The Jewels of Paradise

by Donna Leon

Hardcover, 2012

Call number





Atlantic Monthly Press (2012), Edition: First Edition first Printing, 256 pages


Caterina Pellegrini is a native Venetian, and like so many of them, she's had to leave home to pursue her career. With a doctorate in baroque opera from Vienna, she lands in Manchester, England. Manchester, however, is no Venice. When Caterina gets word of a position back home, she jumps at the opportunity. The job is an unusual one. After nearly three centuries, two locked trunks, believed to contain the papers of a baroque composer have been discovered. Deeply-connected in religious and political circles, the composer died childless; now two Venetians, descendants of his cousins, each claim inheritance. Caterina's job is to examine any enclosed papers to discover the "testamentary disposition" of the composer. But when her research takes her in unexpected directions she begins to wonder just what secrets these trunks may hold.… (more)

Media reviews

The Toronto Star
The bad news is that Commissario Guido Brunetti is nowhere in sight in Leon’s new novel. The much better news is that the book’s fresh central character is far more beguiling than Brunetti. This paragon of smarts, who’s also gifted with an amusing acerbic streak, is Caterina Pellagrini, a
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native of Venice and a musicologist specializing in baroque opera. Pellagrini is hired by two untrustworthy Venetians to check out the papers of their ancestor, a brilliant composer of three centuries earlier. The two slippery guys figure a potential windfall lies within their grasp. The book’s puzzle is engaging, Venice is captivating, but most amazing of all, Jewels makes research seem a glorious and exciting pursuit.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member booksinthebelfry
Disappointing overall (even after consciously tamping down expectations raised by Leon's Brunetti mysteries), but notable for its fond depiction of research processes and resources (not something, I grant you, that most people are looking for in a work of fiction). In a book that treats religious
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faith with a great deal of skepticism and equates devotion with superstition, it is somewhat amusing to read this description of a once-familiar library fixture:

"Oddio," she exclaimed. "It's a card catalogue." When had she last seen one? And where? She approached it as a true believer would approach a relic. She reached out and touched it, ran her hand along the top and side, slid her finger under a flange and pulled a drawer out a few centimeters, then slid it silently back in place. "it's been a decade. More." Then in a conspiratorial voice, she said, "I love them. They're so full of information."

True Confession: I love them, too. Especially the flanges.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
Taking a break from her series of crime novels featuring the long-suffering and inordinately patient Commissario Guido Brunetti Donna Leon has ventured into the more litereary end of Dan Brown territory, taking the reader through a brief history of Baroque music and revisiting the life of composer,
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bishop and diplomat Agostino Steffani.

Her protagonist in this stand-alone novel is Catherina Pellegrini, an accomplished musicologist with expertise in the Baroque period. She is commissioned to return to her native Venice to review the contents of two large recently discovered chests, identified as having belonged to the late Steffani who died in 1728. Two rather shady modern day Venetians have also been identified as having joint claim on the Steffani estate.

We are then treated to an intriguing recapitulation of Steffani's life, from early mutilation as a castrato through his career as a leading chorister and then a composer in his own right while he also amassed a number of posts within the Catholic Church, complemented by diplomatic missions for various eighteenth century notables.

Leon has clearly equalled her character in the depth of her research, and she conveys huge amounts of information about the life and times of Steffani, without ever making the reader feel put upon. Meanwhile she also manages to build the tension as Catherina's investigations proceed.

All in all I found this a welcome break from the Brunetti series which I felt was beginning to feel slightly stale.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
During her four years of teaching in dreary Manchester, baroque music scholar Caterina Pellegrini has come to realize how much she misses her native Venice. When a colleague presents her with a job opportunity that will take her back to Venice, she jumps at it without much deliberation. Caterina
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finds herself in unusual circumstances. She has been hired to examine the contents of two recently-discovered trunks belonging to a baroque composer. Her clients are cousins and are direct descendants of the never-married composer's heirs. Caterina's task is to determine which side of the family the composer favored so that ownership of the trunks and their contents may be awarded to one of the cousins. Caterina's contact with the mysterious cousins is facilitated by an attorney who may have his own agenda. Just what treasure do the cousins suspect the trunks hold? If they know, they're not telling.

While there are some elements of physical danger, the mystery is primarily an intellectual challenge requiring extensive library, archival, and Internet research. I know a little bit about this kind of research, and I was puzzled by some aspects of her research strategy. For instance, due to the obscure nature of her research subject, Caterina decides to switch from using the “standard JSTOR site” to a “more mainstream search” (by which I assume she means Google). There's no mention of RILM or other specialized music indexes that someone with a doctorate in music should be familiar with. When computers and cell phone technology are mentioned, the language and descriptions seem to assume the characters' (and by extension the readers') unfamiliarity with the technology described. It made me wonder if the book's target audience is assumed to be on the low to intermediate end of the computer literacy spectrum.

Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series is still on my TBR list, so I can't say how this stand-alone compares to her popular series. I suspect it's a different kind of mystery, and that some Brunetti fans will like it while others might not. It will appeal most strongly to readers who like cerebral mysteries and to classical music lovers. Although the setting is modern, the historical research component might appeal to historical mystery fans.

