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by Andrea Camilleri and Stephen Sartarelli, trans.
Penguin Books, May 2012
274 pages
ISBN: 0143120921

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Andrea Camilleri is something of an institution in his native land of Italy. His books and at last count there were fourteen of them depict the curious and gently humorous world of middle-aged Chief Inspector Salvo Montalbano, who makes his home in Vigata, Sicily. Montalbano is, even for his own country, somewhat idiosyncratic: his successes in solving crimes have often been more due to luck and circumstance than skill, and have brought Montalbano a reputation that he is uneasy with. His commissioner, however, is impressed, and wants to promote him, ensuring an enhanced visibility Montalbano desperately seeks to avoid. To make matters worse, Livia, his longtime (and long-suffering) lover, pushes him to make their relationship more permanent, something he also adroitly defers.

THE AGE OF DOUBT opens during a ferocious thunderstorm. Salvo Montalbano dreams about his own death, and it is not a happy dream though for reasons one might not at first expect: Livia has refused to attend his funeral, citing other, more important demands on her time. Awakening from this portentous scene, Montalbano is understandably perturbed by her attitude. He gets in his car and drives toward the police station, determined to immerse himself in work; but before he gets very far he is stopped by flooding on the coastal road. The way ahead is washed out, and a young woman sits, immobilized by fear, in a car that threatens to disappear into the abyss. He persuades her to abandon the car, and they return to his home so she can change her clothes and dry out. He is taken with her. Already the writing is on the wall.

As they take shelter from the storm the young woman says her name is Vanna Digiulio, and she tells Montalbano she was driving to the harbour to see her aunt, whose boat actually a luxury yacht was due to arrive later that day. But when the boat pulls into the harbour, events take an unexpected turn. The captain reports finding a body near the mouth of the harbour, floating in a dingy, and it is clearly a case of murder.

Then the woman disappears.

As he strives to learn the identity of the victim and determine who killed him, events will test Montalbano's strengths as well as his skills. For in the course of his investigation the detective will find himself hovering on the edge of a relationship with the mercurial Vanna, as well as with the aptly-named Laura Belladonna, a female officer with the harbour police, and having to fend off the skeptical queries of his long-suffering companion, Livia. Montalbano's relationships with the various women in his life form an ongoing theme, an elaborate yet shaky house of cards that constantly threatens to come tumbling down around him. To put off meeting with an insistent bureaucrat Montalbano invents a family he doesn't have, then, as the man's entreaties become more urgent, suggests that one of his (nonexistent) children is in hospital. Will the middle-aged romantic succeed in maintaining this increasingly precarious deceit?

A lighthearted look at Sicilian policing, THE AGE OF DOUBT will put readers in mind of another series of comic crime novels involving a gentle narrative built around an amiable protagonist, the Precious Ramotswe tales of Alexander McCall Smith. True, Smith's heroine is an amateur sleuth (well, a novice PI), while Montalbano is a police detective with considerably more resources and experience at his disposal; but both characters seem content to let their cases unfold at their own pace, to virtually stumble from one clue to the next, secure in the confidence that in the end all will be revealed, and with a minimum of violence. Entertaining summer fare.

Since 2005 Jim Napier's reviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on such websites as SPINETINGLER, THE RAP SHEET, SHOTS MAGAZINE, CRIMETIME, and JANUARY MAGAZINE, as well as on his own award-winning site, DEADLY DIVERSIONS. He can be reached at jnapier@deadlydiversions.com

Reviewed by Jim Napier, June 2012

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