While swimming along the Sicilian shore, Inspector Montalbano discovers a corpse. His pursuit of the cause of death intersects with the inquiry into a hit-and-run accident that claimed the life of a young boy who may have been victimized by human traffickers. The buying and selling of immigrant children, for slave labor, sex, and as a source of illegal organ transplants, is part of the evil underside of the opening of Europe's borders. That, combined with frustration with his department's repressive handling of security for the G-8 summit in Genoa and the corruption among his superiors and the politicians behind them, makes setting anything right seem like an exercise in futility. Montalbano alternates between despair and steely resolve. When he realizes that he may have inadvertently aided the boy's victimizers, his internal turmoil intensifies.
Salvo Montalbano is going through a rough patch at work. He wants to quit, even though he loves his job. One night he can't sleep and since he lives right on the beach, he goes for a swim. Unfortunately he bumps into a dead body while he's out there and has to haul it back to shore. In his quest for the cause of death, Montalbano realizes that this death coincides with the hit-and-run death of a young boy who may have been victimized by human traffickers. When Montalbano realizes that he may have inadvertently helped the boy's abusers, he is sickened and even more determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.
This (and the entire series) is far from a run-of-the-mill police procedural. There aren't many authors like Camilleri who can turn a creepy scene like finding a badly decomposed body at sea into a scene that can make a reader laugh out loud. (I refuse to tell you how. That should be part of your fun.)
The ingredients that make this series so special are Camilleri's gallows humor and his cast of characters-- Montalbano's "soldiers". They are a wonderful bunch of very different personalities, and even though they may drive each other to distraction on a regular basis, I don't think they'd want to work with anyone else-- especially when they have a boss who allows them to tell him when he's being the southbound end of a northbound horse.
The characterizations are brilliant; there is such a sense of Sicily as you read; the humor is often laugh-out-loud funny; and there are the unexpected jewels. Rounding the Mark had one of those gems: the grouchy Montalbano being genuinely heartbroken at being an unknowing accomplice in that young boy's death can bring a tear to the eye.
In roughly 250 pages, Camilleri can deliver a masterful piece of work that many other authors would take 400 pages to accomplish. Each book is a gem, and I intend to savor every single one.
For any of you who may be hesitant to read a translated book, don't be. Sartarelli has won awards for his translations, and those awards are deserved. He manages to imply dialects in a way that isn't confusing, and for anyone who needs a little extra information, the back of each book contains a few pages of notes that deal with any historical references, language, food, and previous books in the series.
If at all possible, this is one mystery series that you should sample. If I had four thumbs, they'd all be pointing at the sky. (I'm sure Camilleri would have something pithy to say about that....)
My Review: Well, in the sixth book of the series, there is a bit of sagging to report: A few promising threads are left dangling here, especially the whole North-vs-South cultural divide so present in every facet of Italian life. Camilleri fails to exploit some delightful possibilities, and I think that it's inevitable to do so in a long-for-him book crammed with major plot points and huge moral questions. Part of the charm of these books is their conciseness: seldom over 230pp in translation, they are models of taut storytelling. Then along comes a story like this one, replete with opportunities to explore Italy and Italianness, and it's too much for the format of the series. It's unwise to change formats mid-series, so some things will fall off the radar a little too quickly.
Well, you still give the book four stars...what's that about, fanboy? asks a sarcastic member of the public. Not just about being a fanboy, though I admit that I am just that. It's about the layers of well-executed prose, conveying piece by piece the existence of and resolution to a problem previously hidden, in concert with a storyteller's greatest gift or lack: The ability to create, in a few deft verbal strokes, a sense of a character as a real person. The ability to evoke in the reader a new response to an old situation. The ability to bring a place to life using nothing more than a few lighting effects and your own sense of smell.
These qualities, mes vieux, are amply on display in this book and deployed in service of a story that, even though it's resolved, isn't in any way over. And that should keep you awake nights.
It's not a good night for Montalbano. He is unable to sleep, and even more telling, unable to eat. He's decided to turn in his resignation, feeling betrayed by the news about a raid on the Diaz School in Genoa during the G8 meetings there, in which evidence had been found to be planted, the stabbing of a policeman by an "antiglobalist" had been discovered to have been self inflicted, and that ultimately there was no legitimate reason that the raid needed to have taken place. As he often does when he's restless, he decides to take a naked swim in the ocean in the early morning hours. As he turns on his back and does a stroke, he bumps into something that turns out to be a foot. He apologizes to the unseen person, only to discover that it is really a corpse.
