If ever there was a mystery author who I consider a role model, Donna Leon is it. Her Commisario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice has all the elements of a great mystery series:
- a perfect cast of characters starring Brunetti himself–the thinking man’s detective who reads the classics
- his sharp-tongued wife Paola who teaches English literature at the university and is a great cook
- the boss who swings according to the day’s political wind
- stout-hearted but highly individual colleagues
- the police department’s beautiful hacker/secretary.
Add to this cast the food and wine of Italy, the sights and sounds of Venice, twisty plots, and you have an intellectual series rooted in Italian culture.
THE GOLDEN EGG brings together all these elements as Brunetti probes into the death of a deaf man who seems to have lived totally outside of Italian officialdom, something almost impossible to do. Brunetti pulls gossamer threads, one after the other, to try and find out the basics about him, despite the fact that his death looks fairly accidental. The book is peppered with his queries of various people in Venice as he takes to the streets and canals in search of answers. Paola and his children form a bulwark against the sadness of the situation (Brunetti is one of the few international mystery characters who is neither an alcoholic nor divorced.)
Italy’s political mire and hopeless bureaucracy is on display in the book, mirroring the country’s real problems. It seems to be as much of the culture as the water lapping at the riva of the canal or the tramezzini that Brunetti has for lunch.
The ending, as in so many of Leon’s novels, is a satisfying twist you don’t see coming. The “egg” of the title means “nest egg” but other than that I won’t give it away. Anyone who likes the international mystery genre or Italy will love this book, as well as the others in the series.