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by Andrea Camilleri and Stephen Sartarelli, trans.
Mantle, March 2013
224 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 1447228715

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Inspector Montalbano is about to take a holiday with his long time lady friend, Livia, when he discovers that Fazio, his trusted lieutenant, has disappeared. Everything else is forgotten as he goes in search of him.

The book begins with Inspector Montalbano observing the final moments in the death of a seagull. So much detail is given that it is clearly intended to have some special significance, perhaps even to act as a portent of things to come, but when it is referred to again, it is simply in the context of a murder scene and seems so out of place that it is hard to understand why it was ever mentioned in the first place.

The opening scenes aren't the only place where seemingly irrelevant material is introduced. Montalbano's long time lady friend, Livia, appears briefly at the beginning of the book, they have an argument and eventually agree to meet on the following day. Unfortunately, he is so distraught at the disappearance of his colleague that he forgets all about her and she too disappears, this time from the book. We find other instances of what appears to be merely padding as well - the 'joke' that he plays on his driver by having the carabinieri turn their guns on him and the frequent and rather tedious descriptions of him getting lost in the hospital, perhaps an admission on the part of the author that the plot itself is so slight and the background to it so vague and unconvincing that it requires some filling out.

Perhaps this wouldn't matter so much if, in an era when thirty is supposed to be the new twenty, Montalbano didn't appear to believe that fifty-seven - his actual age - is the new seventy-seven. He doesn't so much sleep as fall into a coma and there are frequent references to his legs being scarcely able to support him. The author has said that it had always been his intention to "show the progression and evolution in the character of Montalbano" but it is difficult to see why he should be portrayed in such a way that we ask ourselves why he has not retired. This apparent physical decline doesn't affect his deductive powers in any way and he seems to delight in making his colleagues appear slightly dim-witted. As far as his superiors are concerned, he does his best to keep them in the dark and even goes so far as to invent fictitious (and ludicrous) illnesses to avoid meeting them. It is easy to see why they dislike him when even his guesses are accurate, although in locating Fazio he has help from a deus ex machina in the person of a character who appears from nowhere, passes on his information and then vanishes.

The remaining characters, with the possible exception of Angela, don't hold much interest and are not particularly believable. There is a forensic scientist who has an appalling temper and who seems never to have heard of the word politeness. Fazio, who seems to be very much Montalbano's confidant, plays little or no part and Augello, who stands in for him, contributes little to the investigation except legwork. The office telephonist, Catarella, apparently speaks in an obscure Sicilian dialect which presents the translator with a problem in making whatever he says comprehensible. The Mafia villains are shadowy figures operating somewhere in the background who never really come into focus. The Montalbano novels have been very well received - and not only in Italy - but this one may not meet with the same degree of success.

Arnold Taylor is a retired Examinations Board Officer, amateur writer and even more amateur bridge player.

Reviewed by Arnold Taylor, May 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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