Reading guide for Blood From A Stone by Donna Leon

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Blood From A Stone

A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

By Donna Leon

Blood From A Stone
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2005,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2006,
    352 pages.

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. What is the picture of Venice that emerges in the book? How is the story driven by the history and geography of the city? Did you feel catapulted into the life of the canals, even into the map of the frontispiece? How does Brunetti's own appreciation of his city seduce the reader? See page 77: "Palazzi swept by on both sides, the drunken promiscuity of their styles competing for his attention."

     
  2. " 'Who'd want to kill a vu cumpra?' Rizzardi asked" (p. 11). What are the attitudes of the citizens of Venice toward these street people? Are they tolerated by official insouciance, a general shrug about illegal immigrants? Brunetti had assumed they functioned under the arm of organized crime. Is there evidence of that?

     
  3. Even though we never know the name or even the proven nationality of the murder victim, how are we led along with Brunetti to a gradual sympathy with him and other vu cumprà trying to survive in Venice? Does the description of the bag sellers as beautiful, tall, straight, even happy people set up the victim as sacrificial? Do these Africans represent some simpler, golden age as compared to the sophisticated corruption of the Italians?

     
  4. How does Brunetti's personality help him in his unorthodox investigations? Does he ever have second thoughts about using his past and present network of friends? When? Does his character also limit his career, especially considering his "refusal to curry favour with the men in power" (p. 51)?

     
  5. "Was this the historian's plight, Brunetti wondered, never to know what was true but only what made sense? Or the policeman's?" (p. 59). What is he worried about here?

     
  6. Are there times Brunetti crosses lines of ethics, even legality? When? Does this behavior compromise him? Or is he just a functioning pragmatist? Does there seem to be any real way to work within the system without sabotaging it at times? Blackmail? Evidence tampering? Give examples. Are there times, aside from his interactions with Sandrini and the Albanian prostitute, when Brunetti is "strangely cheered by the consideration of his own perfidy" (p. 62)?

     
  7. How does Paola serve as a bridge between the old Venice and the new one? Would her moral distinctions, such as her outrage at Chiara, be taken as seriously by her family and the reader if she had no aristocratic cushion? Is she a limousine liberal or truly a person of conscience? What does she provide for Brunetti besides access to academia? Devil's advocacy?

     
  8. How does Don Alvise's character serve as a moral touchstone (see p. 69–75)? Are there other such touchstones for Brunetti? Does he have dependable allies within his department?

     
  9. Brunetti, a remarkably intelligent, well-read man, is technologically inept. What does his resistance to modernity suggest about his other talents and values? He harkens back to the Iliad and to Roman historians. His son gives him Pliny for Christmas. What does Brunetti glean from his readings? And how does he recognize his need for technology?

     
  10. What is the significance of the carved (truncated) head? How does Brunetti's academic research lead him further into the mystery? How do art, mythology, and fetishism converge in this artifact? What happens to it?

     
  11. Black Africans are not the only group subjected to prejudice and stereotype in the course of the novel. Who else comes under fire? How are Americans portrayed? Who weighs in on the subject and why? What are Brunetti's own susceptibilities to prejudice? He can assume that his daughter did not learn dismissal of Africans at home, that it must have been "something, like head lice, that Chiara picked up in school" (p. 30). But to what biases are he and many other Venetians vulnerable (see pp. 30, 33, and 48)?

     
  12. At times does the police story assume a fun-house atmosphere? Sometimes katzenjammer funny (the rescue in a shallow canal) and other times insane (the confiscation of thousands of counterfeit bags that just mushroom again the next day)? What other examples of mayhem do you see in the police? " 'It's all crazy, the whole thing,' said Rubini" (p. 52). Is it this particular department, made up of 80 percent pro-government and anti-immigrant officers, that causes havoc and engages in collusion? Donna Leon has addressed the inefficiency of the police and emergency services in Venice in her other books. Do you think she is commenting on a failing of the Venetian government or the impossibility of imposing a principled order anywhere?

     
  13. What do you think the title implies? How do stones recur as a motif in the book? Look again at Don Alvise's renunciation of his vocation on page 70.

     
  14. What is Brunetti left with as a philosophy at the end? In this world of venality and official complicity, is he to take arms against a sea of troubles in the only ways he knows—hard work, family, friends, and a certain generosity of spirit? His father-in-law the Count holds him in high regard for his dedication to work. In the face of Vianello's bleak vision of global warming, Brunetti asks if there is really nothing they could do. Vianello replies, "Live life and try to do our jobs, I think" (p. 81). Would you agree that good food, wine, and love are also essential to "living life and doing our jobs"?
     

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Penguin. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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