Beastly Things: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

by Donna Leon

Hardcover, 2012

Call number





Atlantic Monthly Press (2012), Edition: First Edition, 288 pages


When the body of man is found in a canal, damaged by the tides, carrying no wallet, and wearing only one shoe, Brunetti has little to work with. No local has filed a missing-person report, and no hotel guests have disappeared. Where was the crime scene? And how can Brunetti identify the man when he can't show pictures of his face? The autopsy shows a way forward: it turns out the man was suffering from a rare, disfiguring disease. With Inspector Vianello, Brunetti canvasses shoe stores, and winds up on the mainland in Mestre, outside of his usual sphere. From a shopkeeper, they learn that the man had a kindly way with animals. At the same time, animal rights and meat consumption are quickly becoming preoccupying issues at the Venice Questura, and in Brunetti's home, where conversation at family meals offer a window into the joys and conflicts of Italian life. Perhaps with the help of Signorina Elettra, Brunetti and Vianello can identify the man and understand why someone wanted him dead.… (more)

Media reviews

The Toronto Star
In Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti’s hunt for clues during a murder investigation in Beastly Things, he makes his way to a meat company’s slaughterhouse on the mainland. There, the sounds and smells of the animal butchering cause Brunetti to feel helplessly faint at heart. Even though there
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is much sleuthing time left in the day, he hurries home for a long shower and glasses of wine. This treatment brings little relief to his delicate sensibilities, and next day, he continues to avoid the office, ignoring his duties in the case that took him to the slaughterhouse. Can anyone imagine any other homicide cop, Harry Bosch for example, behaving like such a fragile flower? Dragging his feet on a murder case just because some cows were turned into steaks? The way it’s supposed to work, not even dead two-legged creatures should deter homicide guys. Four-legged corpses wouldn’t give Bosch a pause in his hunt for murderers. But cops do things differently in Venice. Brunetti is famous for rarely passing up the sumptuous lunches and dinners his spectacular wife Paola prepares. And he punctuates each day with leisurely visits to bistros for coffee and pastries. Much of his work day, it’s true, is taken up with the necessary manipulation of his immediate superior, the very political Vice Questore Giuseppe Patta, and he must forever tiptoe around his country’s rampant corruption. Nevertheless, Brunetti seems seldom far from a snooze or a soothing glass of wine, especially when his sensitive nerves are threatened. The 21st novel in Donna Leon’s series has all the familiar elements, but unlike other recent Brunetti books, this one offers an authentically puzzling case and some brilliant grilling of suspects. The story gets under way when a male body turns up in a Venice canal. Medical examination reveals that the victim was stabbed three times and stripped clean of all identification. Brunetti starts the case from scratch, without even a name for the body. The usual shortcuts to vital information are provided to Brunetti by the Internet-savvy police receptionist, Signorina Elettra. (That’s another area where Bosch must operate differently, not having a secretary who saves him from pounding the pavement in the interests of answering the case’s smaller but essential questions.) Still, it’s Brunetti who shines on his own in the sessions of cross-examination. These exchanges are vastly entertaining, and show Brunetti, rallied from his spell of faint-heartedness, as a sleuth at the top of his game.
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2 more
Sächsische Zeitung
Auch in Brunettis 21. Fall wirkt die nackte Gier als mörderische Triebkraft. In den Verhören der Beteiligten läuft der Kommissar zu großer Form auf, die Autorin konstruiert Dialoge voll Esprit und psychologischer Raffinesse.
Die Welt
Bei keinem Kommissar stimmt die Work-Life-Balance wie bei Guido Brunetti: Im 21. Fall lässt Donna Leon ihren Ermittler wieder an der Lagunenstadt leiden und Müßiggang, Familie, Essen, Wein genießen.

