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Authors: Donna Leon

A Noble Radiance

BOOK: A Noble Radiance
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A Noble Radiance
Book Jacket

Donna Leon has topped European bestseller lists for more than a decade with a series of mysteries featuring clever Commissario Guido Brunetti. Always ready to bend the rules to uncover the threads of a crime, Brunetti manages to maintain his integrity while maneuvering through a city rife with politics, corruption, and intrigue. In A Noble Radiance a new landowner is summoned urgently to his house not far from Venice when workmen accidentally unearth a macabre grave. The human corpse is badly decomposed, but a ring found nearby proves to be a first clue that reopens an infamous case of kidnapping involving one of Venice's most aristocratic families. Only Commissario Brunetti can unravel the clues and find his way into both the heart of patrician Venice and that of a family grieving for their abducted son.

A Noble Radiance




'A splendid series
with a backdrop of the city so vivid you can almost smell
Sunday Telegraph

'One of the pleasures
offered by crime fiction is the sense of a place evoked
for Donna Leon, the scene is Venice’ and she offers a
fresh exhilarating take on that ambiguous city
Leon evokes memorably La Serenissima's unsettling mixture
of faded beauty and fecund corruption'

'This series has
become one of the adornments of current crime fiction
a gem'

'Donna Leon's crime
novels have everything going for them. A Venice backdrop beautifully observed,
a dazzling, page-turning writing style, a central character, in Commissario
Brunetti, who deserves to be as famous as Maigret, and a wife who deserves
Daily Post

'Leon gets better and
Express on Sunday



Donna Leon has lived
in Venice for many years and previously lived in Switzerland, Iran, Saudi
Arabia and China where she was a teacher. She now combines writing with
teaching English Literature at a university near Venice. Her novels featuring
Commissario Brunetti have all been highly acclaimed and regularly top the
bestseller lists in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and the UK.



Donna Leon


A Noble Radiance

Published in the
United Kingdom in 1999 by Arrow Books

7 9 10 8

Copyright © Donna
Leon and Diogenes Verlag AG, Zurich 1998

The right of Donna
Leon to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in
accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

This book is sold
subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be
lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior
consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is
published and without a similar condition including this condition being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

First published in
the United Kingdom in 1998 by William Heinemann


Arrow Books The Group
Random House Limited 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V2SA

Random House
Australia (Ply) Limited 20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point, Sydney, New South
Wales 2061, Australia  Random House New Zealand Limited 18 Poland Road,
Glenfield Auckland 10, New Zealand

Random House (Pty)
Limited Endulini, Sa

Jubilee Road,
Parktown 2193, South Africa

The Group Random
House Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CJP catalogue
record for this book is available from the British Library

Papers used by Random
House are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable
forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations
of the country of origin.Typeset by SX Composing DTP, Rayleigh Essex. Printed and
bound in Great Britain by Bookmarque Ltd, Croydon, SurreySBN 0 09 926929



La nobilita ha dipinta negli occhi l’onesta

The nobility has
honesty painted in its eyes


Don Giovanni














There was nothing
much to notice about the field, a hundred-metre square of dry grass below a
small village in the foothills of the Dolomites. It lay at the bottom of a
slope covered with hardwood trees which could easily be culled for firewood,
and that was used as an argument to increase the price when the land and the
two-hundred-year-old house upon it came to be sold. Off to the north a
slant-faced mountain loomed over the small town of Ponte nelle Alpi; a hundred
kilometres to the south lay Venice, too far away to influence the politics or
customs of the area. People in the villages spoke Italian with some
reluctance, felt more at home in Bellunese dialect.

The field had lain
unfilled for almost half a century, and the stone house had sat empty. The immense
slates that made up the roof had shifted

with age and sudden
changes in temperature, perhaps even with the occasional earthquake that had
struck the area during the centuries the roof had protected the house from rain
and snow, and so it no longer did that, for many of the slates had crashed to
earth, leaving the upper rooms exposed to the elements. Because the house and
property lay at the heart of a contested will, none of the eight heirs had
bothered to repair the leaks, fearful that they would never get back the few
hundred thousand lire the repairs would cost. So the rain and snow dripped,
then flowed, in, nibbling away at plaster and floorboards, and each year the
roof tilted more drunkenly towards the earth.

The field, too, had
been abandoned for the same reasons. None of the presumptive heirs wanted to
expend either time or money working the land, nor did they want to weaken their
legal position by being seen to make unpaid use of the property. Weeds
flourished, made all the more vital by the fact that the last people to
cultivate the land had for decades manured it with the droppings of their

It was the scent of
foreign money that settled the dispute about the will: two days after a retired
German doctor made an offer for the house and land, the eight heirs met at the
home of the eldest. Before the end of the evening, they had arrived at a
unanimous decision to sell the house and land; their subsequent decision was
not to sell until the foreigner had doubled his offer, which would bring the
selling price to four times what any local resident would - or could - pay.

