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 BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE - Rennie Airth
The mutilated body of a young girl is found hidden in a wood by ex-Scotland Yard Detective Inspector John Madden. Her face has been brutally battered and she has been raped. Whilst the local police are concentrated on searching for a tramp known to be in the area at the time, Madden is not convinced this is a one-off opportunistic killing.
THE BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE is the second book in a series based in the 1930's, incorporating now retired DI Madden and his wife, Helen. John Madden now works as a farmer and his wife has a local GP practice in the small village just down the road from where the girl's body is recovered. Scotland Yard, and Madden's old colleagues are bought into the investigation and more bodies are discovered far away from this location. The investigation moves from the local police and villages to a much wider area across England and into Europe with Scotland Yard taking responsibility and focus ultimately shifting to the Diplomatic Service.
In this book John Madden discovers the body, has his doubts about the direction that the local police take and is ultimately in at the conclusion. Other than that, the investigation centres around the Scotland Yard team. The steps taken by the Yard detectives to identify a likely suspect were just a nice old-fashioned piece of strong detective work, without the availability of wiz bang forensics and resources that would be available in this day and age. The timeframe of the book sets it between the wars and there is a general feeling of menace with the build up towards the Second World War being felt in relations between England and Germany. The tramps and people's reaction to them adds a level of complexity.
The plot showed attention to detail and, in particular, the Scotland Yard personnel were an interesting cast of characters. The old fashioned detecting method of solving a crime was a refreshing change and very well handled. The involvement of Madden and his wife seemed a little opportunistic, designed to keep them in the story to maintain the feeling of the series. Whilst everyone is aware that Helen Madden is very protective of her husband, a few times she was in danger of just being a carping spoilsport, but ultimately the only minor quibble is that the Scotland Yard team did most of the work and Madden got the final glory.
COLLINS STREET WHORES - Peter Ralph
Collins Street Whores starts off very evocatively (for me at least) with a powerful motorbike being ridden along the Dandenong Tourist Road - a hop skip and a jump from our front door. Unfortunately for me, the interest in the story waned pretty soon after that. Overall the plot is fairly good, but there were too many elements in COLLINS STREET WHORES that just didn't work for me. Granted this could be because anything "financial" has a tendency to bring me out in hives, but more so because there were too many characters to just not care about that much. Possibly the idea that the central woman had to be beautiful and strong and competent and rich and driving the big flash car to make her a central character, possibly the relationship between her and the "boy from the rougher side of life" sort of just clanged a bit. Possibly it was because a lot of the plot elements weren't that hard to see coming, but that they took a long time to come could have been the problem.
Collins Street Whores is not a badly written book or anything, I guess, ultimately the problem for me was that it didn't have that something different, that element that grabbed me and held my attention and I just struggled to stay focused on the story.
PEEPSHOW - Leigh Redhead
Simone Kirsh (aka Vivien Leigh) has an interesting job history - ex prawn trawler hand and working as a stripper for starters. Simone is determined to change things though, so even as she's still working in peepshows and as a stripper she's finished her Private Investigator's Course; has her ID and she's working to get her best friend and fellow stripper Chloe out of a big lot of trouble. Francesco Parisi's been brutally killed and Simone find herself undercover at his table top dancing venue, The Red Room. She has to find out why the police think her friend Chloe killed Parisi and why his brother seems to be convinced that even if she didn't, Simone will work out who did because he is holding Chloe hostage. Now Simone can look after herself and despite having to deal with some seriously weird fellow strippers; corrupt cops and her own rather frantic attraction to rockabilly guitarists, she finds herself in some very sticky situations. Fans of series like Lauren Henderson's Sam Jones and even to some extent Liz Evan's Grace Smith books will find some similarities here. The story is a a big romp through the world of strippers, drugs and the Melbourne sex industry. There are some moments of high camp humour and some very steamy sex scenes. More sexually explicit than the comparison books and with frequent and detailed depictions of the drug scene, this was a good witty book which was very enjoyable.