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Suffer the Little Children: (Brunetti 16)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 April 2008
As John Peel said of The Fall, "always different, always the same"; it's a sentiment that could equally apply to the Venetian novels of Donna Leon. Always different in the plots, the players, themes, always the same in terms of wonderful style, rigid social engagement and interrogation, and Guido Brunetti and his family. These elements don't really vary from book-to-book: Leon's style, her intense interest in the social issues effecting her fair city, and the comforting presence of Brunetti and his warm, reassuring family. That's why so many people are drawn back novel after novel, thanks to these reliable elements. And it's no different here. All these things are present, correct, and as attractive as ever. They make every Leon novel a guaranteed pleasure. However, it's the differences that add the spice and flavour of each novel, that stand them off in competition with one another, and that make "Suffer the Little Children" one of the strongest entries in the series, certainly the best since the career highlights that were Uniform Justice and Doctored Evidence.

Three Carabinieri officers burst into the apartment of a local Venetian paediatrician and his wife. After trying to defend his family, the doctor is left in hospital, and one of the officers is the victim of "assault". Their 18 month old son is taken. Brunetti is summoned to the hospital in the aftermath to try and find out what's gone on, what motivated such a violent reaction from the military police? Why was their son taken? This initial event will set Brunetti into a practical and moral maze of policework involving illegal adoption, infertility clinics, desperate parents, fraudulent pharmacists and nefarious moralising doctors. And, as always in Leon's Venice, the long influential arms of those who wield the real power.

If there any crime-writer alive guaranteed to provide a complex moral or social issue to mull over, it is Donna Leon. Past novels have taken a beating-stick to the military, conflict diamonds, lagoon pollution, and this 16th novel takes a long hard uncomfortable look at unwanted children and illegal adoption. Better that babies go to loving homes rather than stay with parents who don't want them and would (and do) sell them for paltry sums? Better to stick to the law rather than set a precedent? Better to remove these illegal children to orphanages? As always, no answers are provided (though Leon's politics and probable views aren't exactly difficult to work out), but much for food thought is given. As intelligent social and moral tracts, they're almost unrivalled.

It's hard to describe what is so attractive and engaging about Leon's novels, and it's all the hard with this one for some reason. They're just immensely readable at the same time as being immensely... "important" sounds too pretentious, but that's essentially what I mean. They're readable but there's also a deep seriousness and darkness to them, like the dark murky waters of the Laguna. It's sometimes a shame that Leon isn't a little more ambitious with her series, considering what she can do when viewing it (as she does) as merely an easy hobby! Given that she seems to view her novel writing almost as just a pleasant distraction, it seems to allow her a freeness with the form, and, though not exactly "ambitious" she displays an incredibly admirable and liberating willingness to disregard conventions of the genre to very good effect, and she partly does that here. It's almost like a crime novel in reverse in some respects, in that the burst of violence comes at the end. Suffer the Little Children is, in a way, an examination of the build-up to a crime. It's also admirable in that there is no murder! How odd, for a crime novel! No murder, but still a deeply unsettling crime (the traffic of children). It's a good lesson, to other crime-writers. The power of these very real issues is quite enough to power an engaging novel and fill it with suspense etc., the puzzle doesn't necessarily have to come in the form of a dead body.

Suffer the Little Children is the 16th in the series, and one of the best. It's a supremely refreshing read, and, despite the comforts of its humane protagonist, a nicely unconventional and challenging crime novel. I recommend it to all (though it is probably not the best to start with). The final 20 or so pages are completely brilliant. But then, Leon has always been wonderful at messy endings. Do read her.
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on 30 April 2017
I rather idly started reading Donna Leon's Brunetti series (unusually beginning with the first one - the one written as a result of a bet) and enjoyed it very much, whilst thinking it was a bit thin. Reading the next ones in order available on Kindle, I began to really get into the characters and surroundings. I'm a bit of a sucker for anything set in Italy, having lived there myself, and admire how Leon, an outsider, captures the essence of corruption, politics and family loyalties (with the perennial backdrop of the importance of food, clothes and La Bella Figura) playing in the background. Interestingly, her books are not translated into Italian! I don't think there is anything in them that thinking Italians wouldn't recognise, and they are rarely as angry about corruption and malpractice as say, the Montalbano books, written by an Italian.

