The Girl of His Dreams

by Donna Leon

Hardcover, 2008

Call number





Atlantic Monthly Press (2008), 272 pages


On a rainy morning, not long after the funeral of his mother, Commissario Brunetti and Ispettore Vianello respond to a 911 call reporting a body floating near the steps in one of Venice's side canals. Reaching down to pull it out, Brunetti's wrist is caught by the silkiness of golden hair, and he sees a small foot-together he and Vianello lift a dead girl from the water. But, inconceivably, no one has reported a missing child, nor the theft of the gold jewelry that she carries. So Brunetti is drawn into a search not only for the cause of her death, but also for her identity, her family, and for the secrets that people will keep in order to protect their children-be they innocent or guilty. The investigation takes Brunetti from the canals and palazzos of Venice to a Gypsy encampment on the mainland, through quicksands of connections and relationships both known and concealed, as he struggles with both institutional prejudice and entrenched criminality to try to unravel the fate of the dead child.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member sharonzuk
Sure to be another hit, but I find the un-American comments a bit disturbing.
LibraryThing member Stromata
I very rarely read 'detective' novels but an impending trip to Venice prompted me to try Donna Leon's series set in the city.

The series revolves around the work of Police Commissario Brunetti, his various side-kicks, his pompous boss and the ingenuous Signorina Elettra.

'The Girl of His Dreams'
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begins with a funeral and end with one. The first is that of Brunetti's elderly Mother who is buried by her warm and loving friends and family - the second is of a child found floating in a canal. It is Brunetti's task to find out who this girl is; why were there pieces of jewellery secreted about her person and why had no one reported her missing. This brings him into areas of the Venetian comminity whith whom he has had little experience and finds his prejudices and political-correctness are tested to the full.

As with the others in this series, Donna Leon paints a vivid and loving picture of Venice; the storylines are fairly engaging and the cast of characters are interesting.

However, and perhaps this is my fault for reading four of these books in quick succession, the plots are rather on the thin side; the complexities of real life are missing, people and situations seem at times one-dimensional. Brunetti's personal life appears a little too perfect to ring true - wonderful, if at times amusingly adolescent children; beautiful, intelligent, astute wife who not only cooks exquisite suppers but who is the daughter of a well-heeled, well-connected palazzo-owning Venetian. Even his mother-in-law is perfect!

My main puzzle with these books may seem a little trivial but how are we to believe in a character such as Brunetti who drinks so much alcahol - two or three glasses of wine at lunchtime, the best part of a bottle at supper, followed by glasses of grappa? I am amused he can walk in a straight line, let alone solve crimes!
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LibraryThing member dano35ie
Another fine book.The detail and the use of Historical sites add to this great read.
LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Another marvelous Commissario Brunetti story. The urbane, well-read Brunetti discovers the body of a young girl floating in a canal. The search to discover how and why she died takes him to a camp of gypsies where he must struggle with the prejudices of his fellow workers, and his own distress at
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the lack of apparent interest in the girl's death. As usual, Leon provides us with an outstanding plot, incredibly rich characters, and a resolution that is true to real life.
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
If only all authors could be as consistent in pleasing their readers.
Another enjoyable, thoughtful story with Commissario Brunetti and the solid cast of characters that people his Venice. This story touched on political correctness, prejudices to stereotypes and our belief in the inviolable state
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of childhood and when it ends.
I find that I now read the novels as much to find out about the progress of the Brunetti family and friends as to the mystery in the novel.
Very enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member cameling
Commissario Guido Brunetti mourns the passing of his mother and is approached by Padre Antonin who delivered the service at the cemetery to look into a preacher whom he suspects to be a fake out to scam money from the gullible people of Venice. Brunetti went to the same school as Padre Antonin and
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remembers him as a bully to many younger and smaller kids. He decides to investigate not just the preacher but also Padre Antonin.

