Commissario Brunetti’s latest assignment is to look into a minor shop-keeping violation committed by the mayor’s future daughter-in-law. Brunetti has no interest in helping his boss amass political favors, but has little choice but to comply. Then Brunetti’s wife comes to him with a request of her own. The sweet, simple-minded man who worked at their dry cleaner has just died of a sleeping pill overdose, and Paola loathes the idea that he lived and died without anyone noticing him, or helping him.
Brunetti begins to investigate and is surprised when he finds nothing on the man: no birth certificate, no passport, no driver’s license, no credit cards. As far as the Italian government is concerned, he never existed. Stranger still, the dead man’s mother refuses to speak to the police. And as secrets unravel, Brunetti begins to suspect that an aristocratic family might be somehow connected to the mystery . . .
“Leon’s success . . . is testament to the heartening fact that character counts in crime fiction.” —Booklist, starred review
About the Author
Date of Birth:February 28, 1942
Place of Birth:Montclair, New Jersey
Education:B.A., 1964; M.A. 1969; postgraduate work in English literature
Read an Excerpt
It was a peaceful night at the Brunetti home, and dinner progressed in harmony. Brunetti sat at his usual place, his son Raffi beside him; opposite Brunetti sat his wife, Paola, and beside her their daughter, Chiara. A plate of fritto misto to which vegetables, particularly Chiara's current favourite, carrots, had been added with a liberal hand had initiated the peaceful mood; the conversation had maintained it. School, work, a neighbour's new puppy, the first Labradoodle to be seen in Venice: the topics flowed into and from one another, and then on to yet others, all of them tied in some way to the city in which they lived.
Though they were Venetian, the conversation took place in Italian rather than in Veneziano, Brunetti and Paola having decided that the children would learn the dialect anyway from their friends and on the street. This had indeed happened, and so the children spoke Veneziano as easily as did their father, who had been raised speaking it. Paola had picked it up – and it was perhaps to her credit that it embarrassed her to confess this – from the servants who had filled her family's palazzo when she was growing up, rather than from her parents, and so she spoke it less fluently than the others. She felt no embarrassment – quite the contrary – in having achieved almost native fluency in English from her childhood nanny and was pleased that she had managed to pass the language on to both her children, though the transmission had been aided by classes with a private tutor and summer study in England.
Families, much in the manner of churches, have rituals and rules which puzzle non-members. They also place high value on things which members of other groups do not prize to the same degree. 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 them what communion and confirmation were to Catholics. Bad grammar was a venial sin; deliberate corruption of meaning was mortal. The children had taken pride in reaching the stages of awareness where they, too, could partake in the progressively more serious sacraments; raised in this faith, they did not think to question its values.
Later, when the plates from which they had eaten the baked finocchio with rosemary were removed from the table, Chiara set her water glass down with a thump and said, 'They all lived happily ever after.'
'Clorinda's eyes met Giuseppe's, and together they gazed happily down at the baby,' Paola said immediately in a voice she pumped full of emotion.
Raffi looked across at his sister and mother, tilted his chin and studied a painting on the other side of the room, and then said, 'And so it was: the radical procedure left even the doctors who performed it astonished: indeed, for the first time in history, a baby had successfully been delivered from a man's body.'
It took Brunetti but a moment to say, 'As he was wheeled into the delivery room, Giuseppe had time to say, "She is nothing to me, my love. You are the only mother of my child."'
Chiara, who had listened to the contributions of the others with growing interest, added, 'Only the strongest of marriages could survive such an event, but Clorinda and Giuseppe knew a love that passed all understanding and leaped over every obstacle. Yet for a moment, Clorinda wavered. '"But with Kimberly? The friend of my heart?"'
Back to Paola, who said in the cool voice of the narrator, 'In order to preserve the rock of honesty upon which their marriage was founded, it was necessary for Giuseppe to confess the lengths to which his desire for a child had driven him. "It was meaningless, my love. I did it for us."'
'"You brute," Clorinda sobbed, "you betray me like this. What of my love? What of my honour?"' This was Raffi's second contribution, to which he added, '"And with my best friend."'
