So Shall You Reap by Donna Leon

The thing about Leon’s books is that Commissario Brunetti is a philosopher and a realist so whilst cases might be solved, the guilty do not always get their just rewards. The title suggests that the book is about more than the legal system providing justice with the murdered person being an undocumented man from Sri Lanka housed in the garden house of a palazzo by the owner.

What I love about the series is the attention to daily life: the food – although there is less of this in the book than previous books – the clothes of both Brunetti and Signora Elettra who works at the station and the books that Brunetti reads. In this mystery it is the murdered man’s books that provide the starting point to solving the crime along with a finger bone found in his pocket and a stray dog called Sara.

I am always interested in plot structures and have a tendancy to draw their shape, something I used to do for children so that they had a visual reference which they could use in their own writing. Elizbeth Strout’s Oh, William would look like ripples moving out over a pond – calmish on the surface but an awful lot going on underneath. Many stories seem to have a mountain shape – up to the crisis point and then downhill all the way, with a few glitches until the problem is solved, or not. For those familiar with Christopher Booker’s work of the seven basic stories, I think detective stories are often quests. Here, a protagonist and companions (Brunetti, Elettra and Vianelli) set out to acquire an important object (truth and justice) or to get to a location. They face temptations and other obstacles (people who hide the truth or lie, the law itself, society and its expectations) along the way. Of course, there is more complexity to it than this with other story arcs involved and the shape is often not symmetrical. Some stories can have each of the seven types in them. Quests can often have a wiser guide such as Professor McGonagall in Harry Potter or Gandalf in The Hobbit. Often these are older people but in the case of the Brunetti series, I think Signora Elettra is the wise guide with the cyber skills of a hacker.

All of this is to say that it takes almost half the book to get to the crime that is to be solved, with the first half focusing on one of the police being arrested at a Pride protest and Brunetti realising that he is gay and then worrying about how that will be perceived. This didn’t really have an impact on the other (main?) story line and I struggle to find a link between the two other than in the first half being true to yourself brings liberation and in the second half it has to be hidden because it isn’t really socially acceptable now to have the political views of the past.

I do love the humanity of Brunetti and his family and the love and tolerance that is shown in many different ways.

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