User reviews

LibraryThing member gbill
A murder mystery set in Venice with vegetarian themes held such promise for me, but this book turned out to be quite a disappointment; it’s predictable, ponderous, and painful to get through. I have no idea why Leon is praised for this series, at least based on this installment. Zzzzzzz.
LibraryThing member thornton37814
Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates a man whose body is found in one of the canals. The man suffered from a rare disease which affected the upper portion of his body. The man's identity leads the investigation to a slaughterhouse. Brunetti is convinced that the key to the murder lies there, but
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with no one talking, he's having difficulty developing the case. It's an interesting case. Although the outcome is somewhat predictable, the author managed to maintain my interest. There are a couple of subplots that add some interest to the novel in just the right places. This has become one of my favorite mystery series because the Venetian setting makes for interesting plots and because Brunetti and his wife are such interesting characters. This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
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LibraryThing member lynndp
The latest Guido Brunetti Mystery involves a man with one shoe, a rare disfiguring disease and a kindly way with animals. The charming Brunetti family as well as the Signorina Elettra and Vianello are part of the story. With each new book I worry that Ms Leon will run out of steam or lose interest
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in Venice and her cast of characters, but I see no evidence of this to date.
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LibraryThing member khiemstra631
This was another audio book to which I listened. Hearing all of the Italian names was very enjoyable and one of the charms of the book! The book centered on a body found in a canal of Venice and Bruno's quest to track down its origins. Another in a long series, this is a good one.
LibraryThing member SignoraEdie
Newest Inspector Guidi Brunetti mystery focuses on the meat industry in Venice. I just love how Donna Leon portrays the culture and norms of Venetian/Italian society.
LibraryThing member Judiex
Venice Police Commissario Guido Brunetti is a competent man who basically loves his work. His co-workers and superiors are a mixed bag, but all of them are human. There are some that are a pain and others work as a team to try to solve the crimes they encounter.
This book briefly talks about the way
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that Venice has changed over the decades but focuses on trying to identify the body of a man found in the canal and then figure out why and where his was killed in order to find the murderer.
Much of the story takes aim at a meat processing plant. After reading it, I'm glad I keep kosher. Otherwise, I might totally stop eating meat.
The story is plausable. Corruption, guilt, greed, and sex are all part of daily lives in any location. The people he talks to react as I would expect people, guilty or innocent, to react to questioning by the police.
Donna Leon's stories never miss the mark.
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LibraryThing member alyson
ARC provided by Netgalley.I like the increasing amount on ethical issues in Leon's books, it gives the books the pleasure of genre reading but with a little more substance. As always the characters are great, but I wish there had been a little more food.
LibraryThing member Perednia
The body of a man without identification but with a distinct medical condition is found in a canal. As Commissario Guido Brunetti discovers who the man was, and why he was killed, the well-loved Venetian policeman will have to address personal and professional issues.

Because the man has a condition
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that makes him stand out, Brunetti is able to identify him. The man was a veterinarian, separated from his wife and beloved son, and moonlighting at a slaughterhouse for financial reasons. So in addition to exploring other investigative avenues, Brunetti must talk to the people at the slaughterhouse. This comes as talk around home centers on unsafe food.

In a remarkable setpiece, Leon describes the tour Brunetti and Vianello take through the slaughterhouse after hours. It is gruesome but not graphic, and a master class in how to write about something utterly horrible without using extremely specific sights and actions.

The mystery of who killed the victim and why does not make a difficult case. But that is not the point of Leon's book. Nor is the point the theme so similar to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

Rather, it is widespread and so often accepted corruption in personal and private lives that forms the foundation to Beastly Things. Whether it's Brunetti relying on the highly capable Signorina Elettra to discover information he needs or the business of any business -- to make money -- there is little innocence in his world.

Beastly Things is yet another deceptively thoughtful mystery from Leon, who once again also brings to vivid life Brunetti's Venice and the commissario's wonderful family.
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LibraryThing member margitc
I really needed this book right now. Well-written. References the physical beauty of the Venetian architecture, classical Greek & roman literature, the corrosive effects of modern life on humans and historical artifacts, the corrupt system of power and politics that is and always ever will be, the
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remarkable survival of humanity. This novel explores our relationships with animals - as friends and as food, as epicurean nourishment and the callous commerce of commodity.
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LibraryThing member SamM4
The Commissario Brunetti books are all good, and this is no exception. There is a gentle relentlessness to them, whereby we know he will get his man in the end. This book features less of Paola and the children, and the main characters are in danger of becoming so intuitive that they no longer need
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to speak out loud to each other. Still love them though.
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LibraryThing member librarian1204
Another good one from the best travel guide to Venice . Not only do I want to visit I want to dine with Brunetti as well.
Speaking of food, this book could result in a lot of new vegans.
LibraryThing member Turrean
Time in Venice with a Guido Brunetti mystery is time well-spent. In Beastly Things, Brunetti and his colleagues are investigating the mysterious death of a veterinarian whose body was dumped in a canal. They untangle a web of lies surrounding the slaughterhouses in the city.
LibraryThing member smik
At the heart of BEASTLY THINGS is a murder mystery, the plot is tight, and the methods of detection inspirational, but for much of the novel other issues, not entirely Venetian, take centre stage. Guido Brunetti is pretty sure he recognises the man's face a farmers' protest the previous autumn and
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the wonderful Signorina Elettra manages to find his face in footage of the protest. But he is not a farmer. The search for his identity and the reason for his murder leads Brunetti and his team into a world of corruption.

