Treasure Hunt, Camilleri’s 16th mystery featuring Insp. Salvo Montalbano, begins at night, with the exploration of a nightmarish apartment, when two reclusive religious fanatics—brother and sister Gregorio and Caterina Palmisano—start firing guns at the “sinners” in the street below their apartment building in Vigàta, Sicily. Montalbano and his team lay siege to the Palmisanos’ house and eventually disarm the elderly couple without bloodshed. Among the unconventional and disconcerting items found in the apartment is a decaying life-size, inflatable doll. This doll will haunt Montalbano throughout the book, providing both comic relief and a symptom of a truly sick mind.
As a result of his feat at the snipers’ apartment, Montalbano is hailed as a hero after news cameras film his scaling the building–gun in hand–to capture the pair. Shortly after, the inspector begins to receive cryptic messages in verse from someone challenging him to go on a “treasure hunt.” Bored – not going on in his crime world – and intrigued, he accepts, treating the messages as amusing riddles, until they take a dangerous turn. His friend, Ingrid, suggests that Arturo Pennisi, a young man eager to witness the detective’s investigative skills first hand, assists him in tracking down clues in the treasure hunt. A number of bizarre incidents occur that puzzle Montalbano and eventually lead him, again at night, to another frightful interior, the lair of a maniac.
As in Seagull, Montalbano thinks of himself as old. Montalbano transforms his usual and often ironic disagreement with our times into the harsh underscoring of disorder and aberration (psychological, political, and social) that have become physiological and irreparable. At a certain point he finds himself walking down a country road, a road that he had walked down many years before as a boy: but instead of the ancient saracen olive grove that stood there in the past, there was only a mass of cement. This is not only an ecological comment, but a metaphorical observation of the passing of time and the decay of the body and the environment. I can sympathize with this. At my age, I am trying to understand the passing away of everyone and everything I knew growing up.
Montalbano continues to feel a deep loneliness. His usual secondary characters meaningfully remain in the background: Mimì, Fazio, Catarella, the Questore and Dr. Pasquano make their appearance without any substance, as if they were bit actors. Livia is only present in a few phone calls. Nicolò Zito, the Retelibera journalist who is a friend of Montalbano’s and an unrepentant Communist, is totally absent: the character who represented an attempt at bridging the gap between old politics and the new media.
Once again, Camilleri’s sardonic sense of humor distinguishes this crime novel and saves it from complete melancholy and despair. I know that there has been violence and blood and gore in the other Montalbano’s novels, but I was strongly reminded of Helene Tursten’s first few novels. Somehow I didn’t expect Camilleri to go this far. I look forward to see where the 17th novel takes us.