Commissario Guido Brunetti, the second-sharpest member of the Venetian Questura, investigates the death of a man who barely had a life to begin with.
Brunetti’s wife, Paola Falier, rarely intrudes into his professional life, but she can’t help being distraught at the death of the boy who helps out at her dry cleaner’s, even though he’s not a boy—he turns out to be over 40—and she doesn’t know his name. Davide Cavanella, a deaf-mute who may have been mentally disabled as well, apparently swallowed a handful of sleeping pills because they looked like candy, then choked in his own vomit. More interesting than any questions about his death, however, are questions about Davide’s life. Why has this obviously disabled person never made a claim on any of the government programs designed to help him? For that matter, why has he left no paper trail at all? Brunetti (Beastly Things, 2012, etc.) doesn’t believe Ana Cavanella’s story that her son’s papers were stolen years ago, but he’s brought up short by the alternative: that there never was any official record of his existence. Aided by Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta’s subversive secretary, Signorina Elettra Zorzi, the sharpest mind in the Questura, Brunetti turns over all the stones of Venice in his search for Davide’s roots.
The clues that link the dead man to the wealthy Lembo family won’t surprise readers familiar with the pervasive corruption Leon’s unearthed in Venice past and present (The Jewels of Paradise, 2012). But they’ll savor the pleasures of dialogue as elliptical in its way as Henry James and a retrospective shock when they finally appreciate the import of the tale’s unobtrusive opening scene and its sly title.