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Winner of the Crime Writers Association Macallan Silver Dagger Award Donna Leons Unifome Justice begins with the discovery of the corpse of a young cadet at the San Martino Military Academy in Venice. All the evidence points to a straight forward suicide however the investigating officer Commisario Guido Brunetti's gut instinct tells him otherwise.
The cadet is the son of a reluctant ex-politician, one with principles, and this seems to be the whole reason for suspecting foul play. Its a very weak story line. Had this been the authors first novel I doubt it would even have made it to print. Perhaps its one of those boks where you needed to have read the other books in the series in order to read this one and derive anything of value from it, I haven't and I won't be doing if this is supposed to be her best novel yet.
The Guardian purports this to be "A page-turner with real psychological depth and a disturbing quiet power". I'd agree with the quiet part. By page 132 nothings happened. Commisario Guido Brunetti has only just got around to speaking to the boys mother who lives within walking distance of the scene of the crime, not that we've been given any reason to suspect this is a crime scene at all.
From a story set in Venice you'd be thinking of evocative descriptions of the waterways and many unique features of venitian architecture. You'd be wrong. Other than the odd reference to canals, much the way another writer would mention roads in Birmingham, the novel could be set anywhere.
The author has a really irritating habit of italicising every single Italian word used, not sot that you can find a translation or explaination in the glossary at the rear of the novel (there isn't one) or footnote at the bottom of the page but just because. Words cannot explain how annoying this is.
£6.99 in paperback, 326 pages long. Don't go out of your way to track this one down.
If you take a look at some of my reviews you will see an awful lot of them lot of them are written about crime novels. Simple reason for this, I enjoy a good thriller. Out of these you will see littered through these novels written by Donna Leon. From humble beginnings from my perspective she has become one of my favourite authors.
==About the author:==
Donna Leon was born in America on the 29 September 1942. She has lived and worked in Venice for the past 20 years. Here, she has set her most famous novels, featuring Commissario Brunetti as the investigating officer. So far she has written 17 in this series, with a new one due out later this year. The book I am reviewing is the 12th and was first published in 2003.
==Synopsis of the book:==
A young Cadet Ernesto Moro is found hung in the showers of the San Martino Military Academy. Commissario Brunetti is called in to investigate this suspicious death in a historically powerful and secretive institution. There is an arrogance about the people that Brunetti struggles with, as information is at a premium and no one willing or able to help him.
Even the Post Mortem is not conclusive as it could have been either suicide or murder. Brunetti receives little help from students and teachers alike, they all claim not have known the boy well. But someone must know more than they was saying.
Brunetti discovers with the aid of Signorina Elettra (the Secretary at the Police Station) the boy's father is an ex-politician who very bravely attempted to expose corruption within the committee's he served on. However he gave up his post two years before when he separated from his wife. Both parents are very vary of Brunetti and rather unhelpful too. How can he discover the truth when no one is talking to him? But he must try.
==My thoughts on the book:==
My overall opinion was this for me was a very enjoyable read. I was reading a professional review of an author's work and they talked about the author they were reviewing being at the peak of their writing skills. Well I feel this could easily apply to this author at the time of writing this book too.
Having seen the author's style at close hand throughout her Brunetti series, I do feel her writing style; descriptions, storylines and characters have all improved with continuous writing. Sometimes a book will not be as good maybe the story is not so interesting, but this one had all the elements for a wonderful read and enjoyable thriller.
Once upon a time and early in her Brunetti series, I found her books quite slow in their build up. This could have been because she likes to build up mystery into her thrillers. But it could also be a cultural differences as these books are set in Venice where there are totally different rules to Police work, in a country where the Police are treated with suspicion and not very often trusted by its people.
When I first picked up the book I was immediately impressed even with the front cover!! As it very proudly under the author's name but above the title told me this was the Winner of the CWA Macallan Silver Dagger. However upon investigation I find it was ' Friends in High Places' that won this prestigious award not this book. I felt a little conned by this as it is certainly misleading for the reader and I do not see the need to do this in order to sell the book. Her work is good enough on its own not to need to mislead readers like this.
I decided to take no notice of this frustration and sit down and read the summary on the back cover, this wetted my appetite with a tale that sounded intriguing. What I found particularly enjoyable and interesting was the problems that Brunetti experienced in getting any information to solve the mystery. As the Elite School closed ranks on him and would not help him with the investigation, seeing him as an outsider trying to ruin things for the establishment.
