I am a great fan of Donna Leon. I think that she has brought a sophisticated and civilised approach to crime writing and, in the process, proved that a crime novel doesn’t need to be about the most sensational blood-and-guts murders in order to captivate. Uniform Justice, which was first published in 2003, does not disappoint; it meets all her usual standards of excellence. However, it is a very sombre, brooding novel. It is about life in a military academy – the murder victim is a cadet – and the corrupt and unwholesome practices that go on there. It also explores the relationships between parents and children and shows how compassion – or the lack of it – and the dynamics between familial generations can make, mar or even terminate lives. The plot is quite monolithic, with no sub-plot to speak of. Although the novel is certainly crafted with the depth and subtlety that I always associate with Donna Leon, there is little of the exuberance and tapestry-like richness that she usually builds up. It is reminiscent of one of Matisse’s earlier paintings, before he discovered colour: created in hues of brown, grey and black.
As a mother, I found it almost painful to read right to the end. It is a book that I think will stay with me, but I prefer her more baroque works, because in them she succeeds in counterbalancing the squalor and tragedy of death with a brighter vision of human nature in all its many manifestations, from the noble to the sinister, with all the many quirks in between.