Awakening from a fitful sleep Inspector Salvo Montalbano witnesses the bizarre death of a seagull. Placing it in a bin bag he gives it a respectful burial at sea.
Thus begins the latest and fifteenth thriller from the admired, popular Sicilian novelist Andrea Camilleri. I am proud to say that I have read each of them. I’m already looking forward to the next. Do you ever wonder what the characters are doing when they aren’t in the book?
Seasoned with sunshine, fabulous food and humor, the Montalbano novels are character studies masquerading as crime novels. It could also double as a cookbook; I would love to visit Sicily just for the food. Always the lightness of touch and humour is balanced by the deeply unpleasant crimes and slippery characters.
Set in the fictional town of Vigata, the books contain a dramatis personae of memorable characters: Montalbano, the ageing police chief whose loyal, incredibly patient girlfriend Livia is a plane ride away; his two lieutenants, Mimi Augello, whose success with women comes in handy in investigations, the Salvo’s favorite Fazio, whose forensic approach to procedure drives Montalbano to distraction, and the station receptionist Catarella, who reminds me of Chico Marx (anyone else out there old enough to remember the Marx brothers?) .
When Fazio disappears when he was secretly working on a case, mild concern gradually turns to sickening panic. The investigation leads to a chiarchiaro, a Mafia cemetery consisting of sinkholes where the Mafia would leave people, living or dead. Salvo and his team discover several bodies are discovered in the wells, although none of them are Fazio. Added to this situation, there are complications with some dodgy business with trawlers at the docks and Livia who has come for a romantic visit. Salvo manages to juggle all the aspects of this case with his skill and cunning, including Livia.
Camilleri smuggles in comments on the state of Italy through Montalbano’s mistrust of authority figures, whom he regards as either incompetent or corrupt.
Salvo thinks of himself as old (although he really isn’t). As he wrestles with his age and perceived failing powers, his occasional loneliness, and moments of forgetfulness and nightmares, he is increasingly aware of the world continuing on its unpredictable way without him. The Inspector’s cure for incipient melancholia is a plateful of caponata or grilled mullet, followed by a walk and a cigarette. Mine would be the next Montalbano novel.