Friday, July 10, 2015

Book Review: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

Donna Leon is one of the crime writers that don’t quite follow the rules. Even though she’s lived in Venice, Italy for more than 25 years, she doesn’t want her novels to be translated into Italian, while the main character in her novels Guido Brunetti is nothing but a hardcore cop.

The Golden Egg is the 22nd Commissario Brunetti novel and within its pages one would think that nothing much happens. A young man is found dead, everyone is certain that it’s a suicide and yet the good inspector decides to investigate because his wife Paola asks him to. Now that would sound crazy to any crime fiction fan who doesn’t know Brunetti, and especially to those that are used to the western clichés of moody detectives, with personal lives that smell of disaster, and who always find themselves in dangerous situations.

Brunetti is not only a good and honest cop in a country where corruption rules, but he’s also a great husband and father, who enjoys drinking coffees with his colleagues and wine with his wife and who likes navigating his beloved city with his own GPS: Guido’s Personal System. And he’s also someone who always tries to help out his friends, has no big regrets, doesn’t carry a gun, and works hard to bring criminals to justice.

The author doesn’t seem very interested in dazzling the reader with nonstop action and a plot full of twists and turns; she rather wants to tell stories about a city, its people and its customs, and about the local laws of silence that most often than not stop a lot of truths of coming to surface. And it’s exactly this silence that Brunetti has to overcome here to discover the truth behind the dead man’s life. So he moves all over the city, meets people, asks a lot of questions and little by little he comes to realize that a crime has indeed been committed, though it was of a different nature.

As we follow Brunetti all over the city we get to meet a lot of interesting characters: Mafiosi, corrupt politicians, a cruel mother, lawyers with no morals, people who prefer to turn a blind eye on a crime instead of helping the police; and the most surprising thing is that the Commissario doesn’t blame them, since he knows that they are right to feel the way they do. In Venice, and in Italy in general, it all comes down to who you know to get things done; this seems to be the message. Brunetti is no angel either, but he only uses his connections for the benefit of others and not himself. So, he’s more interested in helping a good cop getting a promotion than helping his boss out, and when it comes to office politics, he just keeps his distance. His job is to solve crimes and keep the streets safe, and not to parade himself in front of this politician or the other.

If you’d ask me to compare Brunetti with some well-known fictional detectives, I’d say that Ian Rankin’s Rebus and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch come to mind, but for no other reason that all three of them are stubborn and only interested in fighting the good battle. However, even though the latter two have been through a lot of trouble, their Italian counterpart seems to be serene, as if he’s sailing through his everyday life, enjoying all the little joys that it has to offer: whether that’s dinner with his wife, a secret chat with the brilliant Elettra Zorzi, one of his colleagues, or reading his beloved Lucretius. Books are to Brunetti what music is to Bosch and Rebus: his favourite, though thought-provoking, escape from reality.

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