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by Andrea Camilleri and Stephen Sartarelli, trans.
Mantle, June 2011
320 pages
14.99 GBP
ISBN: 0330507664

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Inspector Montalbano finds the carcass of a horse on the beach below his home. He calls in his team of men but, by the time they arrive, the carcass has vanished.

Rachele Esterman, a leggy blonde equestrian, comes to the police station to report the loss of her horse. Montalbano is drawn into the unfamiliar and eccentric world of horse-racing, seduced and somewhat baffled, not least by the suggestion of a link to the Mafia.

There follows an investigation led by cryptic messages, aristocratic encounters and a muddle of help from Montalbano's team, including the infuriating Catarella whose phonetic speech and dim-wittery is possibly intended to endear the reader but which exasperated this one to the point of skim-reading every time he appeared.

With its flavour of a Godfather movie (referenced early on in the story) and its cast of garrulous characters (nearly all the essential narrative is relayed in dialogue), THE TRACK OF SAND isn't necessarily the best entrée into the Montalbano series. There are intriguing passages – the most effective in the book – that centre on our hero's childhood, in particular his experiences with his uncle. These were the moments most likely to prompt a new reader to explore more of the Montalbano series. The abundance of phonetic spellings, on the other hand, might be expected to wear down even a patient reader. And instances of apparent confusion – Rachele is introduced as 'solid, athletic' but later she has 'very thin shoulders' – suggests either a problem with translation or editing.

Montalbano's passion for food, his habit of self-interrogation and his obvious indignation at the brutal despatch of the horse combine to give a nice insight into our hero, who carries the plot ably over its course. A better supporting cast would have helped. Fred Vargas, for example, gives Adamsberg an admirable team, vital to her hero's success. Montalbano, by contrast, feels isolated, heroic but thwarted, rather than assisted by those around him.

Whereas Adamsberg is a dreamer by nature, Montalbano is beset by nightmarish dreams, more than the average quota traditionally permitted to a book's protagonist. Perhaps his rich diet – mouth-wateringly described at regular intervals – is to blame. The intrusion of one particular dream into the book's romantic interlude makes for an uncomfortable page or two. The overriding impression (pun intended) is that Camilleri likes tormenting his hero. Which is a sound premise for a long-running series.

§ Sarah Hilary is an award-winning short story author, currently working on a debut crime novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary, August 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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