The Jewels of Paradise
Date Published04 March 2014
Price£ 8.99

The Jewels of Paradise

by Donna Leon

A young musicology researcher is employed to assess the value of the contents of two trunks belonging to the Baroque composer, Agostino Steffani. Her investigations uncover a tale of 17th century murder and intrigue.


Dottoressa Caterina Pellegrini is a Venetian-born musicologist working at the University of Manchester and desperate to return to her home city, when she is offered a post as a researcher at the Fondazione Musicale Italo-Tedesco (Italian-German Musical Foundation) in Venice. The job involves reading the papers contained within two trunks, once the property of the Baroque composer Agostino Steffani, in the hope of identifying which of her employers, two cousins who are both descendants of the composer, should inherit the contents.

In the course of her research she uncovers a scandalous story of infidelity, bribery and murder at the end of the 17th century, involving the royal houses of Europe and the highest echelons of the Catholic Church, as well as a family history implying that Steffani was on less than friendly terms with his cousins.

Cati’s employers are ignorant, greedy and possibly on the wrong side of the law, while their lawyer, Avvocato Andrea Moretti, is not all he seems. All are convinced that a treasure exists in the composer’s legacy, but no-one knows what it may be. When Cati finally unearths the treasure, its unexpected nature is a shock to everyone involved.

In this departure from her Commissario Brunetti series, Donna Leon continues her enchanting descriptions of Venice and Venetian life. The book is, as usual, scattered with Italian phrases and references to the intricacies of negotiating Italian bureaucracy. When her library card needs to be renewed, instead of going to the desk and filling in the form, Cati calls an old school friend, now working at the library, and asks for his help to avoid the inevitable delays.

As an account of scholarly research, this book contains no violence and very little action. The murder happened 300 years ago and the story of Cati’s discovery of the truth is told through the contents of the documents she reads. Even the denouement is merely a wry shock to the characters. Fans of Brunetti who are not keen on history or music may find it slow and lacking in plot. For those with an interest in either, or for those merely wanting another dose of Leon’s beautiful descriptions of Venice and Venetian life, however, the book is an absolute gem.

Reviewed 08 March 2014 by Sylvia Wilson