This review is based on an electronic advanced reading copy provided by the author through NetGalley.
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LibraryThing member Poquette
A novel that seemed to promise much but which fell flat in the end. Deeply unsatisfying.
LibraryThing member Maya47Bob46
This is not a Brunetti, but if you are intereted in music, history or research and want it with a little mystery, this is a bood for you. As always Leon's Venice is wonderful and the glimpse of the world of the musicologist today is fascinating. I loved the exchanges between the sisters.

It was a
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little slow going in the beginning in part, perhaps, because we needed to be introduced to characters, but once I started reading it was a page turner.
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LibraryThing member smik
While there will be some who love this book, I'm afraid I am not one of them. I think I love the Guido Brunetti series (see my reviews below) too much.

THE JEWELS OF PARADISE felt a bit bloated to me. I couldn't fault the research and accepted that the author had a few things she needed to get off
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her chest, but there were times when I felt myself losing interest.

Part of (my) trouble is probably that it barely falls into the crime fiction category. Sure there is a possible murder that took place some 400 years ago when a prominent man simply disappeared, and then in the current setting there is some fraud and deception happening. But the author felt too compelled to give me the benefit of her research and I also got impatient with Caterina humming over baroque music in her head.

I found the final denouement barely satisfactory. I could understand why the "cousins" were interested in the possible treasure but couldn't get a handle on what the lawyer was trying to do. Although there is some irony at the end that made me chuckle. It tied in well with the discussion in the story about people viewing things from different perspectives.
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LibraryThing member kakadoo202
hoping to be lead into the mysteries of music history but instead i was drawn into the german history of kings and queens. not a thing i was looking for when i picked up this book with the backdrop of Venice. i made it through the book because i really wanted to know the secret ( which then was
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rather disappointing) but i had a hard time going through it. not sure if information like: she was brushing her teeth and drinking a glass of water or references to a modern day princess's death were moving the story along.
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LibraryThing member slavenrm
As I have so often said lately, I received this book as part of the GoodReads FirstReads program. Despite the fact that I didn't pay a farthing for this novel I will endeavor to review it with baldfaced honesty.

Leon, from all I can tell is a widely acclaimed author and you can see shadows of her
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skill in this offering but sadly, they are just shadows. "The Jewels" is erudite as it demonstrates the author's research into Baroque music and she does a good job of education but I think most readers will find her actual story line rather sparse. She goes to a great deal of trouble to paint the background and it's a rich tapestry but when the final curtain finally drops the result we're left with is predictable and not really all that interesting. This book is cut from the pattern of a thousand other books. The only difference is the motif she has chosen and even that is rather a niche interest.

On the up side, the book is educational and can be finished in an extended sitting even during a weeknight. While Leon's latest doesn't offer much, at least it offers it in a hurry allowing the reader to plod on to something more entertaining.
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LibraryThing member Kaysbooks
Being a huge fan of Cecilia Bartoli, I decided that it´s time to read a Donna Leon novel. And while the new cd of Cecilia Bartoli is just wonderful, I have to say that the book is not. It is just nothing but a boring narration of a non-existing story with shallow characters. This book is never
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thrilling, entertaining or in any way exciting. What a shame! Steffani deserves better, his music deserves better and readers deserve better, too.
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LibraryThing member dianaleez
Donna Leon's 'The Jewels of Paradise,' sadly lacks the magic that made her early Guido Brunetti mysteries sparkle.

Briefly, it is the slowly told tale of Venetian musicologist Caterina Pellegrini's attempts to examine the long-lost papers of a forgotten baroque composer in order to decide which of
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his distant kinsmen will inherit his estate.

My synopsis is boring, and unfortunately, the book proves to be less than riveting. Almost no one Caterina encounters is telling all the truth, or in some cases, even some of the truth. Venice is more a painted backdrop than a living element of the story (as in the best Brunetti). And Caterina's character is never given the depth needed to become interesting in her own right.

'The Jewels of Paradise' is obviously plotted to become the first in a series. I will not be signing on for round two.

