Reading a Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti novels is like visiting friends who were born and raised in Venice. Every page is steeped in an insider’s understanding and knowledge both the good, such as the baked finocchio, to the insidious corruption which makes the locals ”instinctively distrust the state”.
In her latest book, The Golden Egg, released this week, Brunetti is facing a pretty straightforward case. Indeed, perhaps not really a case at all. A mentally-disabled man has been found dead at his home where he lives with his mother. On the surface it appears he was the victim of a tragic accident, scooping up brightly coloured tablets thinking they were sweets. A tragedy, but not a crime.
But the straightforward task of formally establishing his identity before the body can be released for burial proves anything. Spurred on by his wife, Paolo, guilty at how she had seen the dead man only as an object that was part of the background, not a real person, Brunetti begins to delve into a life that officially, did not exist.
Whilst his interest grows more intense, he is also forced to weave his way deftly through a series of internal political issues ”not about law but about reputation and probably re-election”. His boss, Vice Questore Patta, a man “So handsome, o noble of bearing, so impeccably welldressed one had no choice but to admire him much as one would admire a well-wrought urn”, needs him to sort out a delicate case involving the Mayor’s son. And there’s a battle brewing over who should have which office
But the need to get to the heart of who the dead man really was becomes an internal battle of wills. And as he gradually dismantles the lies and obfuscation, long-hidden secrets are peeled away like an onion. What is left is so cold and brutal that it shocks him far more than a gunshot or stabbing. The ultimate inhumane act.
The Brunetti series has never been about action-packed policing and The Golden Egg is perhaps more ponderous than many of the 20 plus novels that have gone before. Brunetti is an educated and thoughtful man, not given to hasty decisions or dramatic gestures and there is a correctness about Leon’s language, occasionally bordering on the arcane, that fits him perfectly.
The Golden Egg takes place in winter, a cold and wet Venice, famous architecture shrouded by grey sheeting of rain, draughty apartments and soaked footwear. As everyone knows who has been to Venice out-of-season, when it’s possible to travel the narrow passageways without having to turn sideways to pass plus-sized American tourists and only the restaurants and bars catering for locals are still open, the weather is no impediment to a memorable experience. Fans will love this book.