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by Andrea Camilleri and Stephen Sartarelli, trans.
Mantle, November 2012
288 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 1447203313

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Inspector Montalbano rescues a girl in a sudden storm, and gives her a lift to Vigata harbour where her aunt's yacht, the Vanna, is due to arrive. He is called to the Vanna later to examine a dead body picked up by the yacht from a dinghy just outside the port. Strangely, the boat's owner denies having a niece. The face of the corpse has been obliterated, apparently to conceal the identity of the victim; the crew of the Vanna are not suspected, but there is clearly something odd about the yacht and Montalbano seizes the chance to investigate. His thoughts are not at ease, however: he has fallen in love with Laura Belladonna, a lieutenant at the harbourmaster's office, and he is being harassed about some lost paperwork.

There are thirteen previous Montalbano novels; those not familiar with the books may have caught the television series, which in style stays pretty true to the written version. The two bemused subordinates, Mimi and Fazio, are here, and the verbally-challenged station receptionist Catarella. Montalbano himself, while fifty-eight by this time (hence the title) is still the same unorthodox but bright detective, eating delicious local fish, and falling for beautiful women. As usual his boss the commissioner does nothing to make his life easier, and Montalbano's efforts to distract Dr Lattes from his fixation on lost paperwork by inventing a fictitious wife and children ends in humiliation.

If it is not already evident, a great part of the appeal of Montalbano lies in the humour Camilleri injects into his writing. Significant crimes are committed, detection work is undertaken, and all is revealed at the appropriate time, but one would hesitate to suggest that what is portrayed represents a realistic picture of Italian police work, even in a such a provincial location as rural Sicily. But this is beside the point. As with other popular semi-humorous detectives such as Poirot or Father Brown, it is the completeness of the world created by the author which is the source of fascination and keeps readers coming back.

Camilleri slips in references to the local political situation which would be an additional source of interest to Italian readers. Foreigners may miss these, but may be equal in appreciation of the charm of Montalbano, an all-too-human detective, of his colleagues and friends, and of the Italian-flavoured engaging panorama which Camilleri creates.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, December 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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