PW: In Uniform Justice, both Venice and the San Martino Military Academy are "closed worlds"—one surrounded by water and the other by "tradition" and a code of silence. Are you attracted to closed societies?
Donna Leon: I am not attracted to them, but I am very interested in them. Much of the same could be said of my attitude toward the military, the Catholic Church and the Mafia. All three of these societies work toward the exclusion of the unacceptable—chiefly women—and the acquisition and keeping of power. In return, they offer protection. The military offers protection against an enemy that they often invent, the Mafia against the state and the Church against phantoms.
PW: How many Guido Brunetti novels have you written? How have Guido and his world changed over the years?
DL: I've written 13 Brunetti novels. I've almost finished the 14th. Guido's vision of the world grows increasingly black and pessimistic with each book, as does mine. It's difficult to view politics today, everywhere in the world, without being pessimistic and cynical. But, like Brunetti, I have a personal life that is happy, that allows optimism to coexist with a historical sense that is very different. Brunetti reads, talks about ideas with his wife and friends, is a deeply cultured man and enjoys the physical pleasures of life. He is neither the hard-boiled monomaniac of crime fiction nor the crusader. He's just an ordinary guy with a job he tries to do.
PW: How long have you lived in Italy?
DL: I first came to Italy as a tourist, then moved here permanently in 1981. I've lived out of the States since 1966. I grew up in New Jersey, but I live in Italy because I prefer the civility, beauty and luxury of life here.
PW: Other American novelists set work in Europe—Henry James, Elizabeth George and Patricia Highsmith—but their characters are American expatriates or English speakers. Is it tough to create a detective whose first language is Italian? How did you come to "think" Italian?
DL: Almost all of my friends are Italian or Venetian, so I speak Italian most of the time. My local and national concerns are those of the country where I live. I know very few English speakers in Venice and prefer the company of Italians, so I doubt I could write credibly about Americans, either here or there. It's not a challenge to write about a man like Brunetti—I've lived among people like him for more than two decades.
PW: You avoid the neat "pseudo-justice" ending so common to many mysteries in Uniform Justice. Why?
DL: I think that books that offer justice and punishment to the evildoer at the end should be confined to the children's section of bookstores and libraries. Look around at the politicians and prisons. Wealth and power go unpunished, while the poor and ignorant fill up the cells. I've certainly not invented this. Read Dickens. In a world where the abuse of political and national power has become so outrageous, it's difficult to interest readers in the happy solution as to who killed Lord Farnsworthy in the library with the Balinese kris.
PW: You've had great popularity in Europe and elsewhere, but haven't been published in America since 1996. Why do you think it's time for Americans to rediscover your work?
DL: I think the success of my books in various European countries has prodded American readers to be curious. And Italy is a country that exerts the power of its beauty over most people who visit it, and the Italians have a charm that is hard to resist. I like to think that some of that beauty and charm have drifted into my books and their characters.