When a colleague extends his summer vacation, Inspector Salvo Montalbano is forced to stay in Vigàta and endure the August heat. Montalbano's long-suffering girlfriend, Livia, joins him with a friend-husband and young son in tow-to keep her company during these dog days of summer. But when the boy suddenly disappears into a narrow shaft hidden under the family's beach rental, Montalbano, in pursuit of the child, uncovers something terribly sinister.
It's hard not to sympathise with Montalbano about the heat. Especially as I sit here trying to write this note on a 38°C day. With a worse one to come. It's something that was really particularly marked in this book - the way the heat became a part of the story, just as the sense of place, and character is so very strong. You could see Montalbano and his colleagues slogging out an investigation in the dreadful heat. You could sympathise with him when the holiday house from hell reared its ugly head, and you definitely could understand how he might be tempted by the twin-sister of the murder victim, no matter how wrong it seems.
At the heart of the book is another tightly constructed plot with aspects of the political and the Mafia built in, but not in a manner overwhelming. This isn't a story about the Mafia's control, rather it's a story about the possible outcomes, the idea that some people might be protected as a result of their connections. And it's a story, as always, about Montalbano's dogged pursuit of the truth. To the detriment of a lot around him. Except his meals of course. Some things are sacrosanct.
VOICE OF THE VIOLIN - Andrea Camilleri
As the fourth mystery in the internationally bestselling series opens, Montalbano’s gruesome discovery of a lovely, naked young woman suffocated in her bed immediately sets him on a search for her killer. Among the suspects are her aging husband, a famous doctor; a shy admirer, now disappeared; an antiques-dealing lover from Bologna; and the victim’s friend Anna, whose charms Montalbano cannot help but appreciate. But it is a mysterious, reclusive violinist who holds the key to the murder.
There's a Renault Twingo referred to as having "committed suicide" when Gallo, the station's driver, he of the "Indianapolis Complex", slams into it in a spectacular example of mad driving that had me crying with laughter on page 4 of VOICE OF THE VIOLIN. Which is not a bad writing feat at all, in 4 pages you know that Montalbano's in a mood after a fabulous meal was interrupted by his nemesis Catarella. That his car's in the shop and he has to get to a funeral. That Gallo's a madman, and there's now a green Renault Twingo parked on the side of the road that's now got a smashed rear end. And you're laughing.
There's nothing particularly funny about the subsequent discoveries when Montalbano returns more than a bit intrigued as to why nobody has rung the station breathing fire over the damage to their car. And it's not all plain sailing in this case as Montalbano battles mutual dislike between him and his new boss, has the investigation taken off him with dreadful consequences, and stares down a bit of discontent in his team all whilst he battles to come to grips with a major upset in his personal life.
As is expected in this series, tight, descriptive, brilliant storytelling with a wonderfully engaging central character who has raised grumpiness to a glorious art form.
THE PAPER MOON - Andrea Camilleri
A beautiful woman reports her brother missing, who is found murdered with his junk hanging out. Inspector Montalbano has to find out if the murder was love or business-related, and his usual dogged determination makes him dig deeper and deeper to find the surprising truth.
Please don't ask me what the correct order of this series is, as I've got absolutely no idea. I've never found the need to worry about it as each book works on its own, and each book is one of those little pieces of joy that just make you feel good.
Part of it has got to be Inspector Montalbano who is just so gloriously grumpy and idiosyncratic that he leaps alive from each and every page. Part of it is the setting which is woven into the action so seamlessly that you're just there, in that location, beside that ocean, in those restaurants, with those people. But definitely it's that food, which, frankly, I'm starting to think there should be a law against. You simply cannot read one of these books without constant mental references to the decided lack of wonderful meals lurking in your own refrigerator. (Note to self, first sniff of a Lotto win and we're hiring one of those housekeepers that cook like he has!).
Of course, none of the pluses thus far touch on the nature of the plots in these books, which are also extremely good. Almost masterclasses on tight, taut, clever plots in succinct but fully formed stories, decorated brilliantly by all the other aspects.
I dip into this series these days when I want a bit of comfort reading. And when I'm not on a diet.
THE SMELL OF THE NIGHT - Andrea Camilleri
Half the retirees in Vigata have invested their savings with Emanuele Gargano. But now the financial wizard has disappeared, along with their money. Has Gargano flown the coop or, this being Sicily, did he run afoul of the Mafia?
