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The Shape of Water

Our creative writing teacher would have not have allowed us to interrupt the narrative simply to describe the meal our hero was sitting down to enjoy. No, no, I hear, you’re breaking the flow, this isn’t relevant to the plot, you’ll lose your reader.

I’ve just read my first Inspector Montalbano story. I’d seen a few episodes on TV and thought I’d try one of the books. And, sure enough, just as on TV he goes to his favourite restaurant and discusses the menu with his host, here we also break for lunch. And it’s great. We are, after all, in Italy. Lunch is important. A few years ago on an anniversary trip to Venice my wife and I had foolishly allowed ourselves to be transported to the glass island of Murano; we were fearful of how we could possibly escape the inevitable hard sell at the end of the tour without too much damage to our bank balance, but to our relief we were spared because it was LUNCHTIME ON SUNDAY. All the hard sellers just disappeared, and we slipped away unnoticed.

So eat on, Salvo. The nearest I can think of a parallel in English whodunits would be Poirot stopping his ratiocination to lovingly prepare a meal for Captain Hastings or Inspector Japp.

The Shape of Water, by Andrea Camilleri (translated by Stephen Sartarelli) is, as I’ve said, my first Montalbano. A complex and occasionally comic Sicilian whodunit. It wasn’t possible for me to work out the solution – we get the clues at the same time as the good Salvo himself (and sometimes afterwards). It was a quick read – with generous spacing on the page, and lots of dialogue. As well as lunch we get glimpses of Sicily, and a picture of corruption in local government and of the bureaucratic confusion of the various Italian law enforcement agencies. There are some helpful notes at the end explaining especially Sicilian and Italian references.

Silvio Luparello, a well-regarded engineer and local bigwig, is found dead of a heart attack in his car in the Pasture, a squalid area known for prostitution. Our hero smells a rat: Luparello had just three days before become Provincial Secretary, leader of the Council, and after years of careful politicking to achieve that dizzy (and profitable) height would not have risked his reputation thus. Pressure to close the case from the great and the good (including the local Bishop) only encourage Montalbano to continue his investigation.

There’s a complex cast of characters, including rubbish collectors, Mafiosi, journalists, various beautiful women, and other leading politicians.  One scene I especially enjoyed takes place in an abandoned chemical factory, both for the description of the place and for the comic action that takes place there. As the blurb says, “Picking his way through a labyrinth of high-comedy corruption, delicious meals, vendetta firepower, and carefully planted false clues, Montalbano can be relied on, whatever the cost, to get to the heart of the matter.”

A good read. I’ll read others. First published in 1994. English translation published by Picador.

Buon appetito!