This is the first book I’ve read in Andrea Camilleri’s series about the laconic and short-fused Inspector Montalbano, and I believe it’s somewhere in the middle of the long-running series. Inspector Montalbano is a man who is afraid of commitment and loves fine dining–which in Sicily means that there is very fine dining indeed, if you happen to like pasta and seafood. He has a tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend, and a relationship of mutual irritation with his colleagues and superiors–and there is something of a soft heart beneath his bluster. He’s an engaging character, and a good detective–he’s in a similar vein to Pratchett’s Sam Vimes, I think.
This case centres on a retired businessman found dead in the lift of an apartment building; it gradually emerges that he had an adulterous affair with a North African immigrant, and could have had shady dealings with dangerous people. There’s also been a sail-by shooting on a fishing boat. A small boy and his mother are drawn into this web of racial tensions and possibly organised crime, and Inspector Montalbano has a great deal on his plate in all senses of the phrase.
As anyone who pays attention to my blog or my Cannonball read knows, I read a fair bit of Agatha Christie and Golden Age detective fiction; this novel makes a change as it’s far grittier and there’s more graphic violence (although not to a sadistic or gratuitous level, you just sometimes get the sense that things hurt). I have never been to Sicily so I have no idea how authentic the novel is, but the glimpses of Sicilian culture it gives are fascinating. The style is terse and there’s little descriptive flourish, and the dialogue mostly veers between angry and acerbic. Nevertheless, there are some quirky characters and interactions, and the occasionally comic situation to lighten the seriousness of the crimes and the tragedies that crimes almost always imply. I’m interested in reading more.