Review: Suffer the Little Children by Donna Leon

Donna Leon has been writing about Commissario Brunetti since 1992. Over the period since then the books have addressed particular issues through the Commissario’s investigation of the crime that provides the focus for each book, in the case of Suffer the Little Children it is the issue of illegal adoptions and the fate of the children involved. Alongside the action, Commissario Brunetti observes and ruminates and eats, while his own life with his wife Paola and his two children, by now nearly grown up, provides a counterpoint and balance. Of course, and like any fictional policeman, he has his regular sidekicks, Vianello and Elletra Zorzi, the boss’s secretary who is able to crack any computer system and database, and a boss he is at odds with, the questionable Patta.

In Suffer the Little Children, there are two story lines that come together at the end. The Carabinieri (not Brunelli’s lot) undertake a dawn raid on a pediatrician who has an illegally adopted son, beating him up in the process. Meanwhile, Vianello is pursuing what looks like a fraud against the system by pharmacists and doctors conspiring to make claims for phantom specialist appointments. The action seems to meander over time and at one stage involves Brunelli and Signorina Elletra pretending to be a couple with fertility problems. In the meantime, and in the background, influence is being brought to bear (this is Italy) and the charges against the pediatrician are reduced to a manageable minimum – but he has still lost the son he now loves dearly. On the other case, it turns out that pharmacists have been misusing the system, and this has been made possible by their access to medical records, which leads us to the coming together of the story lines. In the end, not a lot of justice seems to have been done, and the people concerned are unhappy or scarred. The enduring miasma of corruption continues, despite the efforts of Brunetti and his colleagues to tread a virtuous path down the mean streets – if that is possible in a city of canals.

This book give the impression of being a bit vague, in that the main action doesn’t seem to want to be with the plot or even really with the issue of illegal adoptions. Apart from patches of didacticism, the real subjects are food, Venice and the love of a parent for a child, and probably in that order. Brunelli seems to spend a lot of time thinking about and savouring food, and coffee. In this book, perhaps more so than some of its predecessors, both Brunelli and Elletra stop and look about at Venice and think how lucky they are to be part of this place. The art of Donna Leon is making us think the same thing.

Suffer the Little Children by Donna Leon, paperback published by Arrow (2008), ISBN: 9780099503224, see Wikipedia entry for Donna Leon.

Other books by Donna Leon – Death at La Fenice (1992), Death in a Strange Country (1993), The Anonymous Venetian (1994) aka Dressed for Death, A Venetian Reckoning (1995) aka Death and Judgment, Acqua Alta (1996) aka Death in High Water, The Death of Faith (1997) aka Quietly in Their Sleep, A Noble Radiance (1997), Fatal Remedies (1999), Friends in High Places (2000), A Sea of Troubles (2001), Wilful Behaviour (2002), Uniform Justice (2003), Doctored Evidence (2004), Blood from a Stone (2005), Through a Glass Darkly (2006), The Girl of His Dreams (2008).

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