The Golden Egg – Donna Leon

This is (apparently) the 22nd Commissario Brunetti novel, set in Venice and featuring the mercurial policeman, his family, his colleagues in the police force, and the city itself, all as characters supporting the flow of the story.

The plot in this book is narrow, intriguing, but less than inspiring a page turner. A deaf and mute man, possibly retarded, commits suicide. It’s all open and shut, but Commissario Brunetti is stirred into action by a combination of curiosity and collective guilt because he, like everyone else, saw the victim in difficult circumstances, but did nothing for him.

The layers of society in Venice, the tentacles of favors, power, and influence, and the human condition, are all beautifully displayed by the author. However, while the writing is exquisite, it lacks a certain bite. It’s like being at a fine Italian restaurant, tasting superb dishes but being unable to sample a fine wine with the meal. Perhaps another way of describing it is that it seemed as if the author was on auto-pilot. A fine auto-pilot, but nevertheless missing something. Perhaps a more adventurous plot might have been better, or maybe allowing some of the subsidiary and supporting characters a prolonged appearance in the limelight. There are plenty of interesting characters in Commissario Brunetti’s world, and it would have been good to spend more time with some of them.

It’s very like the other books in that the whole atmosphere is believable and engrossing. But the rather flat plot was disappointing. I would stress: it is beautifully written, and Commissario Brunetti remains a fine fellow to follow. (His perspective is humane, kind, caring, and realistic. There is a nicely weighted element of pathos in his musings about everything he sees.) But in this particular outing, he needed some support.

Mildly dsappointing.