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.
4 thoughts on “Donna Leon in sombre mood: Uniform Justice”
I am also a big fan of Donna Leon (but I think I told you that, didn’t I?). This is not one I’ve read, so I will need to buy it. Thank you for the heads up, Christina, and by the way, I like your book for the same reason “a crime novel doesn’t need to be about the most sensational blood-and-guts murders in order to captivate.” But I think I mentioned that to you too 🙂
I was struck by the fact that you mentioned Donna Leon, as I finished ‘Uniform Justice’ just last week. Your comment has clearly had a subliminal effect upon me as well, producing a blog post. Either that, or we just think completely alike! 😉
I am a huge fan of Donna Leon’s novels – I love the insight into Venetian daily life, and I think she develops her characters very well. The stories are not ‘cosy’, but as you say, neither are they ‘blood & guts’ – they deal with serious issues in a serious way, but there are no superfluous shock tactics. Great writer.
The other ‘Venice’ novel that I love is the wonderful Miss Garnet’s Angel by Sally Garland. I had the joy of visiting Venice a few years ago, and was so excited to find the church that features in the book.
Hello, Rosemary. Thank you for calling in and commenting. I’m finding a growing number of Donna Leon enthusiasts! I don’t know ‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’ and I appreciate your recommendation; I’ll add it to my list. Visiting the locations you find in fiction is always exciting and somehow gives an extra dimension to the experience of the book.