part of the reason that the city of Venice is in danger: huge cruise ships are permitted to enter the Grand Canal which creates ecological damage. The divisions between the various cities and social classes of Italy are also noted.
Dona Leon proves once again that grisly descriptions of murders, car chases, and X-rated sex scenes are unnecessary to tell a good story. Her chapters are complete and respect the reader’s intelligence: None of the three-page offerings that have become so common. Her descriptions and writing are sharp and inviting. One character is interestingly described as a bird based on her body built, stance, and “broad black feet at the end of long legs.” In another location she writes, a building was “ need of new gutters. Water streaks had dined for years on three places in the plaster and were now starting on the bricks for dessert.”
There is a short section about the dying of the Catholic church. I’m sure it was written several months ago and wonder if that would have been changed had it been written after Pope Francis had been in office for a year. She philosophizes: “It’s more important to understand people than to forgive them.” And we learn the phrase, “Out of the frying pan into the fire” was coined by Tertullian, a pessimistic theologian who lived around 200 CE.
While I enjoyed reading this book and think it was an improvement over the previous one in the series, it isn’t quite as good as most of the earlier ones. There is not as much actual investigative work as in previous books and I miss the meals and foods.
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LibraryThing member Maya47Bob46
This may be one of the best Brunetti's in a while. People who value books will find this fascinating and the ending surprising.
LibraryThing member cfk
By the Cover is one of Leon's best entries in the series so far. Brunetti and his colleagues are so very likeable in spite of the corruption surrounding. Brunetti is compassionate and thoughtful without becoming too good to be true.

Theft, and vandalism of irreplaceable books from the libraries and
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museums of Italy with their rich history is the theme of this story. Even so, most of Leon's books are as much about the pervasive atmosphere of corruption in all levels of Italian society as the murder mysteries which serve as the vehicle for exposing the rotten under belly of Italy.
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LibraryThing member librarian1204
As a book lover, I really enjoyed Ms Leon's latest book in the Guido Brunetti series. When books are found missing and damaged in a library in Venice, Brunetti investigates. The insight into the damage being done to priceless material in libraries, is the saving grace in a short predictable book.
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But then, I will always read this author because of her descriptions of Venice, food and life in Italy.
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LibraryThing member BooksCooksLooks
I generally don't read murder mysteries much - unless they occur in times long past. I suspect it was the location of this tale that tickled my reading fancy as I do hold a love for Italy. I've not been to Venice but one day....a girl can dream. Ms. Leon apparently has written a series with her
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protagonist but this is the first I have read and I did not feel lost or confused so feel confident if you choose to read By Its Cover that it most definitely can stand alone from any other book with the most intriguing Commissario Guido Brunetti at the helm.

The story starts with some valuable and ancient books being stolen and others defaced from a venerable library and the last man who read them presented false credentials. This leads Commissario Brunetti into the world of old texts and men who read about the beginnings of religion but are they as honest as they seem? The guard at the library is anxious to help and does what he can to provide pertinent information to the police. The head of the library is horrified that such a thing could happen to books in her care. She is concerned it will lead to her losing support for the library.

Brunetti is a cerebral sort of detective so this is not an action filled type of book. It's more of a slower paced mystery with more occurring through thought and deduction than chasing around and the like. He slowly pieces the case together with the help of his colleagues and through his subtle questioning of suspects. I did enjoy reading the book and would most assuredly read another of Ms. Leon's books featuring this fascinating and complicated character. Venice is a bonus and I was pleased to spend some time there if only within the pages of a book.
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LibraryThing member pennykaplan
Donna Leon is in good form as Brunetti investigates the theft and vandalizing of books from an antiquarian library. The plot resolution is sudden and a bit sketchy, But the visit with Brunetti, his family and Venice is always appreciated,
LibraryThing member jamespurcell
Always fun to visit Venice and Commissario Brunetti. Some insights into the the arcane but lucrative world of rare book thefts, while Guido follows the money to the culprit.
LibraryThing member ebyrne41
By Its Cover is the twenty-third title in Donna Leon's Venice-based crime series featuring Commissario Brunetti. The theft and vandalisation of antiquarian books from a prestigious Venetian library form the basis of this story, and while the staff suspect that an American researcher has stolen
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them, Brunetti doesn't quite buy in to this theory.

As the investigation proceeds, Brunetti seeks to enlighten himself about the stolen books, it being the subject matter rather than the physical beauty of such rare texts that is the appeal. Events take a sinister turn however (albeit half way into the story before so doing) when one of the library's regular readers, an ex-priest, turns up dead, murdered in brutal fashion. As the story progresses, developments point towards the black market in antiquarian books and the involvement of more than one person in the thefts from the library.

To my mind, the focus on antiquarian books, in particular the subject matter of the stolen books is likely to be the strongest draw of this story, but if only for bibliophiles. Missing for me was the usual mix of interesting characters and the interactions between them and Brunetti, also the near absence of Brunetti's family and the Venetian cuisine we have become so accustomed to. Add to this the sudden and for that reason the unsatisfying ending and this all adds up to, for me, one of Leon's least enjoyable works. That despite the fact that I might even be so bold as to consider myself a bit of a bibliophile!
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LibraryThing member seasidereader
Excruciatingly slow paced
LibraryThing member smik
One of the things I enjoy about the Guido Brunetti novels is the way that they introduce issues that are of concern to the citizens of Venice as well as the focus on the crime being investigated.