Leaping at the opening this created, Chiara broke in out of turn and said, 'He lowered his head in shame and said, "Alas, it is Kimberly's child."'
Paola banged her hand on the table to get their attention and demanded, '"But that's impossible. The doctors told us we would never have children."'
Incensed at having had his turn stolen – and by his wife – Brunetti broke in to say, doing his best to sound like a pregnant man, '"I am with child, Clorinda."'
For a moment, no one spoke as they all ran their way backwards through the dialogue and accompanying narrative to see if they fulfilled the family requirement for a story filled with cheap melodrama, cliché and outrageous characterization. When it was clear that no one had anything to add to the beginning of the story, Paola got to her feet, saying, 'There's ricotta-lemon cake for dessert.'
Later, as they sat in the living room, having coffee, Paola asked Brunetti, 'Do you remember the first time Raffi brought Sara here, and she thought we were all mad?'
'Clever girl,' Brunetti said. 'Good judge of people.'
'Oh, come on, Guido; you know she was shocked.'
'She's had years to get used to us,' Brunetti said.
'Yes, she has,' Paola said, leaning back in the sofa.
Brunetti took her empty cup and set it on the table in front of them. 'Is this grandmotherhood calling?' he inquired.
Without thinking, she reached aside and poked him in the arm. 'Don't even joke about it.'
'You don't want to be a grandmother?' he asked with feigned innocence.
'I want to be the grandmother of a baby whose parents have university degrees and jobs,' she answered, suddenly serious.
'Are those so important?' he asked, just as serious as she.
'We both have them, don't we?' she asked by way of answer.
'It is the usual custom to answer questions with answers, not with more questions,' he observed, then got up and went into the kitchen, remembering to take the two cups with him.
He came back a few minutes later, carrying two glasses and a bottle of Calvados. He sat beside her, and poured them each a glass. He handed her one and took a sip of his own.
'If they have degrees and jobs, it means they'll be older when they have children. Perhaps wiser,' Paola said.
'Were we?' Brunetti asked.
Ignoring his question, she went on. 'And, if they get a decent education, they'll know more, and that might help.'
'And the jobs?'
'They're not so important, I think. Raffi's bright, so he shouldn't have trouble finding one.'
'Bright and well-connected,' Brunetti clarified, not thinking it polite to refer directly to the wealth and power of Paola's family.
'Of course,' she said, able to admit to these things with him. 'But bright's more important.'
Brunetti, who agreed, confined himself to a nod and another sip of the Calvados. 'The last thing he told me was that he wanted to study microbiology.'
Paola considered this, then said, 'I don't even know what it is they do.' She turned to him and smiled. 'Do you ever think about that, Guido, about all those disciplines we name every day: microbiology, physics, astrophysics, mechanical engineering. We mention them, we even know people who work at them, but I wouldn't be able to tell you what it is they actually do. Would you?'
He shook his head. 'It's so different from the old ones – literature, philosophy, history, astronomy, mathematics – where it's clear what they do or at least what the material is they're working in. Historians try to figure out what happened in the past, and then they try to figure out why it happened.' He put his glass between his palms and rubbed it like a lazy Indian making fire. 'All I can figure out about microbiology is that they look at little growing things. Cells.'
'And after that?'
'God knows,' Brunetti said.
'What would you study if you had it to do all over? Law again?'
'For fun or to get a job?' he asked.
'Did you study law because you wanted to get a job?'
This time, Brunetti ignored the fact that she had answered a question with a question and said, 'No. I studied it because it interested me, and then I realized I wanted to be a policeman.'
'And if you could study just for fun?'
'Classics,' he answered without a moment's hesitation.
'And if Raffi chose that?' she asked.
Brunetti reflected on this for some time. 'I'd be happy if that's what he wanted to study. Most of our friends' kids are unemployed, no matter what degrees they have, so he might as well do it for love as for any job it might get him.'
'Where would he study?' she asked, more a mother's concern than a father's.
'Here Venice or here Italy?'
'Here Italy,' he said, not liking to have to say it, just as she didn't like to hear it.
