Book Review: ‘The Temptation of Forgiveness’

Mary Brennan

What do you get when you cross a Greek Tragedy, Antigone, and a contemporary Detective Novel set in Venice, The Temptation of Forgiveness, by Donna Leon? An enjoyable, relaxing read, ideal for the lazy days of summer.

Forgiveness is another of Leon’s novels which have as a central character a commissario oflicer called Bruneti. Here, hBe is called upon to discover the person leaking classified information from the central police office in Venice. His superior is a pompous, incompetent Senior Officer, Vice-Questurears elegantly dressed in expensive suits which do little to disguise his ineptitude.

Bruneti’s search for the culprit is deflected when a friend of his wife asks him to find the person selling drugs in her son’s expensive private school. She suspects that her son is using them and failing in his studies.

She hopes that Bruneti can find the culprit, but wants no publicity about it to be available to outsiders.

When Bruneti begins his enquiries, Tullio Gasparini, the friend’s husband is found, badly unconscious at the foot of a bridge after midnight. Bruneti assumes that this is connected with the boy’s behavior and decides to investigate the case.

The pursuit, however, is not straightforward. As the novel unfolds, the plot thickens and leads to unexpected complications that underline the Author’s skill in introducing fully developed characters. In particular, there are Bruneti’s Colleagues, Claudia Grifoni, whose rank equals his, and Signorina Ellettra, who is a vital component in his searches for information about persons or corporations which she obtains secretly, but which are essential in solving the intricacies of different plot lines. Bruneti’s family, his wife, Paolo and his son, Raffi, and daughter, Chiara, are essential for showing that Bruneti is not a one-dimensional character.

 He is an educated, culturally aware person with a moral purpose in providing true justice in his professional life. It is this aspect of Bruneti that adds an extra dimension to all of Leon’s work. It leads readers to involve themselves in his moral debates, vocalized with his wife, who is a Professora at the local University. He does it internally with his conscience. He is reading Antigone at the time and is constantly aware of how the Greeks always emphasized the moral aspects of daily life.

It is this aspect of the novel that introduces Sophocles and his work, Antigone. You may recall that all Greek Drama was religiously inspired.

Antigone is no exception. She is the sister of two brothers who are killed in battle where they are in opposing sides. One , Eteocles, is praised with all religious burial rites . The other, Polynices, is vilified and refused religious rites and burial.

Antigone is enraged by this disparity and decides to prepare the burial herself. Tyrant Creon decides that she must be executed for breaking the law. It is moral law that honors the Gods which must be followed if they are not to be offended Antigone believes. It is above any civil law. The drama ends tragically with Antigone dead and Creon losing his son and his certainty that “All laws must be obeyed without question.”

She dies believing that conscience is vital in interpreting civil laws.

Bruneti, after many excursions into different parts of his investigations, is finding himself in the same dilemmas as the Greeks. He has to decide whether or not to follow the letter of the law or, to allow his suspect to evade certain criminal consequences.

The result is left for the reader to discover.

It is well worth the journey to find out.


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