Uniform Justice

Uniform Justice

They have the morals of pit vipers. They’ll do anything to cover up for one another: lie, cheat, commit perjury. p. 123

Uniform Justice by Donna Leon is fast-paced, like any other novel of the same genre. I’ve read better detective stories (in a strictly formal sense) before but will still bring it up here briefly because I like the theme explored in the novel.

In an elite military academy for sons of rich families in Venice, an eighteen year-old boy died of what seems like suicide. However, when Commissario Brunnetti comes to the school to investigate, he is faced with a wall of silence. He suffered the same treatment from the boy’s family, who refused to cooperate with his investigation. But far from deterring him, this only pushes the Brunnetti, also a family man with a son of the same age, to dig at the bottom of the case.

Later, of course, to cut the story short, we will learn that the death was not only a cover up to protect the school’s name (and its rich clientele’s reputation) but was more so connected to the boy’s father, a retired politician, a gadfly famous for his honesty and standing up to the powers that be, who stepped on the foot of some corrupt army official.

And again, to cut things short, I will say that what annoys me in the novel is not only the cynicism but the accompanying lack of justice at the end of the novel. After building up on the crime and linking it to the military institution’s practices and values – after the culprits are almost done in, we read how the perpetrator, the son of a retired army official get off lightly with “triumphant, sly satisfaction.”

The novel ends with the anguished conversation of the victim’s father and Brunnetti:

Yesterday and Today: Mural compares Gen. Jacob Smith to Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr.
Yesterday and Today: Mural compares Gen. Jacob Smith to Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr.

‘There’s no justice here, Dottore,’ frightened to realize that he meant not only for this man and his family, but for this city, and this country, and their lives.

‘Then let it be,’ Moro said, exhausted. ‘Let him be.’

Everything that was decent in Brunetti urged him to say something that would comfort this man, but the words, though unsummoned, failed to come… He thought of his own son, of Filippi’s son, and of Moro’s, and then the words came: ‘Poor boy.’ p.294

But of course, perhaps that’s the whole point. Uniform Justice, as the title suggests, is an exposition of the nature of justice among those wearing the uniform. ■

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