Book Review: “The Golden Egg” by Donna Leon

The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

You can’t go wrong with something by Donna Leon, and this novel from 2012 is just what we’d hope for.

A man dies a sad death by accidental overdose. Since he lived in their neighborhood in Venice, Commisario Brunetti is moved to learn about him and honor him by remembering him. When he pursues this personal inquiry, he discovers that there is no record of the man. He doesn’t exist.

“You’d think, in this world where we’re all registered from the time we’re born—from even before, with prenatal tests – that something like this would be impossible.”

Brunetti and his allies dig into the case, even though there is no official police interest. But this is Venice, and he wants to understand what lies behind this mystery.  And it is a human imperative to see that the right thing is done (once he can discover what the right thing should be).

The story unwinds slowly and steadily, peeling away sad secrets of several lives. Brunetti moves through exotic and romantic city of Venice with love and care, making us all wish we could live in the Venice imagined by Leon. But we’d have to have lived there for generations, to live in that Venice.

Along the way, Leon treats us to her own brand of contemporary police methods including quite a bit of joyful computer hacking (a contemporary end run around mindless bureaucracy), and considerable improvised practical dramaturgy by police officers. You scarcely need “enhanced interrogation methods”, if you can get people to trust (and misjudge) you, and thereby guide them into telling things they didn’t mean to reveal.

As ever, Leon is a master, and the story is wonderful to read.

  1. Donna Leon, The Golden Egg, New York, Atlantic, 2012.


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