The Temptation of Forgiveness by Donna Leon – review

Published by William Heinemann

Publication date – 5 April 2018

Source – review copy

When important information is leaked from inside the Venetian Questura, Commissario Guido Brunetti is entrusted with the task of uncovering which of his colleagues is responsible. But before Brunetti can begin his investigation, he is surprised by the appearance in his office of a friend of his wife’s, who is fearful that her son is using drugs. A few weeks later, Tullio Gasparini, the woman’s husband, is found unconscious with a serious head injury at the foot of a bridge, and Brunetti is drawn to pursue a possible connection to the boy’s behaviour. But the truth is not straightforward.

Following various contradictory leads, Brunetti navigates his way through a world of mysterious informants, underground deals and secret longstanding scam networks, all the while growing ever more impressed by the intuition of his fellow Commissario, Claudia Griffoni, and by the endless resourcefulness of Signorina Elettra, Vice-Questore Patta’s secretary and gate-keeper.

With Gasparini’s condition showing no signs of improvement, and his investigations leading nowhere, Brunetti is steadied by the embrace of his own family and by his passion for the classics. He turns to Sophocles’s Antigone in an attempt to understand the true purpose of justice, and, in its light, he is forced to consider the terrible consequences to which the actions of a tender heart can lead.

Read more on the Penguin website.

Brunetti is visited one day by a colleague of his wife. She is concerned that her son is involved in drugs, Brunetti reluctantly agrees to look into the sale of drugs at the boy’s school. Before he can take any further steps a man is found unconscious, a man found to be the husband of Brunetti’s visitor. As Brunetti investigates he finds out the lengths people will go to when motivated by love and greed.

There is something joyful and comforting and bittersweet about reading the latest novel in a series from a beloved author. Such was the case with The Temptation of Forgiveness. I have read and loved all 26 of the previous novels in the series and a new Donna Leon novel is one of the highlights of my reading year. There is something welcoming and comforting about returning to characters you love. Then there is the bittersweet knowledge that once you’ve devoured it, there’s a long wait until the next one.

When I return to Venice and the Brunetti household I feel like I am being welcomed back by old friends. This was the case with The Temptation of Forgiveness. I always enjoy the family scenes of Brunetti, Paola and the children just as much as the scenes investigating the crime in question. I find myself searching for translations of the dishes the family eat, all sounding just as mouth-watering in Italian as in English.

The characters are all as wonderfully drawn as ever. Brunetti seeks comfort in his family and his history books, reflecting that no matter how far the world has come there are still parallels to the past. His family adds to the story, Paola lending a humourous edge to the story, keeping Brunetti grounded as always. It is also always a pleasure to see more from his colleagues Vianello, Griffoni and the indomitable Signorina Elettra, whose conniving and often illegal ways, both impress and baffle Brunetti in equal measure. Then there is the setting. Venice is very much a part of the story, bringing the narrative to life. Donna Leon lives in the city and her love of it shines through. So much so that it took all my restraint not to book a trip to Venice whilst reading.

The story itself was intriguing, driving the narrative along. As is the case with the other books in the series, the story is not one where the reader tries to guess the culprit, with red herrings and false leads strewn throughout. There aren’t big twists that can or can’t be anticipated. The reader finds out at the same time as Brunetti, clues and avenues that lead to the story’s conclusion.

Often when I read reviews of the Brunetti novels I see comments on the abruptness of the endings. I find them well-timed, ending the story where it makes sense. The only thing I don’t like about them is that they come all too soon.

I found this novel, along with the others in the series, to be more like real life that most crime fiction. The protagonist is a happily married man, aware of the faults with the judicial system but working within them, with the flexibility of bending the rules that is part of the culture. He has colleagues who he gets on with, and those with whom he does not. He has a boss who is lazy, looking for the easy route, or for things that will make him shine. And sometimes the cases he investigates don’t get nicely sorted and sealed up. Sometimes justice isn’t served, sometimes it is.

The author isn’t afraid to use her books to comment on the political and sometimes environmental climate in Italy, voicing her concerns through her characters.

I now have the long wait for the next Brunetti novel. I may just have to go back to the beginning and start the series again to pass that time away.

About the author

Donna Leon was named by The Times as one of the 50 Greatest Crime Writers. She is an award-winning crime novelist, celebrated for the bestselling Brunetti series. Donna has lived in Venice for thirty years and previously lived in Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, where she worked as a teacher. Donna’s books have been translated into 35 languages and have been published around the world.

Her previous novels featuring Commissario Brunetti have all been highly acclaimed; including Friends in High Places, which won the CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction, Fatal Remedies, Doctored Evidence, A Sea of Troubles and Beastly Things.

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