Argonaught Reply to on 14 November 2011
|Montalbano goes for a swim and bumps into a body which he tows back to shore. Later he witnesses the arrival of illegal immigrants. A small boy breaks away from his mother and Montalbano grabs his hand so his mother can retrieve him. Montalbano's unofficial investigation reveals the connection between the two incidents. But the plot is almost incidental. So what is it that makes this such an enjoyable read?
Firstly, it is the character of the eccentric Montalbano himself. The story is told entirely from his point of view. He is in every scene, yet he remains unpredictable; neither his thinking about the investigation nor his plans are revealed. We, like his men, are observers who can be surprised, perplexed and frustrated by what he does. We do, however, see more of his private thoughts, about his girlfriend, Livia, for example, or the glamorous and talented Ingrid who is called upon as a sort of assistant to his nefarious activities. His moods are revealed, too, partly through his thoughts and partly through the reactions of other people, particularly his men who find him bad-tempered and unpredictable. But, for all his weaknesses and irascibility he is respected and held in affection by those who know him, and by the reader, too. He is a gifted detective who follows his instincts rather than a logical analysis of clues. He has the sort of courage that means he puts himself in danger but overcomes his genuine fears. He has a strong moral code, which is unusual, possibly unique, in the highly corrupt society of Sicily - a corruption that is always near the surface and clearly articulated, though sometimes in a tongue-in-cheek style.
Secondly, it is the portrayal of the minor characters. Cataralla, for instance, lights up every scene with his blundering enthusiasm and comical mispronunciations. Or Montalbano's superior, Dr Lattes, who always asks about Montalbano's non-existent family, and Montalbano always replies as though he has one. There are many others, too.
Thirdly there is the style, described perfectly by The TLS as `cunning yet curiously gentle'. It is witty, economical and permeated with a sardonic view of life. If you haven't read the Montalbano stories, you must, and you would be better starting at the beginning of the series. But beware, once started you will be hooked, and there are plenty to go at. If you are already familiar with the detective, this novel will not disappoint.