Review: The Golden Egg

the golden egg(biblio)

The Golden Egg is the twenty-second instalment in Donna Leon‘s Commissario Brunetti series set in Venice. As someone just finishing the third book in a crime fiction series, I find it astonishing that anyone could write twenty-two (and counting). Equally impressive is the author’s ongoing ability to engage, entertain and surprise in this deceptively simple, ultimately harrowing story.

Brunetti is given the official task in The Golden Egg of making enquiries into a possible bribery case that might embarrass the mayor, a scenario the sartorially splendid Vice-Questore Patta is keen to avoid.

Unofficially, at the behest of his wife Paola, he looks into the death of a deaf-mute man, who worked at the dry cleaners in the Brunettis’ own neighbourhood. The man died from an overdose of sleeping pills, though whether intentionally or by accident is unclear.

What is puzzling about the man-child, identified as Davide Cavanella, is how little is known about him. While Patta’s secretary, the indomitable Signorina Elettra, attends seminars on the newest techniques for combating identity theft and computer hacking, Brunetti tries to fathom how a man in his forties in highly bureaucratic Venice could leave so little trace.

Davide’s mother seems angry and defensive when questioned about his death, which sets Brunetti off on a hunt for the truth, not only about the man’s death but about his life.

The Golden Egg contains all the elements that make Leon’s books a pleasure to read: familiar characters in Brunetti’s family and colleagues, evocative descriptions of Venice, ruminations on Italian politics and society, both passionate and philosophical.

But this is no writing by numbers. Being such an established author with a loyal fan base allows Leon to deviate from the conventions of the genre. Rather than a dead body in the opening chapter, we get a glimpse into Brunetti’s family life:

If the Brunettis had a religion, aside from a formal adherence to some of the outward decorative manifestations of Christianity, it was language. Puns and jokes, crossword puzzles and teasers were to their what communion and confirmation were to Catholics.

A dead body doesn’t appear until Chapter 4, by which stage Brunetti has been given his official assignment.

It’s only in retrospect that I realise how cleverly the story was crafted — how the dynamics outlined in the first few chapters contribute to the impact of the ending. It was only at the end, too, that I realised the significance of the book’s title.

The Golden Egg is the work of a master, entertaining, surprising and moving. Highly recommended.

The Golden Egg by Donna Leon (2013) is published by William Heinemann.

Click here for the podcast of my review of this book on Radio National Books & Arts Daily, 30 May 2013

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About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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7 Responses to Review: The Golden Egg

  1. Angela – Leon is one of those writers whose work I never regret reading, so I’m very glad you liked this novel.. I love the characters of Brunetti and his family and of course Elettra Zorzi. And I just love the look at life in Venice that we get from these novels. You’ve chosen an author I really, really like 🙂

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    • angelasavage says:

      I read this one to review it for Radio National, Margot. I hadn’t read Leon for a while and I’d forgotten what a masterful writer she is. I am filled with admiration, not only that she can produce 22 books in a series, but that the stories and writing remain so fresh, even when the characters are so well established.

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  2. Haydn Savage says:

    I’m in the market for a new author…thanks angela donna leon fits the bill Haydiho

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  3. kathy d. says:

    Interesting that I am reading this a few days after I finished it — and then called friends, saying they must read it now! Everything you say about the book and Donna Leon is true. I thought this book stellar, one of her best.
    Yes, it had a great deal of circumspection and reflection by Guido Brunetti about his life, his family, Italian and Venetian society and political life — and oh, what cynicism, or maybe realism.
    But it also had some windows into his family relationships, especially with his spouse, Paola Falier.
    I enjoyed the sentiment he noted that she was the most deceptive and duplicitious person he knew, but also the most honest. Knowing her character, that makes sense.
    And it delved into newer relationships at the Questura, which Guido is trying to understand, especially with a newer police detective.
    Yes. This is an excellent book. I was sorry that it ended. I thought about rereading the entire Brunetti canon (as is said about Sherlock Holmes), but realized that I have piles of books to read and no time so I must move on. But it’s bittersweet.

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    • angelasavage says:

      Bittersweet is the perfect word, Kathy. And I agree with you about the appeal of the way Brunetti speaks of his wife Paola. She is a wonderful character and in many ways the moral centre of this book.

      BTW, I actually did read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon as part of the research for my first book!

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  4. kathy d. says:

    Omigosh! Re: reading the Sherlock Holmes canon. I cut my mystery-reading teeth as a teenager on the British eccentric detective, along with a few others.
    Yes. I love Paola Falier’s character, and Ihave found myself agreeing with her statements throughout the series, except for the obsession with Henry James, although I have found Guido Brunetti’s comments about two men in the marriage quite hilarious.

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