A baby-snatching leads Commissario Guido Brunetti not to the usual institutional corruption (Through a Glass Darkly, 2006, etc.) but to a more intimate kind of evil.
Hours after his adopted son Alfredo calls Dottore Gustavo Pedrolli “papà” for the first time, the doctor and his wife, plumbing heiress Bianca Marcolini, are asleep in their Venice apartment. Five armed men break in, repel Pedrolli’s feeble resistance and grab Alfredo. The abductors, amazingly, are carabinieri dispatched by an unknown complainant to end what was apparently an illegal adoption. But why did Captain Marvilli and his masked troops storm so violently into the apartment in the dead of night? After all, as Brunetti reflects, “this was not the United States.” And why, given her fury over a brain-threatening injury to her husband, does Signora Marcolini seem so incurious about what’s become of her son? These riddles lead Brunetti on a trip to a fertility clinic, where he and his boss’s secretary, enterprising Elettra Zorzi, pretend to be a desperate, childless couple, as well as to a round of pharmacists, one of whom treats confidential medical information as a divine sword, and eventually to the unknown tipster, whose motive for betraying the adoptive parents is truly nauseating.
Not a single murder, but the story would be strong enough without one even without a climactic assault whose only casualty is the characters’ moral certitudes.