Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: The Temptation of Forgiveness by Donna Leon

The Temptation of Forgiveness by Donna Leon, April 2018, 300 pages, Hardback, William Heinemann, ISBN: 1785151959

Reviewed by Lynn Harvey.
(Read more of Lynn's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

November, Venice
Commissario Guido Brunetti is taking the vaporetto to a morning appointment with his superior, Vice-Questore Patta, at police headquarters. A wall of fog suddenly envelopes the canal, blocking all sight of other traffic. It disperses as suddenly as it appeared and as they emerge into sunlight Brunetti doubts what he has experienced.

Brunetti is equally amazed to receive Patta’s uncharacteristic apologies for a delay. Returning to his own office, he contemplates the thick file on his desk. It is stuffed with car-related crimes, amongst them the latest scam concerning the illegal acquisition of licenses, test results, etc. It is such an ingenious scam that it earns Brunetti's respect and he is considering the file’s fate when he is called back to the Vice-Questore’s presence. Does Brunetti know anything about a leak to the media concerning a suspect brought in for questioning? Scarpa, Patta’s assistant, was given this information by one of his informants. Brunetti shrugs off the matter and manages to score against the ever unpleasant Scarpa by discounting the informant. As he leaves he finds a member of his own team in Patta’s outer office, staring at a computer screen and deep in discussion with Patta’s secretary, Signorina Elettra. Her computer skills are extensive, almost all pervasive – but the information she acquires is now of such service to Brunetti’s investigations that he discounts any uneasiness he might feel over her methods in favour of admiration for her magical skills.

In his office, a woman – one of his wife’s academic colleagues – is waiting for him. It takes all of Brunetti's time and patience to clarify the reason for her visit. Finally she admits that she thinks her son is using drugs. Is this a crime? Her husband says it is impossible that their son who attends a prestigious private school is using drugs. But surely Brunetti can do something? Arrest whoever is selling the drugs? Brunetti explains the legal process of questioning her children and their schoolfriends and the woman realises the social ramifications of her complaint. Leave it, she weeps. Swayed by her tears, Brunetti promises to try and find out more.

About a week later, he is woken in the night by his colleague Claudia Griffoni. A man has been found unconscious, lying at the base of a bridge. He may have been attacked or he may fallen and hit his head on the railing. There are marks on his wrist, the imprints of fingernails. Whichever it is, it looks bad for him. After visiting the possible crime scene, Brunetti arrives at the hospital. Only then does he realise the identity of the victim. It is the husband of his wife’s colleague, the woman who was worried about her son.

Brunetti and colleague Claudia Griffoni investigate what happened to the unconscious man and as they do so they uncover a new turn to the investigation, one that will require all of the pair’s consummate play-acting to unravel a tissue of motives and deception.

THE TEMPTATION OF FORGIVENESS is Donna Leon’s twenty-seventh Commissario Brunetti crime novel. To me Leon remains fresh and thoughtful in this gargantuan series which has seen Brunetti and his family and colleagues age and change just as the city they call their own – Venice – changes and ages. And this novel, rather than being a tale filled with fast action and chases, thunder and lightning, is as formally composed as a piece of chamber music. The investigation of the puzzle of a man found unconscious beneath a Venetian bridge turns into an intimate study of ethics, a study of scams and nuances. It left me with the satisfaction of a mystery unravelled, the experience of eating a beautifully made cannoli and drinking a pleasant glass of wine together with a close observation of human nature and, as ever with Brunetti, food for thought.

Lynn Harvey, June 2018

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