In the midst of his investigations, he's called out because someone's found a body in the water. The body is that of a young girl, drowned. The coroner, in autopsy, discovers a watch and a wedding ring hidden in the girl's person. They eventually manage to identify her as a gypsy child who apparently burgled a house before she fell or was pushed into the river.

This girl haunts Brunetti and he's at his best trying to find the murderer, even if clues as to why or how she ended up in the river aren't forthcoming, the family who were burgled raises his hackles, and her Romany family don't want to talk to him.

One of the things I like about this series is watching Brunetti move among the darkness of human nature and find his balance in the light and love of his family.
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LibraryThing member carka
Ending was disappointing--felt like the book just ended without really wrapping up the events in the story, or rather, that they were wrapped up too tidily but unrealistically.
LibraryThing member SkyRider
One of the features that run through all Donna Leon's Venetian crime novels featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti is Brunetti's (and presumably Leon's) somewhat jaundiced view of what justice looks like in modern Venice. In some cases this is because Brunetti's superiors are loathe to move against
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the gentry who have the protection of their name, scared to move against the Mafia or unwilling to accord civil rights to some underclass of (often immigrant) society. Brunetti is jarred by the contrast of the darkness of this society against the idyllic home life he leads and is frustrated at his inability to change things.

The Girl of His Dreams is no exception to this overall pattern with the gypsies ("these days we're meant to call them Rom") acting as the disenfranchised underclass this time around. It feels to me as if there's a lot less detective work and a lot more social commentary than there were in the early books of the series - it's a full hundred pages before a body is found and the main investigation begins and it feels as if there are still a number of loose ends when the book comes to an end. It also felt as if the difference between Brunetti's home life and the twilight world in which he operates was being so strongly contrasted that it made his family time seem impossibly perfect.

Despite these misgivings, I greatly enjoyed the book. The main reason for this is that Brunetti isn't really the main star of the story - the city of Venice is. Donna Leon is remarkably skilled at bringing the colour and vibrance of the city to life with a surprising economy of words. Few writers can evoke a location as vividly as she does Venice, and there are few better locations to inhabit, even if it's only for the duration of a short novel.
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LibraryThing member mojacobs
I like the Commissario Brunetti books a lot, but must admit this one is very thin in the crime/mystery department. For lovers of the Brunetti family it is a good enough read, but if this were the first Brunetti book that I read, I doubt I would buy more from the series.
LibraryThing member kakadoo202
somehow this brunetti mystery didnt hit the spot for me. it felt slow to me. did not finish it. could not connect with the suspects and their stories. will have to pick up another brunetti to get back into this series.
LibraryThing member WinstonDog
the most disappointing Brunetti book so far. Starts with a good enough story than somehow, she forgets about it and starts on another story. She winds everything up in the last 3 pages with some implossible explanation with an Italian word that should explain everything except I don't read
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LibraryThing member Roobee1
A dark and often uncomfortable main theme - the death of a Rom child - and a slightly unsatisfying sub-plot come together slightly uneasily, but still very readable.
Not the paciest of books, but food for thought.
LibraryThing member jburlinson
Did Donna Leon imagine that, when she wrote Death At La Fenice, she'd still be writing Brunetti mysteries 17 books later? Would she have wanted that to happen, do you think? Did she have that much she wanted to say? Are Brunetti and his wife and family and friends interesting enough to sustain a
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baker's dozen and half? Is the answer to all these questions, "no"? Is the answer to two of these questions, "yes"?
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LibraryThing member sleahey
Commissario Brunetti has two issues to work on: a suspicious religious group that may be bilking its followers out of money; and an 11 year old Gypsy girl found dead in the canal. The mysteries and their resolution seem less important the the characters and their city.
LibraryThing member Joycepa
#17 in the Commissario Brunetti series, set in Venice, Italy.

