Monday, March 18, 2013


Is obsessive moral indignation a crime? Donna Leon’s Suffer the Little Children implies it can be. And that’s true even if authorities can’t prosecute people for moral indignation.

In Suffer the Little Children, Venetian Comissario Guido Brunetti and his assistant investigate two separate incidents. The carabinieri break into a prominent doctor’s home and seize his adopted infant son.

They charge the doctor with having illegally bought the child.

The family calls the Venetian police because they think the masked national police are kidnappers. The carabinieri failed to inform the Venetians of the raid, and so Comissario Brunetti becomes involved.

At the same time, Brunetti’s assistant investigates a plot to defraud the national healthcare system. In Italy, selected pharmacists can legally refer patients to medical doctors. One or more pharmacists are referring dead patients to doctors who then bill the national health care service for treatment.

Strangely enough, the two cases come to be intertwined. It is not that one caused the other or that both cases involve the same criminals. It is something much more complex than this.

Brunetti’s investigation leads to a prominent right wing racist political party. It also leads to a morally indignant pharmacist who breaks into medical computers and uses private information to try to enforce his moral code.

There is no happy ending to this book. For one thing, the righteous authorities seize a previously unwanted little boy from his loving adopted father. Then they place the child in an orphanage instead. 

In the end, this is a story about how mindless government intervention destroys people's lives.

Suffer the Little Children is a wonderful police procedural. Comissario Brunetti uses his understated way of interviewing to get to know the people. And from there, he “solves” the crimes.

I ran across this book in Barnes and Noble. Evidently Donna Leon is a well-known Italian writer. (Actually, as I understand it, she is an American who lives in Italy.) 

When I had a couple hours to kill at B&N while my wife attended her monthly quilting club, I found a whole row of Leon’s books. I chose this one for its intriguing title. And I’m glad I did.

From what I can tell, Donna Leon is a well-known best-selling writer. But she was new to me. I intend to read more of her Comissario Brunetti books.

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