The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon, on Baroque Musician Agostino Steffani: Music Mystery Review

by DerdriuMarriner

The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon acquaints readers with Baroque musician Agostino Steffani, whose legacy provokes a probate mystery in Venice, Italy.

Agostino began as a choir, concert, opera soprano

The Jewels of Paradise acquaints essayist, historian, and novelist Donna Leon’s readers with the biography and compositions of seventeenth and eighteenth-century diplomat, ecclesiastic, and musician Agostino Steffani (July 25, 1654 – February 12, 1728) in Baroque Germany and Italy.
The mystery begins with Venetian native Caterina Pellegrini's assistant professorship and research fellowship at the University of Manchester in England. Cati concludes that she needs to resign from her four-year positions at the world-respected center on Baroque music studies and reinsert herself elsewhere, in continental Europe's job market. She decides to examine the unknown contents of two unopened trunks to ascertain the disposition of riches between two claimants, a tax evader and a usurious moneylender.
The duo emerge as the only known descendants of Agostino’s cousinly heirs, archpriest Antonio Scapinelli and Giacomo Antonio Stievani.




In "The Jewels of Paradise" Donna Leon introduces Venetian native Caterina "Cati" Pellegrini, who leaves her position in Baroque music at UK's University of Manchester to return home for an intriguing project.

The Old Quadrangle at the University of Manchester's main campus on Oxford Road
Manchester, south central North West England
Manchester, south central North West England

Agostino changed over to court music-directing and organ-playing


Position descriptions and working conditions nevertheless differ drastically. Franco Scarpinelli and Umberto Stievani expect Cati to restrict activities to the provided apartment and office, supply all equipment, and terminate everything within one month. Cati finds disappointment tolerable through:

  • collaboration with brother-in-law Sergio against a stalker;
  • computer from the descendants’ lawyer Andrea Moretti;
  • contact with Ezio, Biblioteca Marciana librarian and Clara’s -- second-eldest of Cati’s four older sisters -- best friend forever;
  • cooperation of Fondazione Musicale Italo-Tedesca’s acting director, Roseanna Salvi; and
  • correspondence with Cristina, nun of 20 years, professor in Germany, and Cati’s third-eldest sister.

Clarifying document references and understanding seventeenth- and eighteenth-century events give Cati excuses to examine anti-English, anti-Hanoverian, and anti-Protestant agendas in northern Germany. 


Agostino Steffani devoted his life to church, diplomacy and music.

1816 lithograph by H.E. von Winter from unknown original
Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 1st Edition
Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 1st Edition

Agostino dedicated himself to being abbot, bishop, diplomat


The plot heads Cati through Baroque music, Church history, and Venetian landmarks. Venice-wise, it identifies:

  • Arsenale;
  • Bacino, Basilica San Marco;
  • Caffè Florian, Calle dei Miracoli, Calle del Fumo, Calle Schiavona, Campo Santa Maria Formosa, Campo Santa Marina, Canale Grande, Castello, Celestia;
  • I Greci;
  • Lido;
  • Madonna dell’Orto, Museo Navale;
  • Palazzo Ducale, Piazza, Piazzetta, Ponte della Libertà;
  • Rialto, Riva dei Sette Martiri, Ruga Giuffa;
  • San Filippo e Giacomo, San Giorgio, San Marcuola, San Michele, San Polo, San Zaccaria, Santa Croce, Santa Maria della Fava, Santa Maria della Pietà, Strada Nuova; and
  • Via Garibaldi.

History-wise, it juxtaposes:

  • Agostino’s production of chamber duets, operas, sacred works; and
  • Nicolò Montalbano’s interactions with Philip Christoph von Königsmarck’s (March 4, 1665 – July 2, 1694). 


Donna Leon's "The Jewels of Paradise" spotlights local cuisine: Everything about Italy's Veneto region is distinctive, including its intriguing cuisine; as one of Italy's premier wine-growing regions, the Veneto excels in wine production.

La Merenda (The Snack): ca. 1570 fresco by Giovanni Antonio Fasolo (1530 – 1572) with detail of bussolà (typical cakes of Vicenza in west central Veneto)
Villa Caldogno, west central Veneto, northeastern Italy
Villa Caldogno, west central Veneto, northeastern Italy

Agostino ended as apostolic vicar, Stabat Mater composer


Friendship with an unnamed Romanian musicologist keeps Caterina’s story competitive with the novelist’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries. Super-familiarity with bridges and buildings leads travel-lovers through Venetian lifestyles. Venetian venues likewise make cuisine-lovers hungry for:

  • apples cooked in red wine, covered with whipped cream;
  • macchiatone drunk with tuna tramezzino;
  • rabbit prepared with artichokes, polenta;
  • Refosco served with capers, olives, pasta, tomatoes;
  • Ribolla Gialla served with branzino baked in salt, courgette sautéed with tomatoes and zucchini; and
  • spaghetti served with scallops, zucchini.

So The Jewels of Paradise nudges culturally enriching, educationally entertaining, geo-historically enthralling insights from:

  • Atlantic Monthly Press, publisher;
  • Donna Leon, author;
  • Josh Libra, jacket photographer;
  • Regine Mossimann, portraitist;
  • Publishers Group West, distributor; and
  • Patti Ratchford, jacket designer. 


The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon ~ Available now via Amazon

A gripping tale of intrigue, music, history and greed introduces native Venetian Caterina Pellegrini -- a new sleuth as compelling as Donna's popular Commissario Guido Brunetti.
Donna Leon mysteries
Grove Press



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Donna Leon, crime writer and resident of Venice with passion for Baroque music

Donna Leon: November 1, 2010
Donna Leon: November 1, 2010

Sources Consulted


Leon, Donna. 2012. The Jewels of Paradise. New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press. 


Caffè Florian numbers among Venetian landmarks featured in "The Jewels of Paradise."

Caffè Florian, considered Italy's oldest coffee house, in continuous operation since 1720, is located on Piazza San Marco and is a popular venue, not only for cuisine, but also for cultural events such as concerts.
Procuratie Nuove, south side of Piazza San Marco, Venice, northeastern Italy
Procuratie Nuove, south side of Piazza San Marco, Venice, northeastern Italy
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Fireworks in Venice: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

illustration by George Barbier (October 10, 1882-March 16, 1932) for Fêtes Galantes by Paul Verlaine (March 30, 1844-January 8, 1896)
Fireworks in Venice, Illustration for "Fetes Galantes" by Paul Verlaine 1924
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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
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Updated: 08/02/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 06/04/2015

Mira, The combination of Baroque music expertise and 25+-year residency combine to make "The Jewels of Paradise" a fascinating reading experience. All of Donna Leon's books merit being read even though I guess when push comes to shove I'd have to own up to a super-particular fondness for "By Its Cover," "Gondola," "Handel's Bestiary," and "The Jewels of Paradise."
It's my hope that Donna Leon will turn "The Jewels of Paradise" into a series. In Russia, perhaps Caterina Pellegrini and The Romanian will find P.I. Tchaikovsky's lost "The Voivode."

Mira on 05/30/2015

You say she lives in Venice and has a passion for the place and for Baroque music. It sounds like a great book!

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