The story opens on the funeral of Brunetti’s mother, at last released from the madness of dementia. Giving the blessing at the graveside is an old boyhood acquaintance of Bruneti and his brother, Sergio, Padre Antonin Scallon. In the
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days after the funeral, runetti receives a visit from Padre Antonin at the Questura. Antonin has a request--that Brunetti look into the activities of a fringe preacher, a Brother Leonardo, who, Antonin fears, is running a religious scam to which a friend of Antonin’s seems vulnerable. In response, Bruntetti, Paola, Vionello and his wife Nadia, decide to investigate undercover.

While on this purely personal investigation, Brunetti and Vianello recover from the Grand Canal the body of a 10 year old girl who turns out to be one of the Rom, as the Gypsies are now to be called in the latest sensitivity edicts from the Italian government in general, and Patta in particular. The girl is in possession of what are clearly stolen goods. Brunetti and Vianello carry out the investigation, which seems straightforward, but the girl’s death haunts Brunetti.

This latest of her published books--#18 will be released in April--continues and strengthens a change in Leon’s writing that she seems to have started with the previous book, Suffer the Little Children. Up until that time, Leon wrote (with one glaring exception) outstanding but very straightforward police procedurals. Whether as part of the plot or the way she wove daily Venetian life into her stories, there were themes that always stood out, the most prominent of which was the omnipresent government corruption that penetrates every aspect of Venetian life. She almost always incorporated some theme of social justice into her plots as well.

In this book, even more than Suffer the Little Children, all that is practically nonexistent. The only theme she can say to bring out, and that briefly, is the Mafia, who were brought back into power by the US after World War II to counteract “international Communism,” in another move of monumental stupidity on the part of the US. But that makes just a brief appearance and is a sidelight.

In almost all of her books, the excomunitari--illegal immigrants--are present to some degree or another and even form the matrix of some of her plots. Here, the Rom and their culture are integral to the story.

There are two aspects to this book that are really striking. One is the frustration and despair that Brunetti and Vianello feel in trying to carry out their jobs decently. Given that Leon is writing realistically about Venice, that has always been an undercurrent, but in this book i is very pronounced. You wonder how Brunetti can continue.

The other aspect is that Leon, starting with her previous book and continuing very strongly in this one, has moved away from an easily classifiable genre--police procedural--into what is for her uncharted territory--a more ambiguous, much more subtle story in which she seems to be taking on more profound questions than her usual ones of corruption, environmental crimes, and the like. Now she seems to be trying to examine not just the impact on society but where Venetian society itself is heading. The result is far more of a literary endeavor than it is a crime story. Indeed, crime is the least important element in the book.

In one of her books, Brunetti, an atheist, reflects that while he does not agree at all with the Catholic Church and dislikes the power it wields, he is afraid of what would replace it should Christianity just simply die out. Since I have had exactly the same reaction, it struck me strongly at the time; I was reminded of that brief segment while reading this book.

The Girl of His Dreams has all of the standard Leon strengths; in particular her wry sense of humor is back, which had been missing from some of her previous works. While Paola plays a part, she and the family are not so prominent in this book as in some others. Instead Vianello is given his biggest role; he has clearly become a friend and not just a highly valued colleague.

There really is no denouement to the story--but the end is perfect.

A major and ambitious striking out from the kind of story that won her international fame in the crime genre, this is a far more serious, more thought-provoking book. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Brunetti is unofficially researching a religious group suspected of underhanded means of fundraising for a friend of his. His official investigation is into the death of a Romany/Gypsy girl who was drowned in a canal. The autopsy revealed she had a venereal disease at her young age. Brunetti is
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determined to get to the bottom of it. This is not the best in the series, but it does present a somewhat realistic, but disappointing resolution.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
A new series of detective stories and many of them are audio
LibraryThing member MaggieFlo
This will be my first and last Donna Leon book. I found the characters very interesting but the story fell flat, particularly the ending. I really enjoyed the descriptions of Venice and the food....
LibraryThing member Bookish59
Love that Brunetti is a happily married family man, and that his colleagues are supportive. Brunetti works 2 cases: one is the death of a Romani (gypsy) girl and the other involves learning what he can about a fringe religious group as requested by an acquaintance (whom he doesn't fully trust).