Brunetti and Vianello pay a visit to an horrific slaughterhouse on the mainland at Mestre but in a sense what goes on in the management of this slaughterhouse and others in the near region is worse than the actual slaughter of the animals that they witness.
It evokes a deep feeling of melancholy in Brunetti about the state of things. He seems more bitter and disillusioned than has emerged in earlier novels.

Before Brunetti could answer, they were disturbed by the appearance from the left of a enormous – did it have eight decks? Nine? Ten? – cruise ship. It trailed meekly behind a gallant tug, but the fact that the hawser connecting them dipped limply into the water gave the lie to the appearance of whose motors were being used to propel them and which boat decided the direction.

What a perfect metaphor, Brunetti thought: it looked like the government was pulling the Mafia into port to decommission and destroy it, but the ship that appeared to be doing the pulling had by far the smaller motor, and any time the other one chose, it could give a yank on the hawser and remind the other boat of where the power lay.


In no way deterred by the failure of the book to spin up a winning combination, Brunetti opened to Book Eleven. ‘No thief can steal your will.’ This time he closed the book and set it aside. Again, he gave his attention to the light in the window and the statement he had just read: neither provided illumination.

Government ministers were arrested with frightening frequency; the head of government himself boasted, in the middle of a deepening financial crisis, that he didn’t have financial worries and had nineteen houses; Parliament was reduced to an open sewer. And where were the angry mobs in the piazzas?

Who stood up in Parliament to discuss the bold-faced looting of the country? But let a young and virginal girl be killed, and the country went mad; slash a throat and the press was off and running for days. What will was left among the public that had not been destroyed by television and the penetrant vulgarity of the current administration? ‘Oh, yes, a thief can steal your will. And has,’ he heard himself say aloud.


He had been curt; of course he had been curt, but he had not wanted to be sucked into yet another discussion of the crime. It troubled him that many people had so readily come to treat murder as a kind of savage joke, to which the only response was grotesque humour. Perhaps this reaction was no more than magic thinking, a manifestation of the hope that laughter would keep it from happening again, or from happening to the person who laughed.

Once again, BEASTLY THINGS comes into my category of crime fiction that makes you think. This is what we have come to expect from Donna Leon but from this novel you get the sense that in Italy corruption is winning the battle. How long can Guido Brunetti and his team fight the good fight?
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LibraryThing member DrLed
Synopsis: An unassuming veterinarian is found stabbed and dumped in a canal. Brunetti's investigation leads him examine the world of the meat industry.
Review: This story reminds me of 'Animal Farm', a bit. It's also has a quite touching ending. Interesting and enjoyable, although rather more
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straightforward than normal.
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LibraryThing member cygnet81
A solid Brunetti book!
LibraryThing member cyderry
I have been "reading" the Guido Brunetti series for several years and never tire of hearing the Italian accent while being read Ms. Leon's books. I think that I've heard everyone of the 21 I've read.

In this story, a man is found dead with no identification except for an unusual malady. So first the
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Venice police must discover who the victim is before than an investigate why he died.

The twists and turns that are uncovered relating to the Italian food supply and how it could be manipulated, was shocking, well-written in the extreme showing that ethics have a vital place in any society.
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LibraryThing member themulhern
I think this is a typical novel for the series. The novels in the series all seem just mildly sad and grim, as if, fundamentally, Venice has little hope. The ending is needlessly sentimental.
LibraryThing member JW1949
Very well written and the story was developed very carefully and deliberately. I really enjoyed the final interviews which drew out the details, motive etc., of the murder. It was also a very Italian ending. Enjoyable, DL maintains a very high standard in her written word, characters and of course
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in the story itself. When's the next one due?
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LibraryThing member barlow304
Donna Leon's Brunetti series is justly famous for its philosophical detective and its wonderful evocation of Venice. Beastly Things continues the series with what amounts to a well written police procedural, as Brunetti unravels the mystery of a murdered veterinarian. The atmosphere in Venice plays
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a starring role, but the most bravura moment in the book is Brunetti's visit to an animal slaughterhouse.

