Donna Leon Uniform Justice Arrow 2004
Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti has been compared to Camilleri’s Commissario Montalbano so many times that I felt I had to at least sample one of the titles in her series, and I’m glad I did. In Uniform Justice Brunetti is a world-weary detective investigating an apparent suicide at a cadet school run on military lines on the Venetian island of Giudecca. I was intrigued immediately, as I remember seeing the island from the windows of our overnight hotel opposite. Especially when it was blotted out by a passing cruise ship.
World-weary detectives are two-a-penny in crime fiction, especially when they are saddled with unsympathetic superiors as Brunetti is, and Venice is such an obvious setting that we could be forgiven for thinking that this is bound to be a run-of-the-mill mystery. Well, we would be wrong. This is very much a character-driven novel, especially where the Commissario and his long-suffering but forbearing wife are concerned, that you can’t help feeling that at times the investigation plays second fiddle to their relationship. Almost as interesting an individual is Signorina Elettra, Brunetti’s … well, what to call her? Secretary? Backroom staff? Dogsbody?
Uniform Justice concerns a crime which has ramifications in the worlds of the military and in political corruption, a heady and dangerous brew which Brunetti has to beware of drinking too much of. His liberal conscience is forced to consider compromises as he struggles towards the truth of what happened in a cadet school as staff, students and victim’s parents throw up a wall of silence. We can see the inevitable coming, and it is a weight on the soul of the sensitive investigator.
Reviews by Brunetti aficionados suggest this novel is not one of the best of the series, but I still found it haunting, thought-provoking, beautiful and well-written, and streets ahead of (or in a Venetian context, canals apart from) some mysteries I have recently read.
Review first published August 2012, and slightly revised. I have a couple more Inspector Brunetti novels, certainly overdue a read and then review