(A review copy was provided by the publisher.)
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LibraryThing member librarian1204
Please go back to Guido!
LibraryThing member ArrBeeBurn
Not read as yet - looking forward to it.
LibraryThing member Turrean
A sad letdown. I have little interest in baroque opera, so the pages and pages of historical background were wasted on me. I was impatient with the tease of a possible love interest, and INCREDULOUS at how the supposedly sensible main character handled a supremely creepy encounter with a bad guy. I
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did not buy it. The solution to the "mystery" was facile and anticlimactic. Very disappointing.
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LibraryThing member Perrywilson
Different characters, different mysteries, same Venice. I loved the story. The different view of life as a Venetian. The Church, history and music combine in an interesting story of greed and power.
LibraryThing member DrLed
Synopsis: Caterina Pellegrini is a researcher specializing in musicology. She is hired to read through letters in old trunks to determine if the owners have an inheritance. Although she is in her beloved Venice, she feels threatened by some unknown group and confident that the new man she's met
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isn't what he seems.
Review: If you like research, you'll love this book. If you're not into how researchers work, you may like the historical intrigue that is very well told. In any case, this is written with Leon's high standards and the dry humor she always puts into her books. If you're looking for crime, it's not in this book. There is a moral ~ what is valued by one person may not be valued by others.
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LibraryThing member cygnet81
This is not nearly as compelling as a Brunetti mystery. Its missing some of that Venetian light.
LibraryThing member Judiex
I've read and enjoyed all of Dona Leon's previous books featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti and have been eagerly anticipating her latest book, THE JEWELS OF PARADISE. Had it been written by an author I didn't know, I would have given up on in after the first few chapters.
The story is set in
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Venice where Caterina Pellegrini has just come home from England to decipher two trunks of documents which have been untouched since the early 1700s. The trunks belonged to an Italian Baroque composer and have recently been discovered. Two descendants of two of his cousins want to find out what treasures are in the trunk. The two of them don't get along and a lawyer arranges to hire someone to go through them to determine the contents to find out which one has the greater claim so they won't have to share the bounty.
The composer was a real person who also was active in the Catholic church. The book tells about his works--musical, religious, and political-as well as offering some information about the convoluted lives of some of the prominent people of his time. The central part of that story is the disappearance of a Count with ties to the rulers in 1694.
I would have liked to get a final report on his disappearance (interweaving fact with fiction) and didn't like having the issue unresolved.
The book focuses on the research Caterina conducts to learn about the composer. Subplots include the attorney involved with the cousins, Caterina's relationship with her sister who is a nun researching the Catholic Church (one of the best parts of the book), and the hunt for the jewels which are believed to be hidden in the trunk.
I also didn't like the use of untranslated Italian words and phrases; I don't think they were necessary to set the tone.
I hope Donna Leon's next book is back to her high standards.
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LibraryThing member MarthaJeanne
What a wonderful book! If Leon ever writes another non-thriller I'll be sure to read it. There is actually not a lot about baroque music, but a fair amount about 18th century politics, and a lot about how research works.

The ending is perfect!
LibraryThing member ChazziFrazz
Donna Leon is best known for her Commissario Guido Brunetti series of mysteries. This is not one, but instead a stand-alone tale.

Caterina Pellegrini is a native Venetian who has been working abroad. When she hears of a position in Venice, she sees it as a chance to go back home.

The job is to
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examine papers left by a famous Italian baroque composer. Two people, claiming to be distant descendants, have gained access to two trunks full of papers from around 300 years ago. They are looking for a storied treasure that they may claim.

Caterina’s reading of the papers takes her on a research foray into the history of the composer and the era. She also finds an attraction between herself and the attorney who hired her is developing. She also learns of the greed of the two cousins who hope there truly is a treasure waiting. Their idea has nothing to do with history but only of gold, Jewellery and items of that kind.

It is a bit of a mystery, but also a study of personality that can be obvious and hidden in people. Leon’s writing portrays it well.
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LibraryThing member pinkozcat
I had hoped for much from this book by Donna Leon but, having ploughed through a couple of hundred pages of the life and works of a Baroque composer, I realised when the book came to a rather abrupt end that the story could have been written on all of half a dozen pages ... or less.

My feeling is
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that Leon has interested herself in the life and works of Steffani and wanted to spread the word so she manufactured a mystery story around her research in the hope of reaching a wider audience that she would have done with a straight biography.
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LibraryThing member murderbydeath
A compelling, yet weird, no-body mystery that reminds me in many ways of Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time. Set in modern Venice, Italy with our MC researching the recently discovered papers of Baroque composer and bishop Agostino Steffani, in an attempt to settle a centuries old dispute over who
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So much of this book is research, which was sometimes interesting but never what you’d call fast-paced, and while I love classical music, I dislike opera (no singing please, just the music), so at the beginning I worried for my attention span. It soon becomes clear that the letters have very little to do with his ‘side’ career as composer and more to do with his diplomatic mission for the Vatican. Even that sounds more exciting that what you get, but it is interesting.

The writing is good but the structure is wobbly and the characters all fail to set and feel half-formed or as though Leon couldn’t commit. Leon obviously has issues about her own faith that bleed out through the pages. The book remains an academic exercise until just past the mid-way point, when suddenly Leon throws connections to Opus Dei in, but never explains them, nor develops them. Morretti’s motivations are never explained; we’re supposed to believe he’s a ‘bad guy’ but with no tangible reason or proof. But she also seems unable to commit to whether this was going to be a suspenseful mystery, or an academic one. A scene of menace is jarring and effective for its psychological impact, but nothing ever becomes of it and its eventual explanation is ineffective, at best.

I loved the ending though – such a perfect twist on importance between the secular and the religious. The ending was almost perfect.

It was a good read, though as a standalone, it left too many threads dangling, and the author was too transparent about her own feelings about faith in my opinion; I thought it was good, but had it been better balanced and better executed it could have been amazing.
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