Three weeks after the
deal was completed, scaffolding went up, and the centuries-old, hand-cut
slates were hurled down to shatter in the courtyard below. The art of laying the
slates had died with the artisans who knew how to cut them, and so they were
replaced with moulded rectangles of prefabricated cement that had a vague
resemblance to terra cotta tiles. Because the doctor had hired the oldest of
the heirs to serve as his foreman, work progressed quickly; because this was
the Province of Belluno, it was done honestly and well. By the middle of the
spring, the restoration of the house was almost complete, and with the approach
of the first warm days, the new owner, who had spent his professional life
enclosed in brightly lit operating rooms and who was conducting the
restorations by phone and fax from Munich, turned his thoughts to the creation
of the garden he had dreamed about for years.

Village memory is
long, and it recalled that the old garden had run alongside the row of walnut
trees out behind the house, so it was there that Egidio Buschetti, the foreman,
decided to plough. The land hadn't been worked for most of his own lifetime, so
Buschetti estimated that his tractor would have to pass over the land twice,
once to cut through the metre-high weeds, and then once again to disc up the
rich soil lying underneath.

At first Buschetti
thought it was a horse - he remembered that the old owners had kept two - and
so he continued with his tractor all the way to what he had established a s the
end of the field. Pulling at the broad wheel, he swung the tractor around and
headed back, proud of the razor-straightness of the furrows, glad to be out in
the sun again, happy at the sound and the feel of the work, sure now that
spring had come. He saw the bone sticking up crookedly from the furrow he had
just ploughed, the white length of it sharply visible against the nearly black
earth. No, not long enough to be a horse, but he didn't remember that anyone
had ever kept sheep here. Curious, he slowed the tractor, somehow reluctant to
ride over the bone and shatter it.

He shifted into
neutral and drew to a stop. Pulling on the hand brake, he climbed down from his
high metal seat and walked over towards the cantilevered bone that jutted up
towards the sky. He bent and reached out to shove it away from the path of the
tractor, but a sudden reluctance pulled him upright again, and he prodded at it
with the toe of his heavy boot, hoping thus to dislodge it. It refused to move,
so Buschetti turned towards the tractor, where he kept a shovel clamped in back
of his seat. As he turned, his eyes fell upon a gleaming white oval a bit
farther along the bottom of the furrow. No horse, no sheep had ever gazed out
from so round a skull, nor would they leer up at him through the sharpened
carnivore teeth so frighteningly like his own.







The intuition of the
news in just a country town never spreads faster than when it deals with death
or disaster, so the news that human bones had been discovered in the garden of
the old Orsez house was common knowledge throughout the village of Col di
Cugnan before dinnertime. It was not since the death of the mayor's son in that
automobile accident down by the cement factory seven years ago that news had
spread so quickly; even the story about Graziella Rovere and the electrician
had taken two days to become common knowledge. But that night the villagers,
all seventy-four of them, switched off their televisions, or talked above them,
during dinner, trying to think of how it could be and, more interestingly, who
it could be.

The mink-sweatered
news reader on
3, the blonde who wore a different pair of glasses each night,
went ignored as she reported the latest horrors in the ex-Yugoslavia, and no
one paid the slightest heed to the arrest of the former Minister of the
Interior on charges of corruption. Both were by now normal, but a skull in a
ditch behind the home of the foreigner, that was news. By bedtime, the skull
had been variously reported to have been shattered by a blow from an axe, or a
bullet, and to display signs that an attempt had been made to dissolve it with
acid. The police had determined, people were certain, that they were the bones
of a pregnant woman, a young male, and the husband of Luigina Menegaz, gone off
to Rome twelve years ago and never heard from since. That night people in Col
di Cugnan locked their doors, and those who had lost the keys years ago and
never bothered about them slept less easily than did the others.

At eight the next
morning, two
all-terrain vehicles arrived at the home of Doctor Litfin and drove across the
newly planted grass to park on either side of the two long rows ploughed the
day before. It was not until an hour later that a car arrived from the
provincial centre of Belluno, carrying the
medico legale
that city. He had heard none of the rumours about the identity or cause of
death of the person whose bones lay in the held, and so he did what seemed most
necessary: he set his two assistants to sifting through the earth to find the
rest of the remains.

As this slow process
advanced, both of the
vehicles took turns driving
across the soon-destroyed lawn and up to the village, where the six officers
had coffees in the small bar, then began to ask the residents of the village if
anyone was missing. The fact that the bones seemed to have been in the earth
for years did not affect their decision to ask about recent events, and so
their researches proved ineffective.

In the field below
the village, the two assistants of Doctor Bortot had set up a fine mesh screen
at a sharp angle. Slowly, they poured buckets of earth through it, bending down
occasionally to pick out a small bone or anything that looked like it might be
one. As they pulled them out, they displayed them to their superior, who stood
at the edge of the furrow, hands clasped behind his back. A long sheet of black
plastic lay spread at his feet, and as he was shown the bones, he instructed
his assistants where to place them, and together they slowly began to assemble
their macabre jigsaw puzzle.

BOOK: A Noble Radiance
2.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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