Posts Tagged ‘police inspector’

THE TEMPTATION OF FORGIVENESS by Donna Leon: Book Review

Long a tourist mecca, Venice conjures up beautiful visions of stunning architecture and elegant bridges crossing calm canals.  But there’s an ugly underside to the “Queen of the Adriatic,” a city rife with corruption and a populace who seems to be either uncaring or else committed to the belief that nothing they do will change the situation.

Guido Brunetti, commissario at the city’s Questura di Venezia, knows every canal and street in his beloved city.  Sadly, nothing about Venice shocks him any longer, and he is beginning to feel that the police have become almost totally ineffective.  So when Professoressa Crosera comes to him with a problem she can barely articulate, he finds himself not as sympathetic as he thinks he should be.

The professor is a member of the university’s architecture department, the same college where Guido’s wife Paola teaches literature.  The two women are colleagues rather than friends, but Guido has met the professor before.  After a great deal of hesitation, she finally asks Brunetti if it is a crime to purchase drugs.  He tells her it is not, that the crime is selling them, and she seems slightly reassured.  She is fearful that her teenage son is using drugs, but she has no definite proof and appears not to want to find any.

Probing more deeply, Brunetti asks her why she has come to the Questura, what she would like the police to do, and he is surprised by the simplicity of her response.  “Find out whose selling him these drugs.  And arrest them.”  And Guido thinks to himself, if only it were that easy.

Several days later Professoressa Crosera’s husband is brutally attacked on the Ponte del Forner.  Did it have something to do with the drugs that he and his wife believe their son is using, or is it a different matter entirely?  Street crime is so rare in Venice that the former seems much more likely, but Brunetti and his colleagues are getting nowhere by focusing on that aspect of the  investigation.

The Temptation of Forgiveness is Donna Leon’s twenty-seventh book featuring Commissario Guide Brunetti, his family, and his fellow officers at the Questura.  The incredible sense of place that is in all the novels is understandable when the reader knows that Ms. Leon lived in Venice for thirty years.  Brunetti’s humanity shines through in all the books, but it is obvious that he has reached a point in his life where his optimism is greatly tempered with reality and his knowledge that many of the problems that confront the citizens of the city are beyond his ability, or that of anyone’s, to remedy.

The final two pages of The Temptation of Forgiveness are among the most moving I have ever read.

You can read more about Donna Leon at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

THE BLACK PATH by Asa Larsson: Book Review

Can one ever recover from an unhappy childhood? This novel is full of people whose sad memories still haunt them, and to some extent control them, many years later.

In The Black  Path, Asa Larsson brings back two of her characters from previous books:  police inspector Anna-Maria Mella and attorney Rebecka Martinsson. Up in Tornetrask, northern Sweden, the two are brought together to work on the brutal murder of business executive Inna Wattrang. Her body was found abandoned in an ark, a wooden hut used in ice fishing.  Inna was beautiful, intelligent, successful, but someone hated her enough to both torture her and then stab her to death.  Why?

Anna-Maria is the head of the homicide force in the small city of Kiruna.  She’s happily married, the mother of four children.  Rebecka Martinsson is a well-respected attorney in Stockholm, originally from Kiruna, who has just been released from a mental hospital, having suffered a breakdown after seeing the murdered body of a close friend and then being forced to kill three men in self-defense.  Now Rebecka wants nothing more than to return to the house in which she grew up and to be left alone.  But that is not to be.

Inna’s boss and her brother, his business partner, are brought in to identify her body.  Her boss, Mauri Kallis, is a self-made multi-millionaire, a rarity in a country where one’s birth still counts in society. Abandoned by a father he never knew, neglected by a mother with a mental illness, brought up in a foster family with a vicious older foster “brother,” Mauri has tried to put all that behind him by pretending it never happened.  Never given love or attention during his childhood, he’s unable to give them to his wife and two young sons.  There’s a cold core in his center, and he’s not interested in thawing it out.

All he’s interested in is making money–it’s money, after all, that has given him the clout to build both physical and metaphysical walls between himself and the rest of the world.  So far Mauri has had the Midas touch, always knowing when to put money into a business and when to take it out, but with his new mining venture in Uganda, he may be in over his head.

