But when Brunetti starts making a few inquiries about Davide Cavanella a number of intriguing issues raise their heads, centred around the question of how a man in his forties could have passed through several decades without leaving anything in the way of a paper trail. There’s no birth or baptismal certificate, no passport, no driver’s license, no credit cards and he never seems to have visited a doctor or been enrolled in the school system. In short, there’s nothing that might serve to verify that he actually existed. 

That’s strange, because given the obvious disability issues, both he and his mother would have been entitled to financial support from government programs designed to help the disabled, and in a country where unethical claims for state assistance are rife, he’s a disabled person for whom no claims were ever lodged.

According to Ana Cavanella, who doesn’t want to discuss the death at all, her son’s papers were stolen years ago, and it’s obvious there’s much more to the story than she is letting on. There’s an extra complication since she lives in a working-class neighbourhood where the state is the enemy, and when the police come around asking questions the neighbours become as deaf and mute as the subject of the inquiries.

As the clues start to stack up, Brunetti comes to believe the death may not have been an accident and suspects the wealthy Lembo family, aristocratic copper magnates who employed Ana Cavanella for many years and Brunetti gradually draws out the information he needs to form the full picture of Davide Cavanella’s existence. 

Along the way, of course, he has this other issue with Patta’s request, and there’s also a move afoot to remove Signorina Elettra from her current office and install Patta’s loathsome offsider Lieutenant Scarpa as his official receptionist. That won’t do at all, and Brunetti manages to find a means to prevent it.

But the main issue is the Cavanella case, and while Brunetti might have embarked on the inquiry expecting to find nothing suspicious, what he stumbles across instead is chilling, calculating and deeply disturbing.

Disturbing enough to have Brunetti, once he’s sorted things out in his own mind (there’s nothing much he can do in any official sense) setting out for a brooding walk along a wind and rain swept Lido.

The Golden Egg might seem to be a relatively low-key affair for much of the story, but there’s a sting in the tail and along the way the reader comes across all the elements we’ve come to expect in a Donna Leon story. Brunetti’s family and colleagues go about their business, providing the opportunity for evocative references to Venetian history and architecture, moody ruminations on Italian politics and society, and the regulation descriptions of the city’s food, weather and social life. 

It’s Number Twenty-two in the series, and shows an author who doesn’t seem to be running out of steam. Remarkably, given the longevity of the series, for my money it’s getting better.

© Ian Hughes 2012