I must confess that I am a big fan of Montalbano, the Sicilian detective, but Leon does such a good job with this book that I may move my reading to the North.
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LibraryThing member Figgles
It's a long time since I read a Commisario Brunetti novel, and though this would've been written 10 years after the last one I read, the characters remain familiar and I soon slipped back into the Venetian world of beauty and corruption. This was a comforting read.
LibraryThing member TomDonaghey
Beastly Things (Comm. Brunetti #21) by Donna Leon. It is always a nice thing to revisit Venice at any time of the year. The canals, the ancient mansions that line them, the young lovers and the people of the town mixing and mingling as does the languages they speak. It is a city built on both the
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water and romance.
But it is a city, and like every other city in the world, there is evil. When the body of a man is discovered in a canal, the work of Commissario Brunetti begins. This is the 21st outing for this urbane detective and. like those that came before, this case has long arms that reach out from the water city and into the real world beyond.
The body is something of a mystery. No identification, one shoe missing and the body itself suffering from a rare, non-life threatening disease. This latter thing gives the man a very distinct look, one that people are sure to remember. Like Brunetti does, although he can’t quite recall from whence that memory comes.
As in all of the Brunette novels there is a great array of various themes presented. The family life of the Commissario plays an important role in grounding the detective in real life, keeping him away that the world is not just full of crime and bad people but is in fact a very good and welcoming place. His office life, wether sparring with his boss or indulging Signorina Elettra in her flagrant misuse of her skills as a computer hacker. That is something that is always useful to the police in discovering the whys behind many of the people they face.
Beastly Things takes Brunetti away from his beloved Venice and on to the main land of Italy, to be surrounded by the many beastly things that abound there, not least of which are traffic and factories. It is to this last inconvenience that calls to Brunetti and his right hand man, Inspector Vianello. They have tracked the dead man to his home and his work as a veterinarian. It is not the man’s work with pets that may have caused his death, but the job he took a few months ago to certify the animals that were being brought to a industrial slaughterhouse as being good enough to process. And to certify the processed meat as being edible.
As in many of these novels, real world concerns, in this case animal rights and the humane processing of such, comes into play making the book have a greater world view that so many other plain detective novels fail to achieve. This is another fine addition to a long ling of very satisfying novels set in the all to real, and wet, world of Venice.
And the last chapter may have you grabbing for a hankie, it’s that good.
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LibraryThing member diana.hauser
Beastly Things is Book #21 of the Commissario Guido Brunetti series written by Donna Leon.
It is somewhat painful to read about this case. It involves corruption (of course) and murder (of course) at a slaughter house.
Guido’s remarks about traffic and choked highways are somewhat naively funny,
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but most of us don’t have the option of travel by motorboat and car-free walkways.
A highly recommended title and series ****
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LibraryThing member bookappeal
A leisurely-paced police procedural with no sense of urgency. Given that this is the 21st book in the series, character development is sparse but the mystery is lackluster as well. The villain is obvious and the investigative procedure is entirely uninteresting. While the author conveys a sense of
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Venice, it's not a particularly strong or compelling one. The main character is appealing, just not terribly distinctive.
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LibraryThing member ffortsa
I started listening to this on audio, but even after I got used to the Italian inflections (which may have died out after the first few chapters), listening was too slow for me. I didn't want to rev up the listening speed so I got the text from the library instead.

As usual, Brunetti is acutely
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aware of the ethical sewer of Venice, and works around it as he can. An unusual man is found in one of the canals, and is eventually traced to the industrial mainland. Identifying him, and why someone would want to stab him, is the process of the book.

Leon draws several almost-caricatures: a deformed man, an enormously fat man, a tall, very skinny man, a man who cannot stand the vision of meat processing. She continues to lean on the ethical controversies between vegetarians and the conventionally omnivorous - it will be interesting to see if she carries this forward in the series..
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