They turned and looked at one another, forced to confront this inevitability: kids grow up and kids leave home. If the phone rang after midnight, it would no longer be possible to take it down the hall and look into their rooms to have that immediate, corporeal assurance that they were there. Asleep, awake, reading under the covers with a flashlight; unconscious, sulking, happy or angry: none of this mattered in the face of the certainty that they were safe, at home, there.
What babies parents are. All it took was that ringing sound in the night to freeze their hearts, turn their knees to jelly. It didn't matter if it turned out to be a drunken friend complaining about his wife or the Questura asking Brunetti to come in because a crime had been committed in the city and he was the man in charge. Even a call that ended with a sincere apology for having dialled a wrong number at that hour had the same battering effect on these hostages to fortune.
What the cost, then, of having one of their children in a foreign city in a foreign country? They were brave people, Guido Brunetti and Paola Falier, and they had often made fun of the streak of melodrama that ran through the centre of the Italian character, yet here they were, both of them, just one step short of pouring ashes on their heads at the thought that their son had begun his university career and might someday go off to some other city to study.
Paola suddenly leaned sideways against the arm of her husband. She placed her hand on his thigh. 'We'll never stop worrying about them, will we?' she asked.
'It wouldn't be natural if we did,' Brunetti said, smiling.
'Is that meant to comfort me?'
'Probably not,' Brunetti admitted. Time passed and then he added, 'It's the best thing about us, the worrying.'
'Us two or us humans?'
'Us humans,' Brunetti said. 'Us two, as well.' Then, because solemnity was not a dress either of them could wear for long, he added, 'If he decided to become a plumber, he could study here and continue to live at home, you know.'
She leaned forward and picked up the bottle. 'I think I'll seek solace here,' she said, pouring herself another glass.CHAPTER 2
As Brunetti walked to the Questura, he gave no thought to last night's language game and remained impervious to the crisp autumn day; his mind was taken up with less diverting matters. An email had reached him just as he was leaving his office the previous evening, telling him that his immediate superior, Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta, wanted to speak to him the following morning. In typical fashion, Patta had given no information about the topic of their meeting: Patta always liked to have the advantage of surprise, and he believed that not to reveal what he wanted to discuss would assure that. In this he failed to take into account the sense of fair play that lay deep in the heart of his secretary, Signorina Elettra Zorzi, who invariably gave a few minutes' warning to the person she conducted to her superior's office.
Brunetti had once commented on this to her, and she had replied that it was no more than telling the Christians in the Colosseo which door the lions were hiding behind.
This morning, it seemed, they were hiding behind the door to the offices of the Vigili Urbani, those unarmed officers whose job it was to see that city ordinances were obeyed. 'It's about the pavement in front of that mask shop in Campo San Barnaba,' she said after she and Brunetti had exchanged polite greetings. 'There's been a complaint from one of the other shopkeepers in the campo. They're paying taxes to put their tables outside and use the space as un plateatico, but the people in the mask shop aren't, and they insist that there's only one way that could happen.'
Brunetti often walked through the campo and knew the shop, and as he cast his memory back over the years he realized that, yes, the pavement in front had, as time passed, been increasingly covered by the amoeba-like extension of the tables on which the Made in China masks were displayed. Because this was a matter that did not concern the police, but only the vigili, Brunetti had ignored it. If paying for the vigili's blindness was cheaper than paying the tax, what merchant would not opt for it?
'But why is he concerned about something like that?' Brunetti asked, indicating Patta's door with a quick turn of his head.
'He had a phone call late yesterday afternoon; a few minutes after, he came out and asked me to send you an email.'
'Aha,' Brunetti said softly.
'Aha, indeed,' she echoed.
'About the shop?' he asked.
'I'm working on ...' she began and then effortlessly transferred to a much cooler voice to finish the sentence, 'in his office and waiting for you, Commissario.'
With Patta, Brunetti knew, there existed no lily that was not in need of gilding, and so he said, voice rich with passionate – however false – intensity, 'I saw his mail a moment ago, so I came down immediately.'
