Neither Commissario Brunetti nor his wife Paolo have ever had much sympathy for the Italian armed forces, so when a young cadet is found hanged, a presumed suicide, in Venice's elite military academy, Brunetti's emotions are complex: pity and sorrow for the death of a boy, close in age to his own son, and contempt and irritation for the arrogance and high-handedness of the boy's teachers and fellow-students. The young man is the son of a doctor and former politician, a man of an impeccable integrity all too rare in Italian politics. Dr Moro is clearly and understandably devastated by his son's death; but neither appears at all keen to talk to the police nor involve Brunetti in any investigation of the circumstances in which he died.
As Brunetti - and the indispensable Signorina Elettra - investigate further they are faced by a wall of silence, as the military protects its own and civilians are unwilling to talk. Is this the natural reluctance of Italians to involve themselves with the authorities, or is Brunetti facing a conspiracy of silence?