The Golden Egg
PublisherWilliam Heinemann Ltd
Date Published11 May 2013
Price£ 12.00

The Golden Egg

by Donna Leon

Following the apparent suicide of a deaf and disabled man, Commissario Brunetti uncovers a dark and convoluted family history.


Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Questura in Venice is working on a routine small-time bribery case when the deaf man with learning difficulties who works in the local dry cleaners apparently commits suicide.  Brunetti’s wife Paola begs him to find out about the suicide as she realises that despite seeing the man in the shop for years, she knows nothing about him.
The pathologist provides Brunetti with a name, Davide Cavanella, but there is no official sign that he ever existed; no birth certificate, no records of him at any school, no social security number, no medical records, no record of any claim for benefit payments.  Davide’s mother Ana is evasive and self-contradictory and no-one in the neighbourhood will talk about them.

As Brunetti investigates further, he slowly uncovers a link to the wealthy but troubled Lembo family and to a truly shocking tale going back four decades to a time when the then young and beautiful Ana worked for them. 

The descriptions of Venice and Venetian life are beautifully written and acutely observed.  The book is set in the autumn, when most of the tourists have left the city to the residents and the investigation is centred on the alleyways, small squares and bars frequented only by the Venetians. 

Some knowledge of Italian language and culture would be an asset in understanding the book.  There is a liberal sprinkling of Italian and Venetian words (helpfully italicised), some virtually untranslatable, which add to the Italian feel of the narrative.
The frustrations and difficulties in Brunetti’s life and work form a graphic backdrop to the investigation.  Brunetti is Venetian born and bred; his boss, Vice-Questore Patta, is Sicilian, while his colleague Commissario Griffoni is Neapolitan.  There is a deep seated distrust between them because of their regional differences although as Brunetti is an educated and cosmopolitan man, he is able to overcome his instincts to work with them. 

He is also constantly battling against the average Italian’s reluctance to give information to any official in case they end up mired in the bureaucracy of an investigation and with the political infighting within the Questura and between the city’s various official departments.

The author clearly has an excellent understanding of the Italian psyche and a profound knowledge of Venice and Venetian life.  This is the 22nd book in Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series and I can’t wait for the 23rd.

Reviewed 20 September 2013 by Sylvia Wilson