Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #52: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

I’ve been enjoying Leon’s books for years, and was looking forward to this, her latest. Her books take place in the unique and exotic setting of Venice, Italy, and are generally centered on the criminal cases that fall under the oversight of police inspector Commissario Guido Brunetti. Leon’s books are as famous for her ruminations—in Brunetti’s voice—about human relations, family relations, and often profound questions of religion, morality, state corruption, and so on, as they are about the delicious foods –described in yummy detail–that Brunetti’s wife serves her appreciative husband and two teenaged children.

The Golden Egg, while filled with the same compelling mix of good food and personal challenge as her other books, just didn’t make the grade somehow. It’s a very slow-moving story focused on the accidental death of a 40-something deaf and presumably retarded man who had lived in Brunetti’s neighborhood. Once the case is declared an accidental death, there is little to draw us into the plot except Brunetti’s fixation—prompted by the distress of his wife—over the dead man’s virtual invisibility for so many years. Brunetti  inexplicably determines to find out more about the man’s background as a way, perhaps, of making personal amends for not having recognized the man’s existence and difficult life, and in doing so, uncovers—but excruciatingly slowly—the personal tragedies of a number of people involved in the dead man’s life.

Leon attempts to give us a bit more background on some of Brunetti’s co-workers, but they have little to do with the story and come off more as filler than anything. There is a sadness that settles onto the pages of The Golden Egg which emanates as much from Brunetti himself as it does from the dead man, but it is an existential sadness in the case of our Commissario, with neither rhyme nor reason behind it.

I stuck with the book to the end, primarily to see if there was a surprise mystery that would make the slog worthwhile. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

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