I found this novel to be very honest and frank when dealing with issues such as power and corruption in Italian politics and government establishments. Brunetti's frustration was well written as he struggled not only with this but his own prejudices against the Military establishments.
The author showed her contempt of the Italian way of doing business, of giving bribes to receive lucrative contacts. I think this is a brave thing to do given that it is the place she loves and lives. But to her credit she demonstrated that there were good men who try and expose these threats and as a result become very unpopular with the Elite within the country. However rather than good and doing the right thing winning over this author is realistic in approaching change within the country identifying it as being difficult to achieve.
The story begins with the unexplained hanging, and such is the author's excellence in creating mystery and suspense I never had any idea what would happen next. I certainly had no idea what direction the investigation would take. I enjoyed the clever twists the story took and the intriguing ideas the story brought up within it.
The pace throughout was steady and thought provoking with an increase towards and including the concluding chapter. There was a lot happening, but it was logically explained and certainly educated me into the workings within Italian business and Elite establishments. It was thought provoking rather than dynamic, which was totally in keeping with the rest of the story.
I do in some respects find Donna Leon novel's annoying. In the sense that her leading character Brunetti never seems dynamic and is often frustrated by 'red tape' in his work. I suppose this demonstrates the cultural differences which Leon understands and explains in an understandable if slightly was annoying way. As you are on the Detectives side and you want this corruption ending and fairness and openness to take over.
Like all the Donna Leon's books this is a pleasure to read. Her gripping storyline that is full of thought and character sucks you in. By intelligent writing that makes you desire to know the truth and puts you firmly on the side of the investigating officer who at heart is a good kind and honest man.
One of the real pleasures for me in all these novels are the characters. Firstly and for mostly there is Brunetti himself, a solid family man. He is very likeable in both his approach to his job and the people he comes into contact with. I particularly enjoy the interplay between him and his Senior Officer Vice Questore Patta. Brunetti is an intelligent man who uses wit and sometimes sarcasm to deal with a simple-minded career orientated man who tries to manage him.
However the novel also has a side to it that is always as interesting and funnier than the investigation itself. That is Brunetti's home life and the author deals superbly with the complex family issues, always handed delicately and skilfully, demonstrating the love within the family. These scenes are distributed randomly throughout the novel and they lighten the novel's mood and are something I always find enjoyable as you always have something meaningful or thought provoking behind them.
The resourceful Signorina Elettra who supplies all the background information for him always supports Brunetti. She is a wonderful character and there always to my mind appears to be chemistry between the two of them. I love their very innocent friendship and the way she will do everything she can with the contacts she has to help him. She is a fascinating character and one I always want to know more about.
These support characters that appear in all the novels, as they are quite diverse with interesting personalities and people you always want to know more about, always impress me. I think this is due to the author's great insight and the depth she has gone to to develop them and understand them. It feels for me that she knows and understand them completely.
Specifically to this book the characters associated to the dead boy were fascinating. I liked the way the boys at the School treated Brunetti as inferior, which was understandable given their training and upbringing, but so totally unjust and incorrect.
You certainly do not need to have read any Donna Leon books to enjoy this one, as it is an all-encumbering story. If it is your first you will enjoy the quality writing and the depth of the storyline. Although if your anything like me you need a book or two to fully appreciate her characters and her writing style.
I found the books to be a little on the short side, I would have liked a little more depth in the conclusion and almost a follow on from this to complete the story. However I'm sure the author had this right, as it was a logical and understandable ending given all the information and knowledge known.
I believe in Brunetti the author has created a classic Detective. One with enough depth that most people can relate to, like and admire. A modern day hero in a wicked world. I would love to see these transferred to television just to see what it was like but that might spoil the magic, unless you had an exceptional actor playing the lead role.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a gripping crime story. It was well written throughout, easy to read with excellent characters and a few interesting and unexpected twists within the story to enjoy. I also found it quite a good insight into Italian politics and how things get done there.
Price: £5.99 New Paperback at Amazon
Publisher: Arrow Books
More about the author: www.donnaleon.co.uk
Thank you for reading my review.
This review is published on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my user name.
@CPTDANIELS August 2009