The Guido Brunetti series is one of the most popular, and longest running, detective fiction sagas out there.
Covering more than three decades, and still going, there have been 32 Guido Brunetti books to date.
In fact, author Donna Leon has practically published one a year since 1992!
The series revolves around Guido Brunetti, a police commissioner in Venice, as he has to solve high-profile crimes that occur all around the famous, water-heavy city.
Unlike plenty of troubled, difficult detectives that are present all across crime fiction, Brunetti is an honest and intelligent man.
He works hard and enjoys a happy marriage and two children.
Each book involves a new crime, with plenty of twists and suspicious characters, but also a rich and vivid portrayal of Venice itself.
Donna Leon, the author, has lived in Venice for more than 30 years, which is why she’s able to bring the setting of each book so spectacularly to life.
Brunetti has even been adapted into a German TV film series, with 26 films.
In our handy guide below, we’ve got the best order in which to read Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series.
About Guido Brunetti
Guido Brunetti is a commissario for the Italian State Police, working in Venice, his native home city.
Though an honest and compassionate man, he’s deeply diligent in his work and very pragmatic.
He is intelligent, with a great education that helps him solve mysteries and catch criminals. He even speaks English well, because of working in the United States briefly in the past.
Each Brunetti novel sees the commissioner having to solve a new case, often with the help of recurring colleague characters.
At home, however, Brunetti enjoys a peaceful home life, with two children and a loving wife.
However, the city of Venice itself is arguably just as much a character in the books as any of these, written with vivid detail based on Leon’s own extensive knowledge and experience.
A common theme throughout the series is that of the environment and ecology, themes which have become even more important to Leon as time has gone on and the real-world environmental crisis has worsened.
Donna Leon Books In Order
In the first Guido Brunetti mystery, the famed maestro Helmut Wellauer is found poisoned at the popular opera house, La Fenice, during an opera.
As Brunetti investigates the crime, he finds that the maestro has made plenty of enemies during his career, providing far too many suspects.
- This is the very first Brunetti mystery, so it’s exciting to see how the books began!
- Some people find it quite slow-burn
When a body is fished out of a canal, Brunetti suspects that this is no mere mugging.
After the dead man’s flat is searched, incriminating evidence is found, suggesting that the man had ties to a cabal that silenced him.
- The political intrigue and corruption is engrossing
- Some find the ending disappointing
All Brunetti wants is a family holiday in the mountains, but his hopes are dashed when a body is found in Marghera.
Identifying it seems impossible until a telephone call suggests there’s something more to the case…
- There’s plenty of atmosphere to this mystery
- It’s a little depressing for some
Brunetti is thrown into the secret lives of Italy’s upper class when two seemingly-unconnected cases occur.
In one, a famous lawyer is found dead on a train. In the other, a truck crashes in the Italian Dolomites, spilling dreadful cargo.
- Readers love the complex cast of characters
- Some found it a little disturbing in points
Brunetti gets the unfortunate news that a friend has been beaten and threatened. At the same time, Venice is bracing for rising winter waters.
With the weather closing in, Brunnetti is on the case. However, the finding of a man’s body complicates things…
- It offers a very compelling, page-turning mystery
- Some readers wanted more character development
After five patients have died unexpectedly, a young nursing nun is going to leave her convent.
Brunetti can’t find any wrongdoing in the deaths, but the sister seems to think things are amiss, so he must dig deeper.
- The descriptions of Venice create such a vivid atmosphere
- Some find the start drags
When the owner of an old farmhouse finds a grave on his land, there’s little of its body left.
However, a signet ring is found nearby, and this significant clue throws Brunetti into the world of the Venetian aristocracy and a family whose son was abducted long ago.
- Moves at a great pace
- Italian phrases can confuse
When an unexpected act of vandalism occurs at dawn, Brunetti is shocked to find that the culprit is none other than his wife.
This throws Brunetti’s family into pressure, a pressure matched by the difficulty he’s having at work in solving a bank robbery. Could the cases be connected?
- The family aspect is gripping
- Some find it overlong
In another personal case, Brunetti is met with a visit from a young bureaucrat who’s investigating Brunetti’s apartment building.
However, the bureaucrat is soon found dead, and the commissioner is left fighting to find out why.
- An unexpected ending
- The plot too complicated for some
When two clam fishermen are found killed off the island of Pellestrina, Brunetti finds himself thrown into a tight-knit community that doesn’t look too kindly on outsiders.
He must battle their suspicions and secrets to solve the case – a case complicated by the arrival of his boss’ secretary Signorina Elettra.
- Surprisingly emotional
- Too slow for some
Brunetti and his wife, a lecturer, are visited by one of her students.
The student wants to investigate a possible pardon for her grandfather, who committed crime years and years ago.
However, the student is soon found dead, thrusting Brunetti onto the case.
- The personal connection makes it very sad – and very compelling
- Predictable in places
At the elite military academy of Venice, a cadet is found hanged.
Though it’s presumed to be suicide, Brunetti digs deeper and finds that not so likely, and he gets entrenched in the secretive world of Italy’s elite.
- The political corruption is fascinating
- Side plots aren’t developed enough
When a wealthy woman is found dead, and then her maid is found dead shortly after with a large sum of money, it seems an open and shut case.
However, a neighbor proves that the maid was innocent, and Brunetti must get to the bottom of the actual truth.
- Never predictable
- Lacks pace for some
An illegal immigrant is found dead around Christmas time. The immigrant was a street peddler, and the murder seems to be a rivalry between peddlers.
