After one of his wife’s colleagues asks Brunetti to investigate her son’s school because she suspects that drugs are sold to the students there, the worried professoressa‘s husband is found severely injured at the foot of a bridge. At the same time, Brunetti is tasked with finding out who is leaking sensitive information from the Questura.
I haven’t read a Commissario Brunetti book in a long time, but it is easy to return to the world Donna Leon created because nothing much seems to have changed since the early books. Venice is as iconic a setting as always, the atmosphere and the food are amazing, Brunetti’s family is likeable, his colleagues are interesting enough, and his boss is a vain opportunist that is as easy to despise as he is to laugh at. In this particular story, it is November, the weather is dreary, and Brunetti feels a little melancholy. He is reading Sophocles’ Antigone over the course of the book, which is concerned with themes like state control, natural law and man-made law, and civil disobedience, and leads him to think about his current case in light of the questions raised in the play.
The case fits all this intellectual ruminating because it deviates from the paths of conventional murder mysteries. First of all, there is no murder because the victim is not dead, and secondly, the assault was an attempt to cover up a crime that is, although of course criminal, exceedingly unethical by preying on those that cannot defend themselves, while on the other hand, it is being committed for a good cause. It is this moral conundrum, of what is right and what is wrong regardless of legality, that lies at the heart of the book. This is a heavy theme, and it unfortunately isn’t handled especially well because I don’t think that the case in question is a good example to use for this discussion. On top of that, the story drags all too often. Conversations seem to take forever, important characters like the professoressa fail to evoke much sympathy, subplots are abandoned, and the general feeling is that very little happens. At one point, Brunetti accuses someone of a crime without fact-checking first, and this is spectacularly embarrassing for a seasoned and level-headed investigator like him, and worst of all, it is completely out of character.
Overall, it feels like the book is an experiment to break out of the formula a little and try something new, but it is mostly a failure because it is just not well executed. The discussion on morals, which takes up so much space, is not engaging enough, which leads to a less than satisfying reading experience, especially for the expectations that readers have for this series which is a coherent and compelling mystery that likes to be a little thought-provoking by looking at the grey areas, but is still entertaining.