Many books featuring a lead character/detective are touted as being able to be stand alone reads, but in my experience, it generally pays to start at the beginning and build up your knowledge of the lead characters. I have grown to feel I know the lazy, vain Vice Questore, Brunetti's aristocratic, intellectual and mildly challenging wife, his teenage children, his trusty sidekick Vianello and the (to me) rather mysterious Signorina Elettra. This book ventures down the usual paths with all of them, but slightly unusually for a mystery series, it does not have an actual dead body at the centre. I really liked this fact, but I suspect a number of readers were a bit disappointed. I didn't feel it detracted from my desire to know the outcome; I was particularly interested in the pharmacist/doctor scam - there was much talk about this (but following a different line ) when I lived in Naples in the early 1970's, so it all felt very familiar. Working in Italy in the mid 1990's I became all too wearily aware that nothing can be done in a straightforward manner - who you know and having the right contacts in the right places is an all important adjunct to getting anything done. It is this that Donna Leon captures so perfectly, and that spark of recognition at events is probably why I enjoy them so much. The actual investigations in this book are subtle and believable, and the sad story of traded babies and pharmaceutical corruption interwoven with human frailties to give a few extra twists made it a very good read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 November 2007
I've read many Donna Leon books and enjoyed them all. This book is different from the author's usual murder investigation-based story-lines, but is none the worse for that. I gather some other reviewers have been disappointed by the book, but I must say I thought it one of her best. It had a lot of the usual mouth-watering descriptions of the delicious food that Brunetti's wife prepares and he anticipates with relish; the realistic domestic details of family life; and the backdrop of Venice. However, the story does not involve the detection of murder by Brunetti et al, as is usually the case with this series of novels, but is more an investigation of illegal adoption of babies and the desperate measures people will go to to get a child.
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on 18 May 2017
A well-written book - recommend it to fans of the series!
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on 25 May 2017
Tragic and very atmospheric. Excellent.
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on 12 October 2017
Donna Leon is a very good writer.
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on 2 June 2017
A complicated plot - well done!
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on 3 September 2017
This is ok this is ok this ok this is ok this ok this is ok this was okay ok ok this i
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VINE VOICEon 7 May 2008
Attacking corruption seems to be a favorite theme of Donna Leon. And along the way, there's usually a murder or two to solve. And in the case of her latest Commassario Guido Brunetti thriller, Leon is, once again, on target.

This time the venerable Venice police officer is confronted with the issue of illegal child adoption practices and the accompanying ramifications therein. As in the previous 15 Brunetti novels, Leon looks at her home city and addresses one or more of its myriad problems, social and otherwise. Still, this series is not about Venice, which she loves, but those characters and issues that attack the sheer beauty and even moral turpitude of the Pearl of the Adriatic.

In "Suffer the Little Children," Brunetti early on is called to the hospital after learning that one of its doctors has been beaten almost to death by a police team, which had stormed the doctor's home and, aside from the beating, had taken the doctor's 18-month old son, which, as it turns out, is an adopted son. Thus the plot kicks into a higher gear. Brunetti learns, from his various sources and own initiative that adopting children is not only a lucrative business but also highly illegal in some circumstances. The ramifications of such adoptions, of course, is wide open. A second running issue in the book is the investigation of a pharmacy-doctor scam that seems to be widespread.
With Brunetti's ace team (Signorina Eletra and Sgt. Vianello, especially), the cases eventually come to a conclusion. Of course, as is usual for a Leon book, the endings are not always satisfying to the reader who is looking for the "happily ever after" approach. Brunetti (and Leon) do not solve the corruption and other socially significant issues, as, of course, these issues continue right along, but they do work on "justice, one person at a time." The murderer usually pays for his (or her) crime. Leon, though, says she's not about to give up on Venice, but sometimes "political corruption is simply a way of life there."