However, Brunetti digs deeper and it seems that a professional was behind the killing…
- All the characters have depth
- Not always thrilling
A night watchman’s body is found in front of a factory furnace, an annotated copy of Dante’s “Inferno” by him.
Brunetti must scour the book for clues as to this suspicious death.
- The food descriptions are always appreciated, adding depth to the Italian culture
- The ending is unsatisfying
When a pediatrician’s home is broken into by some men, terrifying the whole family, Brunetti has to investigate.
The men claimed to be carabinieri, a military force of Italy, which complicates matters further.
Brunetti is soon lost in an underworld of corruption and medical malpractice.
- Morally complicated
- Bleaker than others
After an emergency call, Brunetti has to pull the body of a young girl from the Grand Canal.
However, nobody has reported a missing child, leaving the commissioner to desperately search for her identity and her family.
- Brilliantly structured
- Disappointing ending
Brunetti meets a charming woman at a party, but one who has had a showy facelift.
Then, at work, the commissioner must investigate the killing of a man who was performing illegal hazardous waste trucking. Somehow, the two stories shockingly connect…
- Very moving
- Drags for some
There’s something odd going on at the courthouse. Whenever cases involve a particular judge and usher, the cases are postponed in a way that’s good for a particular lawyer.
On top of that, the usher is cheaply leasing an apartment to that lawyer. Oh, that is until the usher is found dead…
- A complex mystery
- Lacks pace for some
When a young woman finds her elderly neighbor dead, a heart attack seems to be the case.
However, Brunetti soon finds that the woman’s apartment was a safe house and that she was part of an organization for protecting abused women.
The detective finds himself thrown into a world of decades-old secrets.
- Sympathetic characters
- A little formulaic
When a body is found in a canal, the victim is difficult to identify.
However, Brunetti realizes that he recognizes the man in some capacity, and the trail leads them to a slaughterhouse where the man may have worked.
Soon, Brunetti is investigating the underworld of Italy’s meat industry.
- Fascinating characters
- Darker than others
Brunetti’s wife informs him that someone from the neighborhood – a middle-aged man who is deaf, mute, and has a child’s mental age – has been found dead after apparently taking too many sleeping pills.
Swayed by his wife’s sorrow, Brunetti agrees to investigate this suspicious death and bring some justice to the poor victim.
- A brilliant revelation
- Story sometimes hard to follow
In a touch of meta-fiction, books are a key focus with this novel!
Somebody has been stealing rare books from a prestigious library, and Brunetti needs to find out who.
However, when an ex-priest (and the chief donor of the library) is found dead, it complicates matters.
- Feels like you’ve been to Venice
- Ends abruptly for some
Returning to the world of opera that the series began with, this Brunetti involves a key suspect from the first book, Flavia Petrelli.
Now even more famous, Petrelli finds herself the subject of a stalker, so asks Brunetti for help.
However, when another opera singer is attacked, it lends even more danger and urgency to the case.
- A nice return to the series beginning
- Some unnecessary descriptions
Fifteen years ago, a teenage girl was saved from drowning too late, and the resulting brain damage has meant that her life from then on was completely different.
Now, the grandmother of the girl asks Brunetti to find out whether there was more to the life-altering incident than previously thought.
- Fully fleshed-out characters
- Mystery unravels too slowly
Brunetti is taking a well-earned holiday, right up until the caretaker of the villa he’s staying at goes missing after an unexpected storm.
Nobody knows where he is, but there seem to be secrets in the mysterious caretaker’s life, and Brunetti is compelled to find the true cause of this disappearance.
- Beautifully descriptive
- Moves slowly
Classified information is leaking out of the Venice police headquarters, and Brunetti needs to find the leak.
However, he is also asked to help with a friend’s troubled son. Before long, though, the friend’s husband is found unconscious at a bridge. Who is responsible?
- Proper page-turner
- Lack of resolution
A wealthy elderly man wishes to adopt a young man as his son, making him the heir to his fortune, to the disgust of the old man’s friends.
Brunetti is investigating why the friends are so appalled when the old man soon dies of natural causes.
The timing could be excused, but one of the old man’s closest friends is then found dead, suggesting to Brunetti that there is more afoot.
- Lots of focus on Brunetti’s home life
- The crime occurs too late
A woman asks the police to help with the death of her husband, a worker for an environmental water testing company.
As usual, a death that appeared to be an accident gives way to secrets and lies…
- Ends too abruptly
A pair of young American women are injured boating but abandoned at the hospital by the two young Italian men they were with.
Brunetti and his colleagues investigate why only to find that one of the men has criminal links…
- Vivid insight into Venice life
- Another abrupt ending
Brunetti is investigating a personal case for a family friend, whose son-in-law has expressed that their family may be in danger because of something he’s involved in.
When the friend’s daughter’s workplace is then vandalized, Brunetti realizes the threat is very real and tries to solve the case.
- Multi-layered story
- Very gloomy
The latest Brunetti novel is currently unreleased! However, it promises an intriguing mystery to do with a hand being found in a canal.
Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series is extensive and full of fascinating mysteries.
Each case throws you into Leon’s vivid recreations of Venice, with rich descriptions of the city and its culture.
At the same time, there are fascinating casts of fully-drawn characters, and intriguing mysteries full of political and class corruption.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s The Best Brunetti Book?
Every fan will have a different answer, but The Anonymous Venetian is contended for the highest-praised.