Friday, April 27, 2018

The Temptation of Forgiveness by Donna Leon

First Sentence:  Having left the apartment smack on time so as to arrive at the Questura on time for a meeting with his superior, Brunetti found himself seated toward the rear of a Number One vaporetto, glancing idly through a copy of that morning’s Gazzettino.
Commissario Guido Brunetti is approached by a co-worker of his wife asking his help in stopping the people she thinks may be selling drugs to her son.  Unfortunately, there is really nothing he can do.  When her husband, Tullio Gasparini, is found at the foot of a bridge with a severe head injury, it opens the way to a possible connection.  But nothing is simple.  It takes the help of his colleague Commissario, Claudia Griffoni, his boss’s secretary, the remarkable Signorina Elettra, and the reading of Sophocles’ Antigone, to reach a solution.
A map!  All gratitude goes to publishers who include a map.  It not only orients the reader but helps one feel part of the story.
It takes no time at all to be reminded why Leon is such a popular and successful author.  No prologue here.  Instead, one is sitting next to Brunetti in what quickly goes from a normal commute to one filled with tension.  But there is still that touch of the familiar with which we can all identify—“Brunetti turned and looked at the man sitting on his right, but saw that he was so rapt by whatever showed on the screen of his phone that he would not have noticed seraphs had they descended and flown in close formation on either side of the boat.”
Leon’s introduction of Brunetti’s boss is familiar to most who have worked in the corporate world—“He seemed busier than he was; he never missed the opportunity to claim for himself any praise given to the organization for which he worked; he had a black belt in shifting blame or responsibility for failure to shoulders other than his own.”  While it is his bosses’ secretary, Signorina Elletra Zorzi one can’t help but truly admire, it is Brunetti himself who makes loyal fans of her readers—"Why are you always so kind to him, Signore?’ Signorina Elettra asked.  Brunetti had to consider this:  He had never given conscious thought to how to respond to Alvise.  ‘Because he needs it,’ he said.”
Leon’s metaphors are to be savoured, and Brunetti’s definition of the law makes one think—'“It’s not important what either of us thinks about the law.’  ‘Then what is important?’  ‘That innocent people be protected.  That’s what laws are meant to do,” he said.”’  Every word is a gift.
It is nice, though sad, to learn more about Brunetti’s background.  It also clarifies the way by which he reached one of his views.  The scenes of Brunetti, especially those with his family, are so relatable and real. He is a cultured man who comfortably uses words such as “metonym,” and reads Antigone.  How refreshing is his attitude toward guns, and how radical a cultural difference.  Being in Italy, there is always food such as a simple lunch of celery root soup and veal meatballs wrapped in speck [a dense, ruddy ham].
Inspector Claudia Griffoni is a wonderful addition and, in some ways, foil to Brunetti.  As opposed to his wife Paoli, Griffoni shares his world but sees it from a woman’s perspective—“…men explaining their violence towards women and expecting people to believe they really didn’t have a choice.  …And, if I might add, only men are stupid enough to believe it because they feel the same desire to control women…” 
Leon’s descriptions are exacting, taking one beyond a sense of place, to a sense of being there.  She provides small life lessons, her humor subtle and unforced.  It is not easy to convey emotion, to truly make one feel that which is felt by the characters, yet Leon has the ability to do just that without going over the top. 
The differences between Italian and US law is remarkable and eye-opening.  In some ways, it is difficult to say which is better.  Leon makes you think, feel, and question.
The Temptation of Forgiveness" is a mystery, yes.  But more so, a story of relationships, desperation, and greed.  

THE TEMPTATION OF FORGIVENESS (Pol Proc-Comm. Guido Brunetti-Venice, Italy-Contemp) - Ex
      Leon, Donna – 27th in series
     Atlantic Monthly Press – March 2017

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