Leon's Brunetti series is first rate, beginning with "Death at La Fenice." (She's a big fan of opera.) Leon's sharp narrative skills, fast-paced plots, and incredible character development are always great reads. In "Suffer the Little Children," however, the book seems to be rushed and Leon doesn't take the time to explore further her central characters (they are all gold mines!), although she perhaps feels that the previous books have said enough. Fast-paced is one thing, but "rushed" is another and in this one, more time and deliberations should have been devoted. She says she's already finished the next Brunetti and is "thinking about" the one after that--news that will make her legions of fans happy!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 August 2014
The 16th mystery in Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti series begins with Brunetti and Inspector Vianello listening to garrulous woman reporting strange goings on in the opposite apartment.

The action then shifts to the apartment that Dr Gustavo Pedrolli, a respected paediatrician, and his wife, Bianca share with their eighteen-month old son, Alfredo. Rarely can there have been a more doting father. However, their peace is shattered when a team of masked carabinieri break the door down, take the boy away and batter the doctor so badly that he has to be admitted to the neurology department of his own hospital. Enter the Commissario and Vianello for the second time. We learn that 'Brunetti's profession had made him a master of pauses: he could distinguish them the way a concert-master could distinguish the tones of various strings. There was the absolute, almost belligerent pause, after which nothing would come unless in response to questions or threats. There was the attentive pause, after which the speaker measured the effect on the listener of what had just been said. And there was the exhausted pause, after which the speaker needed to be left undisturbed until emotional control returned.'

This novel sees Brunetti and Leon back to the top of their form. Here the author, always socially conscious addresses the twin themes of infertility and illegal adoptions. It seems that some reviewers are critical of the issues that Leon brings to the fore in her books that are, in case we forget, works of fiction. It would be difficult to argue that corruption is endemic in many areas of Italian society, including law enforcement and medicine, here illustrated by a scam over computerised healthcare records. By the end of this book, many readers will be cheering on the NHS, despite its current imperfections.

The anticipated family scenes, descriptions of lip-smacking food and, increasingly, fine wines, the constant sloshing of strong coffee, Elettra Zorzi's clothes and `acking [creative computing] abilities, the ongoing tension between Brunetti and his boss, the odious Vice-Questore Patta, and a booted carabinierie captain with a softer side all fill the pages, as do the streets and buildings of Venice. At one stage, Brunetti and Signorina Eletta pose as an unmarried couple with infertility problems - which lead to the Commissario having to console his tearfully upset girlfriend.

A feature of this book is that, as the investigation progresses, Brunetti repeatedly returns to consider what his life would mean to him and Paola had either or both of their children been removed from the family in their early years. Whilst Leon has always been very good at describing the family reactions across the dinner table, in her latter books - mostly involving their daughter, Chiara - here she adds this internal questioning. This also brought into relief the fact that, in the very near future, one and then both children will leave the family home. Despite their closeness, much of which revolves around consideration of the events of the day and immersing themselves in their books, it is impossible to know how their parents will react to the opening up of this chasm.

At the heart of the latter part of the book is the question of guilt and morality, and we meet a criminal who, whilst the evidence against him is clear-cut, will never be brought to book. By chance, or perhaps not, he is a lawyer. Ethical and moral questions are posed at the individual and societal level, and a little more is revealed about Vianello's background and attitudes.

After tantalisingly dropping the family name of Dr Pedrolli's wife several times without explanation, Leon eventually introduces the reader to her father, `Commendatore' Giuliano Marcolini, ex-plumber and now leader of the Fascist Lega Doge, whose personal revelations shock Brunetti and the reader.

At the end of the book, the author introduces a final twist that reveals the despair and destruction of a good man and what his personal response might be. When she is writing like this, there are few modern crime writers who can match her.
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