SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN by Donna Leon

I am at that stage in my binge-reading of the wonderful Commissario Brunetti’s series when I need to slow down.

In no time at all, I’ve reached the end of the 16th in this stunning series of detective novels set in Venice, and –  yet again – I close the book with a sigh of enjoyment, mingled with sadness at another book being finished, and unbridled admiration for Ms Leon.

In every one of these novels, Venice is there, centre-stage, a stunning backdrop for the crimes that the sensitive, family-loving Commissario must solve.  In every book –  and they are all total stand-alone novels, by the way – Ms Leon manages to highlight a different aspect of the city, so even though we see the city and the canals and the churches in all her books, we always see them through a different prism.

The central characters are all here, yet again, thank goodness.

The Commissario, a good man, if ever there was one.  Thoughtful, loving, honest.  In love with his family and his city.

His delightful wife Paola.

His children, Raffi and Chiara, who have grown up before our eyes, as it were, over the course of the books.  The children appear in this 16th book, as usual, around the family dinner table, but they also appear in a different way.  Commissario Brunetti is investigating a racket in the city concerning adopted babies, and every time he has a sad or a disturbing encounter involving babies, unwanted or otherwise, he remembers his own children when they were babies and toddlers, his fierce, unqualified love for them so wonderfully obvious.

The  loyal Viannello is at the Commissario’s side, as is the fabulous Signorina Elettra, always glamorous and always delving deep into the computers of the city’s municipal services, banks, government offices -wherever she can mine information for Brunetti and Vianello.  The latter has, over the course of the years (read novels) familiarised himself with computers and the internet, so he can fully appreciate Elettra’s skills.  Brunetti remains something of a Luddite where computers are concerned and, more over, prefers not to ask too many questions as to where exactly the young lady gets the invaluable information she finds.

The venal Vice-Questore Patta is, as ever, more concerned by appearances than solving crimes.

We enjoy the wine that invariably accompanies the happy family meals that are so important for Guido Brunetti.  We savour the food with them.  We listen to the children chat about school.  We are part of a Venetian family, in other words.

Another wonderful instalment in this engrossing series.

Should you wish to buy the book now, it couldn’t be simpler.  Here’s the link to Amazon.

THE SECRET SERVANT by DANIEL SILVA

My current politico-thriller writer of choice is Daniel Silva, creator of the Gabriel Allon series, which I have been rattling through at a cracking pace.  The only trouble with a gripping series such as Mr. Silva’s books is that once started, you don’t pause for breath, nor (in my case) for time to review them.

And so I have stopped reading for just long enough to share with you my thoughts on “The Secret Servant”, the 7th novel in this exciting series.

Yup. Indeed.  6 books read, back to back, without pausing long enough to review them.  Guilty as charged.

What an interesting man Gabriel Allon is.  A spy and and assassin for the Israeli secret service,  Gabriel is Jewish without being overtly religious.  He is Israeli, but a polyglot, at home in much of Europe.  A talented art restorer, he is forever haunted by his own personal horrific backstory (don’t worry, no plot spoilers).

In other words, an interesting, complex figure, but one who still manages to keep a veil of secrecy around him.  We, the reader, instinctively like Gabriel.  We root for him, we worry about him, but yet we do not fully “know” him.

Gabriel’s foe in many of the books is extreme Islam, and there is little point being politically correct or beating about the bush. What Gabriel and the Israeli secret service face seems to be a pretty fair representation of much of what is currently wrecking our world.  Bombs aimed at innocent people, racking up the collateral damage that the hardline extremists we meet, seem to consider of no value whatsoever.  Lives are expendable.

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It’s not that the world of Gabriel Allon and the decent, likeable towering figure of Ari Shamron unfairly represents the growing conflict between Judeo-Christianity and militant Islam.  These books are not Israeli propaganda  It isn’t like that at all.  And yet…so many of the plots and terror threats that Gabriel has solved in the books thus far, involve the sort of terror threats that the world today increasingly faces.  And “The Secret Servant” was written in 2007, for goodness sake. So much horror has happened since.  Almost scarily prescient.

Mr. Silva’s books could never be described as light or humorous or frothy.  His stories are of terror and plots and spies and danger, of death and fear.

And yet, I found this excellent novel “blacker” and gloomier than some of its predecessors.  As we travel the road of counter-terrorism in the edgy company of the upright Gabriel, a killer with a very firm conscience and a deep awareness of the rights and wrongs of this world, we sense his growing weariness and occasional disenchantment.  He is heading towards middle-age, he has faced dangers and torture far too many times, and he knows that his life will always be at risk.  He has tackled so many terrorist outfits head-on that he has enemies galore.

Thus it is that the international terror plot that he must unravel and destroy in “The Secret Servant” reveals a frightening world of alienation and radicalisation, of European-born and educated Muslims who hate with a passion and are ready to kill and die for their beliefs.  This picture of Europe being radicalised from within is a deeply disturbing one:

IMG_9421And, I repeat, this book was published in 2007…

Like all its predecessors in this series, “The Secret Servant” is a gripping, often times gory and frightening, and, I must be frank, a disturbing picture of an alienated world.  The old continent has never looked more vulnerable.

This is a page-turner with a long-lasting message.

Highly recommended.

Now you’ve read this review, please go ahead and buy the book. Couldn’t be easier. Just click on one of the links below: