I don’t remember who first recommended Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series, but I have to say thanks to whoever it was. Camilleri brings Sicily alive, the sounds, the food, the politics, and Montalbano is an arresting character, a noncomformist who nevertheless solves the case, without seeming really to have much drive to do so. With some mysteries, I feel like for the detective their job is their life. I didn’t feel that way with Montalbano. He does the job well, but I didn’t feel like it consumed him.
The Shape of Water is the first in the series, a good introduction to Montalbano and his world. When a local politician is found dead in his car, half naked, in “The Pasture” an area known for prostitution, it’s assumed that he died of natural causes in the middle of a sexual encounter. Montalbano gets the call, but his superiors expect him to close the case quickly to avoid any potential embarrassment. Montalbano senses that not all is as it seems and proceeds with the investigation. The case inevitably leads into the world of Sicilian politics and Montalbano discovers affiliations between bureaucratic adversaries, meets with promiscuous beauties, dodging their advances, and finds corruption that might even reach into the Church. He takes it all with an almost accepting attitude, it’s the way the world is, he just follows where the case leads.
What he wanted to do now was accuttufarsi—another verb he liked, which meant at once to be beaten up and to withdraw from human society. At that moment, for Montalbano, both meanings were more than applicable. (pg. 192)
And I love how the ending wraps it all up. It seemed so appropriate to the book and to Montalbono’s character, although it may not satisfy everyone’s need for justice.
The mystery is well-done, but for me the characters and the setting are what will draw me back to the series. The sense of place fills the novel, from the descriptions of town to the way the people live, both the rich and poor. The background of sorrpution seems appropriate and although Montalbano is mostly an honest man, he has fit himself into a niche. He’s sees the humor in life and although he is rather cynical, at heart he’s a compassionate man. And the food, did I mention the food? Montalbano loves good food, pasta, seafood. That’s one thing about reading books that are set in Italy- they tend to make me crave the dishes they describe.
The mystery felt real. It’s not a heavy read, it just seems somehow like a slice of these characters’ lives, like they are people I would meet should I ever make it to Sicily.
4 out of 5 stars
Inspector Montalbano #1
First published 1994
Book source: Purchased
Inspector Montalbano series
- The Shape of Water (Italian: La forma dell’acqua)
- The Terra-Cotta Dog (Italian: Il cane di terracotta)
- The Snack Thief (Italian: Il ladro di merendine)
- Voice of the Violin (Italian: La voce del violino)
- The Excursion to Tindari (Italian: La gita a Tindari )
- The Smell of the Night (APA: The Scent of the Night) (Italian: L’odore della notte)
- Rounding the Mark (Italian: Il giro di boa )
- The Patience of the Spider (Italian: La pazienza del ragno)
- The Paper Moon (Italian: La luna di carta)
- August Heat (Italian: La vampa d’agosto)
- The Wings of the Sphinx (Italian: Le ali della sfinge)
- The Track of Sand (Italian: La pista di sabbia )
- The Potter’s Field (Italian: Il campo del vasaio)
- The Age of Doubt (Italian: L’età del dubbio)
- Le prime indagini
- La danza del gabbiano
- La caccia al tesoro
- Il sorriso di Angelica
- Il gioco degli specchi