Whereupon the door to Patta's office was pushed fully open from the inside, and the Vice-Questore appeared. Brunetti often reflected that, in an opera, some sort of trumpet voluntary would sound at the appearance of this man. So handsome, so noble of bearing, so impeccably well dressed: one had no choice but to admire him, much as one would admire a well-wrought urn. Today, in acknowledgement of the approach of cooler weather, Patta wore a grey cashmere suit of such exquisite cut that, had they but known the final destination of their wool, scores of rare and endangered Kashmir goats would have fought to be the first to be shorn. The cotton of his shirt was blindingly white and served to reflect light up towards his still-tanned face.
As sometimes happened to him, Brunetti had to fight down the urge to tell Patta how beautiful he was. Conscious of how fraught his dealings with his superior already were and how prone Patta was to misinterpret what was said to him, Brunetti confined his enthusiasm to a smile and a pleasant 'Good morning, Vice-Questore.'
With every show of utter uninterest in their conversation, Signorina Elettra returned to her computer, her bearing making it evident that she found it more absorbing. She seemed to disappear, as if she actually occupied less space in the room, a tactic which Brunetti both admired and envied.
Patta turned and went back into his office, saying over his shoulder, 'Come in here.'
Brunetti's sensibilities had grown a hard callus over the years, and he was now virtually invulnerable to Patta's manner. Casual disregard, the absence of respect for anyone he considered an inferior: these things no longer caused Brunetti concern. Violence or its threat might have offended or angered him, but so long as Patta chose passive, rather than active, disrespect, Brunetti remained untroubled.
'Sit,' Patta said as he walked around his desk. As Brunetti watched, the Vice-Questore crossed his legs and then, as if remembering the crease in his trousers, immediately uncrossed them. He met his subordinate's neutral glance. 'Do you know why I want to talk to you?'
'No, sir,' Brunetti said with every evidence of ignorance.
'It's about something important,' Patta said, glancing aside after he spoke. 'The mayor's son.'
Brunetti refrained from asking how the mayor's son, whom Brunetti knew to be an untalented lawyer, could be important. Instead, he tried to look eager for the Vice-Questore's revelations. He nodded with calculated neutrality.
Again, Patta crossed his legs. 'Actually, it's a favour for his son's fiancée. The girl – young woman – owns a shop. Well, half owns a shop. She has a partner. And the partner has been doing something that might not be entirely legal.' Patta stopped, either to draw breath or to search for a way to explain to Brunetti how something not 'entirely legal' might refer to the bribery of a public official. Clam-like, Brunetti sat in his safe place and waited to see what route Patta would choose.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Golden Egg"
Copyright © 2013 Donna Leon and Diogenes Verlag AG, Zurich.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Like all the Brunetti books, this is billed as a mystery, but it is not so much as mystery as a meditation on language. It opens with the Brunetti family playing a game at dinner using language and ends a non-conversation with the suspect. In between the two is the death of a deaf mute man. I think this is best Donna Leon is a while. Her stories, which she said in a reading I went to, are triggered by things she reads in the paper, are unconventional mysterties. Yes, there is a police investigation, but it rarely ends in arrest. One is left instead to consider the consequenses of what happened and the suspect is left to live with (or in some cases not) the knowledge of what they did. The stories reflect the uncertainty of our time. We want certainty but often don't get it. This is another beautifully craft book by Leon. I hope she keeps writing.
I am a huge fan and have read all of the Brunetti books.. I love the character and the description of Venice, the family and wonderful meals.. very enjoyable. The main character has such heart.. and intelligence. I appreciate his sensitivity.. and the mystery as it unfolds is realistic.. and in that way not formula and completely satisfying to me. There is even humor like life has its ups and downs so does Brunetti. All of the characters are very realistic.. and similar to people I have known. I would recommend this for a book club discussion.. It is a case study beginning to end with sidebars getting to know other aspects of the characters lives. The setting is always colorful.. but is also steady and REAListic..
Another Inspector Brunetti! Guido's life in Venice with Paola and two almost adult children always give insights into humanity. The relationships within the family and also at the workplace are filled with experiences we all face. This particular book showed "inhumanity and just desserts."
