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Inspector Montalbano has an eye and an ear for murder - so much so, that when a colleague prangs a parked car, and no-one does anything about it for a couple of days, he knows that there is something wrong. And sure enough there is - on breaking into the house, he finds the naked body of a beautiful woman, who was suffocated to death. The woman's husband is a respected doctor who lives miles away, as does her lover. Her only contact in the area seems to be Anna, another beautiful woman, and a set of distant relatives. When Montalbano discovers that one of the relatives has been stalking the dead woman, it seems that the case is solved. But life is never that simple in Sicily, and before long, Montalbano is having to reopen the case to discover the identity of the real murderer.
I have read and enjoyed a few books by this author now; unfortunately not in the original Italian, but they have been lovingly translated into English for English speakers to enjoy. The books I have read all feature Inspector Montalbano, who, although he isn't the most original detective I have come across (they rarely are), does add a huge amount of humour to the proceedings. Montalbano is a maverick cop; he rarely does anything his superiors tell him to, and being in Sicily, there are always ways to get around the problems that he comes across. He is incredibly rude to his loyal staff, and indeed most people, but gets away with it because of his charm when things are going well. I have come to love Montalbano, he is so vividly described by the author that he has come to feel like an old friend - and that is despite the fact that he doesn't treat the woman in his life, the hard-done-by Livia, very well.
In a previous book, Montalbano and Livia decided to adopt a small boy of African origin that Montalbano had come across in a case. In this book, the plans to adopt continue, except that there are plenty of obstacles to get over along the way. The idea is that, before the adoption goes through, Montalbano and Livia will get married and finally move in together. I think this whole storyline is a great way of developing Montalbano as a character; before, he was much more of a cop than anything else, now, I have really come to care what happens to him, and am really looking forward to the next book in the series.
The story is a good one. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is one of the strongest I have come across yet in this series - in previous books, the characters and the comedy took away from the story, leaving it a bit flat. This one is definitely more intriguing, and the fact that Montalbano has to go to odd lengths to find out what he needs, adds to the excitement. For the first time with one of Camilleri's books, I found myself reading it for the story, rather than just the characters or the humour. The pacing is great too; just as it seems that the case is about to be solved, something else will happen to wake up the reader. And the chapters are quite short, great for encouraging the reader to read just one more chapter before putting the book down.
The book is funny, there is no doubt about that, and Montalbano is given some great comic opportunities, particularly in the way that he deals with people. One of his colleagues speaks Italian with a very strong Sicilian accent, or possibly dialect, which provides plenty of misunderstandings; another drives like a maniac, leaving Montalbano to fear for his life each time they are in the car together. I should add here that, although there is a lot of humour in the book, Camilleri doesn't try to make a mockery of the murder - something I was glad of, because I don't particularly like to see murder or other serious crimes being turned into comedy.
The translation is generally excellent. Apparently Stephen Sarterelli, the translator, is an acclaimed poet - he certainly has a way with words, because I know from personal experience that it is very difficult to translate both accurately and fluently. I particularly enjoyed the way that he translated the words of the colleague with a strong Sicilian accent - he manages to word it so that it is obvious why Montalbano struggles to understand him at times. There is the odd problem; for example, someone is described as 'a raven', which made no sense to me. There is a note in the back of the book explaining that a bringer of bad news is described as a raven in Italian. However, there was no footnote in the text to make me look in the back of the book - it was pure coincidence that I happened to come across it. This, however, is more the fault of the editor than it is the translator.
I really enjoyed this book. It could be that, having now read a few books in the series, I have become accustomed to the style of writing and the characters, and the author has really found his groove. However, I think it is also because this is a particularly good story. The fact that it is based in Sicily, which seems quite exotic to me, doesn't do it any harm; there are also plenty of descriptions of the food of the region - Montalbano loves his food - which adds authenticity to the book. I would suggest that anyone wanting to read the series starts at the beginning with The Shape of Water - however, it isn't completely vital to read them in order. Highly recommended.
The book is available from play.com for £5.99. Published by Pan Macmillan, it has 224 pages. ISBN: 9780330492997