The Golden Egg

Saturday, 4 May 2013

I read Wasting no more words on her Brunetti left the hospital to go and get the boat to the Lido to go for a walk on the beach, turned the page and came to the regulation copyright notice one finds at the ends of certain brands of e-book. “Hang on,” I thought, “there’s something missing here.” 

A reread of the final couple of pages, however, revealed Donna Leon had nothing more to say on Commissario Brunetti’s investigation into the death of Davide Cavanella, a deaf and mentally disabled man who worked in Brunetti’s neighbourhood dry cleaner because, basically, there was nothing more to say. Another author might have been tempted to moralise or comment, but with the mystery explained the rather matter of fact Brunetti is off for a walk on the beach.

Not that his stroll is likely to be particularly enjoyable. The story starts with the first leaves of autumn beginning to fall, and the investigation doesn’t take that long, but an autumnal, a cold, wet Venice, with the architecture shrouded in grey sheeting mizzle is probably the right setting for Brunetti to brood over the depressing details of what he’d found.

A lesser author would take the reader out to the Lido, deliver the protagonist’s melancholy meditations and belabour the moralisations. Readers who’ve been aboard for a while, however, will have a fair idea of the trend Brunetti’s thoughts would have taken and a definite opinion about what he’d have gone on to do afterwards.

That, of course, is probably either what he’d done once he’d taken the initial steps that needed to be taken after the latest self-serving directive from Vice Questore Patta (asked Vianello if he’d like to come for a coffee) or, if the time was right, head home for lunch or dinner with his wife and family, drink a little wine and possibly read a little Tacitus.

Patta’s request involves Brunetti looking into a seemingly minor violation of the public vending regulations committed by the business partner of the mayor’s future daughter-in-law. It’s an election year, Patta’s out to avoid any hint of a scandal and Brunetti, while he has no desire to help Patta consolidate his political connections, has no choice but to follow the directive, which is, basically, to find out if the vigili involved are trustworthy.

The vigili urbani, for those who mightn’t be quite up with the terminology, are the unarmed officers whose job it was to see that city ordinances were obeyed. In this instance they seem to be ignoring the tables set up outside a shop in Campo San Barnaba that sells masks, next to the one with the expensive cheese (Brunetti lives nearby and knows the area fairly well) and it’s possible the proprietors of the mask shop don’t have all the permits to use that space. A petty matter, but where Patta’s concerned, par for the course.

Brunetti delivers the task of making a discreet inquiry to a junior officer before heading off with his right hand man for a coffee, learning, along the way that Vianello’s concerned about the ecological implications of his wife’s proposed holiday in the Seychelles. A farm stay hotel in Umbria’s more his style.

Brunetti passes through Patta’s antechamber to compare notes with an increasingly subversive Signorina Elettra (Why do we tolerate this ... and not go after them with clubs?) on the way back, and arrives in his office to find the phone ringing. It’s his wife, Paola, informing him of the death of the boy who doesn’t talk at the dry cleaner’s. Although he was actually aged over forty, a deaf mute with the intellectual age of a child, as far as the neighbourhood was concerned he was the boy who helped out at the dry cleaner’s, and nobody knew his name or anything much about him. He seems to have died as the result of an accidental overdose of his mother's sleeping pills, having presumably swallowed a handful because they looked like candy. Paola can’t help being distraught at the thought that he lived a joyless life and died without anyone noticing him, helping him or understanding his situation. 


© Ian Hughes 2012