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by Andrea Camilleri
Picador, July 2006
320 pages
ISBN: 0330493035

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I'm so enthusiastic about Andrea Camilleri's fifth novel featuring Inspector Montalbano, EXCURSION TO TINDARI, that it is hard to knows where to begin. This is a delightful Italian police procedural, superbly translated by Stephen Sartarelli and set in the town of Vigata, which mixes wonderful sardonic humour with brutal yet never overly gory mafia crime.

Normally the police commissioner prefers Inspector Montalbano and his closely-knit team of detectives to concentrate their efforts on small crimes, but due to the illness and absence of others, he has no option but to assign two larger investigations to them this time.

The first case is the fatal shooting of 20-year-old ladies' man Nene Sanfilippo on his doorstep. It looks like a mafia-style execution but there are no obvious reasons why, though how the victim made a living is unclear.

The second case arises when a businessman from out of town reports his elderly parents, Alfonso and Margherita Griffo, as missing. Montalbano's interest is piqued when it emerges that they lived in the same apartment building as Nene Sanfilippo. The question is whether or not this is a coincidence. There is no evidence that the missing Griffos knew or ever even acknowledged Sanfilippo, and the last time they were seen was on a coach excursion to Tindari, but no-one can recall whether they returned.

The plot is compelling and humorous as Montalbano interviews the elderly coach passengers, but has a more serious side when he is summoned to meet the nonagenarian head of one of the local crime families.

It is the character of Montalbano that made this novel so enjoyable for me. He is a man of integrity with a seemingly complex domestic arrangement which is only lightly touched upon in this episode. He has an irrepressible sense of humour which finds him joking with his men, and even cannot help himself making quips to the local Mafiosi. He is also intelligent enough to interpret and out-fox their moves and to overcome potential difficulties with his less than admiring boss, and to try to manipulate his own team.

Montalbano is also a man who loves his food and who takes time to commune with nature, whether it be sitting in his favourite tree to help figure out a case, or swimming in the sea off Marinello beach to rid himself of the stench of a crime scene.

There is wonderful depth of character here which, mixed with the humour of the novel and the strong sense of place, make this a tremendously enjoyable book, and I won't be wasting any time in going back to read from the start of this series which began with THE SHAPE OF WATER.

Reviewed by Bridget Bolton, July 2006

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