It is no mean feat to sustain a mystery series at this high a level through 18 novels. Of course, that is just what Donna Leon has accomplished, and more (this is the 19th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery). Of course, "The Golden Egg” features that charming and erudite Venetian detective in a tale that begins with the death of a mentally challenged deaf mute who works in a tailor shop frequented by Brunetti’s wife, Paola. She goads Brunetti into looking into the death, which appears to be natural. At the same time, Brunetti’s boss timidly asks him to look into whether or not the mayor’s son’s fiancée, part owner of a store, is evading taxes or paying bribes to tax officials. The mayor, of course, is running for reelection and could do without any embarrassing revelations. The Commissario solves this one quickly and smoothly, but spends the entire novel on the other investigation, which becomes more complicated with every interview, no part of which is an official inquiry. The charm of Brunetti’s home life, his relationship with his wife, daughter and son are always plusses in the books that make up this series. Unlike most others, the central theme of this novel is not a serious issue, but a personal, subtle one. Written with the usual depth of knowledge about Venice, its allure and atmosphere, the novel is recommended.
I am not sure if I like the plots of Ms. Leon's books the most, or if it is the feeling of reconnecting with an old friend in the Brunetti family that makes these books so addictive. I cannot remember how long ago I first started reading the Guido Brunetti series, but it seems like only yesterday... The counterpoint between the Mayor's "problem" and the death of the man no one really knew is exceptional, as it is in all of these books. The warmth of the Brunetti family never seems forced, and serves as a balance to the venality of other characters. Read this series in order so that you can discover the development of the Brunetti family, but whatever you do, read these books!
I like Donna Leon's work a lot: intelligent, warm, well-crafted. Her latest is a little different, not your traditional mystery novel somehow, but she can get away with it. Good thing she can; it's her best so far.
I was disappointed that David Collaci isn't the reader for Leon's new audio. Not enjoying it much so far. The new narrator has a much-too- heavy British accent.
Like most of Donna Leon's novels, The Golden Egg, is a most enjoyable story. Not only is Guido Brunetti an interesting character but the reader gets insight into the uniqueness of Venice. I can't wait for the next Leon novel!
Truly one of her best in this series.
Of all the Donna Leone books I have read, I found this one the most poiniant. I didn't see a connection to the title, though. The ending was very satisfying.
Detective Brunetti Is Back. Ms. Leon's Detective Brunetti series is always so enjoyable. As soon as the latest book is out, I am reading it. The latest book has the detective questioning the death of a deaf man. I love how Ms. Leon makes the detective not only a policeman but a philosopher. He is compassionate and so thoughtful of his co workers, family and the people involved in the investigation. Guido Brunettis is foremost a detective but one with intelligence. Sorry to wait another year for the next Detective Guido Brunetti book. Thank you Ms. Leon.
Brunetti is losing his voice. Donna Leon is coming on too strong and drowning out her character. Preachy and a bit boring.
Donna Leon never disappoints. Another wonderful Brunetti novel.
Starting at #22 in a series is not ideal, but we had to start somewhere! We listened to the audio version and greatly enjoyed the narrator's voice and accent along with the glimpses of life in Venice, Italy! Now we have another author to add to listening list and are hoping to start a book #1!
This is the first time I've realized the detective Guido is a practicing social psychologist. His method will travel through time and history in ways that reveal the fabric of the world around him to allow the discovery of that which does not agree with the plain facts. Surprise will abound as we are involved in the solution to the crime (in as much as our opinion matters to the rights and wrongs of culture). Always a pleasure to visit Venice Italy w/Dona Leone as our guide.
Not as good as I other books
Leon gives Guido two puzzles to solve but I found the more absorbing to be the one brought to him by his wife Paola. At first it seems pretty cut and dried but odd facts stand out and soon he is involving not only Paola but the women in the office as well has a young policeman who can charm anyone. The strands of the mystery begin to come together and the result is a shocker. unfortunately showing us once again how cruel people can be. I would not read Leon as a steady diet for the very reason that her books focus on the corruption and cruelty in the society she write about. One needs hope and a belief in the goodness of people.
Just read the latest and agree is getting too much into the corruption of the city and country. She might try visiting somewhere else on vacation with a murder and he can help out with the Italian suspects how about england or better yet Norway and that town by the artic circle with the polar bears in the suburbs someone needs a sabbatical
POST NOOK. Ugh.