Heinemann London, Random House, May 2007
Reviewed by Kerrie Smith
In the middle of the night, just on the edge of sleep, Commissario Guido
Brunetti gets an urgent phone call from Inspector Vianello. Three
policemen who broke into the home of a local paediatrician have assaulted
him and snatched his eighteen month old son. Even in his sleep-befuddled
state Brunetti can hear the urgency in Vianello's voice. The doctor has
possible brain damage, and, in Vianello's words, "We've got a mess."
On his arrival at the hospital Brunetti learns from the Carabinieri
captain who led the raid that the invasion of Doctor Pedrolli's home is
part of a nation wide investigation into baby trafficking. The charge
against Doctor Pedrolli is the illegal adoption of his son Alfredo even
though his birth registration shows Pedrolli as the father.
As always with Donna Leon's Brunetti series, this story is set mainly in
Venice, but this time there is less focus on Venice and more on an issue
that has become prominent in the Western world. SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN
is a story set against themes of baby trafficking and surrogacy that have
emerged recently in books by other authors. Declining fertility in the
Western world is contrasted with the apparent fecundity of refugees and
immigrants; and the desire of women for children is set against the
apparent willingness of some to sell the only thing they can produce:
their child. Brunetti's investigation takes him out of his comfort zone.
His own love for his wife and children is a subtle motivator for him to
get to the truth.
While the rising waters of Venice don't dominate this story, the reader is
made aware that there are times when the tidal flow reduces accessibility,
and at one stage Brunetti's assistant Signorina Elettra talks about the
efforts to raise the sidewalks against acqua alta. I love the glimpses we
are given of Venetian life: doctors and pharmacists who are defrauding the
medical system by claiming for services not carried out; the influence of
those who have money; the differences between the local police and the
national Carabinieri are among them.
And there is always more to learn about Commissario Guido Brunetti. He is
a fascinating protagonist. The interplay between himself and those he
works with, and with his family, continues to provide interest.
Donna Leon is an American author living in Venice. This is the sixteenth
title in her Venice/Brunetti series -- she has basically published a book
a year since 1992. For me the books evoke a wonderful sense of Venice
which I have been lucky enough to visit several times. Her official
website is at
June 2007 review first published on Murder and Mayhem
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