We have been largely disappointed by the last few Donna Leon books and were even beginning to wonder if they were ghost written or, horror of horrors, Leon had lost her touch. Her latest Commissario Brunetti book, The Temptation of Forgiveness, came as a relief. It had all the usual Leon touches that one has come to expect from a Brunetti book – meandering through the bridges, canals and squares of Venice, the interplay of tensions within the Questura (police station), the comforts of Brunetti’s home and his relationship with his family, the books he reads and thinks upon while eating his meals and drinking his wine. The only thing which we felt was sadly in short supply was the food which has become standard fare in Leon’s books. Reading about her detective enjoying each course of his meals gives the reader a vicarious enjoyment of them. Leaving that aside, this was a thought provoking book as the title itself indicates.
Brunetti is asked by Elisa Crosera, a friend and colleague of his wife, to find out if her fifteen year old son was buying drugs near his school as she suspected he had started using drugs. Subsequently Senora Crosera’s husband is found unconscious at the foot of a bridge and suffers brain damage. Brunetti suspects that the incident may not have been and accident. When Brunetti starts to investigate the man’s fall, he uncovers a probable scam involving elderly patients on medication in Venice and surrounding areas.
As always Venice is magical and timeless, despite Brunetti’s ruminations on how things have changed in the city since the time of his youth. For us this book, more than any of the previous Brunetti books, was particularly interesting because of his constant thoughts about the efficacy of the laws and their strict obeyance. He sees parallels in Antigone, which he is reading. When Antigone seeks to do the right thing rather than obey an unjust diktat, Leon has her detective wonder about blindly obeying laws which benefit no one. By the end of the book Brunetti is torn, as an investigating authority, as to how far a perpetrator can be forgiven; whether circumstances should be taken into consideration before reporting a crime? His behaviour may not always be consistent but it is this humanity and his fallibility, as indeed his awareness of such fallibility, that lend to his appeal through all the books.