A large part of the attraction of these novels is the wonderfully grumpy, slightly eccentric, marvellously self-involved Inspector Montalbano. And the food - the meals that Montalbano insists on partaking on a regular basis are frankly, almost obscenely fantastic. Of course, for the books to be completely satisfactory there has actually got to be a story, and as with all these books, the story here is superbly Italian in its feel. The financier Emanuele Gargano has disappeared - as has a large amount of money that a lot of local retirees invested with him. An investigation had been undertaken but it seems to have gone nowhere. Everyone seems to be resigned to the idea that the Mafia have dealt with a problem. It's not until one elderly local man finds the news that his money has gone too much for him, and starts waving a gun around, that Montalbano's interest is sparked.
The standard of the initial missing persons investigation doesn't impress Montalbano. But his reopening of the search occurs at a time when Montalbano is questioning his own life in his own way. His ongoing long distance love affair with Livia is getting more fraught, for Montalbano in particular. His housekeeper taking a couple of days off causes him all sorts of personal upset (despite her arranging a replacement), and it just doesn't seem to take much at all to tip him over into rage these days. None of this being helped by a confrontation with the Commissioner over accusations of impropriety. Basically Montalbano is grumpy. Very very grumpy.
Even though the main concentration of these books is Montalbano there is an ensemble cast that reoccurs in all books. Whilst it may help to understand everyone to have read earlier books in the series, each story can stand on its own. The tone is, however, very Italian, very biting, and you just can't emphasis how grumpy Montalbano can get. But everyone is in their own way, fantastic, and involving, and the books are like trips to the sunny beaches and trattorias of beautiful Sicily. You can smell the food he eats, you can see the tables settings. You can feel the sun, the wind, the rain. You can hear the shouting, the arguing, see the smiling faces. If you've not read an Inspector Montalbano series then I really can't recommend them highly enough. If you're lucky enough to have access to Australian SBS Television they recently played an all too short series of TV movies based on the books that were very very well done as well.
THE SHAPE OF WATER - Andrea Camilleri
THE SHAPE OF WATER is the first in Camilleri's series of books featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano. Set in Vigata, a fictional seacoast town in southern Sicily, The Shape of Water finds Montalbano investigating the death of a local influential in the very insalubrious surrounds of "The Pasture".
The Pasture, once a goat grazing site is now the place to pick up a drug deal or a prostitute. Montalbano is already a bit suspicious about Luparello's death but when pressure starts being applied by a politician, a judge and a bishop he digs his heels in and insists that an investigation is required despite a verdict of death from a heart attack.
Not only does Camilleri give you a great feeling for the local area, Montalbano is a wonderfully eclectic, grumpy character who works amongst a great array of slightly offbeat policemen. And this is a novel from Italy, so there's food and a passionate love affair, made all the more interesting by the distance between Montalbano and his love Livia, who lives in Genoa.
The translation of this book flowed really well and there's a handy short glossary at the end explaining the meaning of some of the phrases and slang used.
There are other books in this series that have been now been translated and they are all well worth catching up with, even if you read this series out of order they stand up well. You miss a little of the developing relationships between the characters but not enough to lessen the enjoyment.
THE PATIENCE OF THE SPIDER - Andrea Camilleri
Still recovering from his gunshot wound, Inspector Montalbano is feeling the weight of his years, and of his solitude. He's getting softer, more introspective, and critical of his life choices. But if withdrawing from society has become natural of late, he'll soon be forced to interact with others, compelled to intervene as a web of hatred and secrets threaten to squeeze its victims to death. This is Montalbano's most unusual and challenging case yet - and the one that will either change him or break him.
One of the strangest things about reading THE PATIENCE OF THE SPIDER was the weird sort of feeling that I knew the story at the beginning. And your reviewer is nothing but sharp - about 20 pages in the penny dropped - one of the recently screened TV-Movies on our local SBS TV was based on the story behind this book. I plead that the story of Montalbano having been shot, and Livia's presence were pretty well (if not totally) non-existent in the TV Movie so I had a momentary feeling of considerable confusion.
In THE PATIENCE OF THE SPIDER, Montalbano is called back from sick leave to investigate the kidnapping and ransoming of a teenage girl. Along with the investigation, as the blurb indicates, he is reassessing his own life. He is constantly woken in the early morning, at the time that he was shot, and he's shaken by his own sense of vulnerability. He's (if it's possible) slightly more grumpy, slightly more edgy in this book and as a result many of his colleagues stand out as slightly more eccentric or laid back, or just different from him. His relationship with Livia is strong, but you can't help thinking if he's wondering if it's time for it go further. Of course there's the food - but in this book this seems to be slightly downplayed - whilst Montalbano struggles to find a motive for the kidnapping of the young woman. The ultimate resolution is beautifully ambiguous, Montalbano wonderfully human and there are some great supporting cast members.