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pushes further than his commander would like but Brunetti knows how to manage (manipulate) his unimaginative and short-sighted boss. His actions resolve one case, and get him as close to the truth as possible in the other.

Strong read, good pacing and characterizations.
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LibraryThing member ChazziFrazz
Guido Brunetti is approached by an old friend of his brother, asking for help. The friend is a priest, recently returned from Africa where he did years of missionary work. The Father is concerned that one of his friends is being duped out of a great sum of money by a man posing as a priest looking
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for donations behind the façade of a new religious sect.

While investigating this matter, the body of a young girl is found floating in the canal. The victim of drowning. How did she get there? Why? Who is she and why is there no report for a missing girl? As this mystery unravels the threads lead to the Gypsy or Romney community. A tight knit and closed community that is an outcast to the rest of the Venetian world. Brunetti must gain access to them for information regarding the girl and the reason for what has happened.

Written with a mellow pace, yet with a strong draw to find out why and how. Life in Venice is not quick moving or clear cut. There are little rituals and customs that must be observed while investigating, in order to get the information needed to solve the case. After all, the majority of transportation is via water or on foot.

I am really enjoying this series. Donna Leon paints an interesting and varied image of Venice and its people.
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LibraryThing member themulhern
Especially depressing, but still a bit heavy-handed. The side-plot of the priest was a puzzle.
LibraryThing member Judiex
In THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS, Donna Leon once again writes about the everyday life of Commissario Guido Brunetti as it affects him, this family and his work.
The book opens with the funeral of Brunetti’s mother. His brother asked a friend whom they had known from childhood, Antonin Scallon, to
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preside at the service. Brunetti remembers the friend as a bully. Since then, Padre Antonin had spent twenty years as missionary in Africa. Soon thereafter, Scallon came to see Brunetti about suspicions regarding a man who heads a new, home-based Christian sect. He thinks the leader of the sect is taking advantage of some of the members for his personal financial gain.
Brunetti has barely started to work on that case when, responding to a call, finds the body of a young girl floating in the canal. The girl has no identification but does have some jewelry hidden on her. There have been no reports of a missing girl. As a result of their investigation, Brunetti is able to determine where the child lived, who she is, and how she probably ended up in the canal.
The book discusses a lot about the girl’s community, how they live, and why they don’t trust the police.
The main characters are familiar from the other books in the series and shows how Brunetti is able to accomplish what he wants to by using psychology on his boss, the Vice-Questore Patta with the help of Patta’s accommodating and connected secretary, Signorina Elettra. Criticisms of the political hierarchy, the Catholic Church, and of American attitudes run throughout the book. As is true for many of Donna Leon’s Brunetti series, the ending is not what readers expect but it is realistic for the situations.
The book includes a map of Venice which marks the many of the locations mentioned.
As always, low key, well-written, with wit and philosophy included
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LibraryThing member addunn3
Brunetti investigates the drowning of a young Gypsy girl.
LibraryThing member sianpr
In this outing, Brunetti investigates a shady religious character and the drowning of a young girl in the Venice canals. The religious investigation plays side fiddle to an increasingly grim tale regarding the lot of Roma (gypsies) in Italy and the fate of the young girl. The system is stacked
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against her and against Brunetti in this pensive novel.
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LibraryThing member kerns222
Another family murder mystery by Donna Leon. With polite dabbling into religion, death, corruption (as usual), and racial prejudice. Commissario Brunetti investigates at a modest pace while never missing lunch or dinner with his wife and family and always getting a good night's sleep.

The book tours
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Venice. I bet tourists walk the path of our detective over bridges and through piazzas, jump aboard for vaporetto rides, and wade into the canal (as Brunetti does when needed.)

It is not noir. If you want nasty action, go Elroy. Brunetti is fire-side reading with a glass of good wine. I see enough nasty action going on in the world today, so I don't mind a timeout with Brunetti and his Venice.
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