Only a few pages into BY ITS COVER Brunetti is in a police boat on its way to a library where a theft
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has been discovered. Turning into the Grand Canal, there ahead of them is a huge cruise ship, perhaps eleven storeys high, with a wash that is causing waves to sweep over the landings and footpaths. This was an issue that hit the headlines in 2014 when cruise ships were first banned, and then when the ban was overturned by Venetian authorities because of the effects it would have on tourism.

Other issues raised: Brunetti's father in law is investing his considerable wealth in companies outside Italy; it seems that the theft of the pages from rare books is only the tip of the iceberg, and that the case that Brunetti is investigating is one of a systematic looting of Venetian treasures; Brunetti questions what is most valuable in these books - their text or the pictures that illustrate them - and why people collect them anyway.

This was an excellent read, certainly one of Donna Leon's best.
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LibraryThing member Maydacat
The premise of this novel is interesting to book lovers: pages and entire rare books have been stolen from a library. But to say the novel is slow moving is putting it mildly. The pace picks up a bit in the second half, but it is too little too late. Though part of a successful series with
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characters that readers like, this book misses the mark.
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LibraryThing member Daftboy1
This is an ok book set in Venice
Commissario Brunetti investigates the thefts of antique books from the main library.
LibraryThing member abbottthomas
The Commisario Brunetti series continues to entertain with its great cast of players even if the crimes reflect the relative lack of Venetian lawlessness. This story starts with an investigation into the theft of pages from antiquarian books in a museum library.
LibraryThing member cyderry
How horrifying to any reader to read of the defacement and theft of rare books even if it is only fiction. This mystery relates how a special library has discovered that numerous rare books are missing or have had pages cut out. As Guido Brunetti, a classical reader, endeavors to find the culprit,
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he uncovers a former priest at the center of the trouble.

Commissario Guido Brunetti continues to enchant this reader, not just with the Venetian flavor of his endeavors against wrong, but his personality which warmly embodies the Venetian culture.
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LibraryThing member themulhern
An especially depressing Comissario Guido Brunetti mystery, mostly because the real criminals get away with it. Otherwise, like all the others, but nonetheless enjoyable.
LibraryThing member janerawoof
One of the better entries in this series. Someone is stealing rare books and slicing illustrations from others in the Merula library. Suspect turns out not to be who he claims to be in spite of impeccable identification--an American professor doing research. Then follows the murder of another
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long-time patron--a man who sits in the library all day reading Church Fathers.

Good mystery with some facts about rare books and their market. As a retired librarian, I had to read this one. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member lbswiener
By its Cover is a good book. From the beginning it sets a tone that it keeps throughout. However, the book just ended--The End. It was as though the author just had enough with the book. You the reader were given the facts, now you conclude it on your own. Consequently, I only gave it 3 1/2 stars.
LibraryThing member thornton37814
In this installment, Brunetti investigates book vandalism for the art market and book theft for private collectors at a library in Venice. The chief suspect is a man purporting to be an American scholar from a heartland state offering a major in maritime studies. The library's regular patrons
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include a former priest nicknamed "Tertullian" because he enjoys reading church fathers and first requested one of Tertullian's works. As Brunetti investigates he learns more about the way these thieves operate. The novel felt "unfinished" because it lacked a wrap-up, and the only "justice" achieved was through a murder. We see the Italian justice system's corruption at play in this novel as in many of the author's works.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
After the discovery of the theft of rare items from the Biblioteca Merula, its director calls the Questura for assistance. Commissario Brunetti is a reader, but he knows very little about rare books and the collectors who covet them. While Brunetti is still trying to understand the means and motive
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for the thefts, a murder sends the investigation in a new direction.

I enjoyed this series entry for its library setting, but I was a little disappointed with the execution of the plot. Leon introduced clues that weren’t fully explored and suspects that weren’t developed. Signorina Elettra was off kilter without explanation, although maybe Leon plans to give her a larger role in the next book.
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LibraryThing member addunn3
Brunetti is on the trail of a book thief. Excellent plot with the usual enjoyable Leon writing style.
LibraryThing member jetangen4571
addictive-behaviors, Venice, law-enforcement, art-theft, rare-books, greed, lies, librarian, library, family, family-dynamics, friendship, class-consciousness, clergy, false-information, extortion*****

The murder comes near the last quarter of the book. The investigation is of the theft of rare book
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and even of the illuminated pages cut from books printed in the 16th century. The investigation begins at one particular revered library, but it is soon apparent that it is a problem not only in Venice but in all of Europe. It's the same as with stolen or looted artifacts, the items are stolen to order and sold to private collectors. Well done.
David Colacci continues to be the voice actor who performs the series to the delight of me and other readers.
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LibraryThing member diana.hauser
By Its Cover written by Donna Leon is Book #23 of Ms. Leon’s acclaimed Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery series.
By Its Cover revolves around the stealing and defacing of rare, valuable books and manuscripts.
As always the city of Venice, its history, its art, its culture is the main character of
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the story.
Commissario Brunetti, his relationships with family and fellow police, his home city of Venice, his love of food and wine and his determination to find truth is also a main thread, a main character of the story and the entire series.
It is hard to put the book down once the reader has begun. It is fascinating to have a front row seat to the logic, the reasoning, the sincerity and dogged pursuit of truth that Brunetti goes through in every case.
A highly recommended title and series *****
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