Inna’s brother Diddi has slid through life with his good looks and charming manner, despite his own unhappy upbringing. But his dissolute ways are catching up to him.  He’s been a partner with Mauri in their firm–Mauri is Mr. Inside, Diddi is Mr. Outside–but he’s losing his touch with the important, rich people the firm needs in order to continue to make its risky investments.

Can the possible business problems and the cooling personal relationship between her boss and her brother explain why Inna was killed?  Are those issues central to her murder or merely peripheral?

There’s a strong friendship building between Anna-Maria and Rebecka, two women who don’t have much in common. Anna-Maria’s life, in her opinion, is just about perfect, giving her both a happy family and professional success.  On the other hand, Rebecka’s demons, brought about in great part by a neglectful mother (they’re everywhere in this novel), have made her successful in work but fearful in her personal life.  Attracted to a colleague in her Stockholm law firm, she’s convinced herself that she’s not worthy of his attention, much less his love, and is almost suicidal in her despair at ever finding someone with whom to share her life.

A wonderful character study as well as an engrossing, if very dark, novel, Asa Larsson’s series continues to bring northern Sweden closer to us.

Ms. Larsson doesn’t appear to have an English web page, but you can read more about her at this web page.

FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French: Book Review

Talk about your dysfunctional families.  The Mackeys of the Liberties section of Dublin put most other families to shame.

Faithful Place is the street, ill-named as it may be, where the Mackeys live.  The protagonist, Francis (Frank) Mackey has managed to escape his family and his childhood home, but all the other members of his family either still live there or haven’t gone far.

Frank is now a member of Dublin’s Undercover Squad, divorced, and the father of a nine-year-old daughter. Both his sisters are married with homes of their own.  But Frank’s brothers, Shay and Kevin, are still unmarried and live with their parents although they are well into their thirties.  And the Mackeys’ overbearing mother and alcoholic father are still at each other’s throats as they were all the years their children were growing up.

What got Frank out of Liberties was his plan, as a nineteen-year-old, to run away with his sweetheart Rosie Daly.  Very much in love and forbidden by Rosie’s father to see each other, Rosie suggests boarding the ferry to England and getting jobs there.  It takes them several months to save the required money, but finally all the plans are in place.  Frank is waiting for Rosie at midnight on the specified night, but she never shows.  And she’s never seen again.

Still desperate to escape his family, Frank gets as far as the other side of Dublin and becomes a member of the police force.  And for twenty-two years he has kept his distance from his family, his only contact being his younger sister Jackie.  As the story opens, Jackie has contacted Frank with incredible news–Rosie’s suitcase was found in a derelict house on Faithful Place, hidden behind the fireplace.  And Rosie’s suitcase turns out to be a modern-day Pandora’s box.  Secrets that have been hidden for years burst into the open when it is discovered.

Faithful Place is not a part of Dublin on the tourist route. It’s changing a bit as the new economy brings Yuppies into the area, but by and large it’s still the same families living there who have lived there for generations.  The men work in factories or are on the dole; the lucky ones work on the line at Guinness.  There’s very much a sense of not getting above yourself, not trying to be better than your parents or your peers.  If you do that, you’re definitely under suspicion.

Frank has moved out and on successfully, and that doesn’t sit right with his family. His older brother Shay is resentful, dreaming of the day that he will buy the bicycle shop he’s worked in for years, but he’s still living in the flat above his parents.  His younger brother Kevin seems younger than his years, never venturing far from home.

Tana French paints a devastating portrait of a neighborhood and a people stuck in place. The same arguments, the same rivalries, the same unhappiness exist more than two decades after Frank has left home.  It’s no wonder he didn’t want his young daughter to even know of the existence of this family.  And he’s furious when he finds out that his sister Jackie and his ex-wife have been secretly bringing his daughter to Faithful Place to visit his family.  Ms. French’s portraits of a family and a community coming apart is vivid and frightening.

Strangely, Tana French’s web site is three years out of date.  But you can read more about her at http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-french-tana.asp.