Some days later, he goes to deliver a pair of glasses to a cop friend at the scene of the landing of illegal immigrants, when a little boy runs off the boat and away from everyone. Montalbano goes after him, captures him and delivers him to his mother. But he can't help but notice that the boy looks petrified and is highly agitated. After some time, the boy's body is later discovered -- someone has hit him with a car and killed him. Wondering if perhaps his own actions were linked to the boy's death, he begins investigating and will not let up until he finds out the truth.
Despite Montalbano's disgust at his government, the corrupt policemen and his ongoing battle with what he feels might be old age creeping up on him, there are some really funny episodes that made me laugh out loud. First, Salvo's naked "rescue" of the corpse is caught on television. Then there's an ongoing gag about a cop named Torretta, who seems to have opened an "emporium" in the station, always ready with anything that anyone could possibly need. Catarella's mangling of Italian leads Montalbano to a vital clue through someone Catarella insists is named Pontius Pilate. But there is nothing funny at all about the way Camilleri depicts an ongoing and growing problem in Italy, one that is shared by many countries around the world.
Here we find Montalbano at his most intense so far, and although the overall mystery wasn't as satisfying as it might have been, it was still quite good; it is yet another excellent entry in the series. Camilleri's regular characters are so well developed and well portrayed that I feel like I know these people well by this point, yet I'm always surprised by the twists and turns in Montalbano's life. Even though at times these books become formulaic and often rely on odd coincidences, and although these traits are not ones I particularly care for in any mystery or crime fiction novel, Camilleri's writing keeps me reading. It's easy to overlook the flaws because I'm having such a great time reading.
He takes delight in small victories though like the solving of mysteries such as identity of the floating corpse that he bumps into on his morning swim. The humour is bound up in Montalbano's personality and the actions he takes such as his decision to tow the corpse to shore using his own swimming trunks, and his tendency to neigh like a horse when he is delighted.
Montalbano comes through as an intuitive detective seeing patterns and connections where others don't, and possessing an ability to replay and freeze-frame events in his own mind, looking for things that don't fit.
The narration by Grover Gardner took some getting used to. He used a variety of Bronx intonations for members of Montalbano's team. It was almost enough to put me off right at the beginning.
Just after the G8 meeting in Genoa, where the right-wing government of Berlusconi has at a minimum countenanced unprovoked and unjustified attacks by police on protesters, Montalbanois filled with disgust at what Italy has become in general and how the Genoan police have betrayed their mandate to serve and protect the people in particular. He is not sure whether or not he wants to continue in his profession; he seriously considers resigning.
In the midst of this angst, taking his usual swim, he accidentally and literally bumps into a corpse. (This scene deserves mention in that it is absolutely hilarious, a wonderful example of Camilleri’s wit and sense of the ridiculous that so enlivens these books.) Examination of the body reveals that while the man died by drowning, he definitely had help in his passing.
In a separate and seemingly unrelated incident, a boat filled with illegal immigrants from Africa is rounded up by the Italian Coast Guard and herded into Vigáta. A young boy escapes, runs down the dock, eluding pursuers, and hides. Montalbano, thinking that the boy is frightened and wanting to restore him to his mother, manages to quietly talk the boy into coming out of hiding and returning with him. But shortly after, the boy is killed in on the road in what is clearly not an accident. Much disturbed, Montalbano tries to solve the case of the murdered man on the one hand, and continues to puzzle over and mourn the death of the young boy on the other.
This is the context for what is one of the best installments in this utterly superb series set in Sicily. All of Camilleri’s great strengths are here: taut writing, authenticity, excellent dialogue lovingly preserved by Sartarelli’s translation, and both recurring and non-recurring sets of very strong, believable characters. In addition, this is one of Camilleri’s more disturbing plots, addressing as it does the trafficking in illegal aliens, especially young children, for utterly cold-blooded purposes. Camilleri knows how to drive a plot, and this book is no exception, racing along to a highly dramatic denouement.
In this entry, Camilleri tackles an issue that is upsetting to both Montalbano & myself: illegal smuggling of young children into the country. While some of these children are being reunited with one or both parents already present illegally in Italy, most of them are sadly brought over for less savory reasons. Montalbano gets involved with this situation when he helps retrieve a young boy whom he thinks is running away from his mother. A day or two later, the boy is found dead. Montalbano feels compelled to investigate even though it happened outside his jurisdiction.
Some say that the pace of the book is slow, but, I enjoyed this differing flavor on a detective novel. Camilleri is able to immerse us in the world of Inspector Montalbano: his love and enjoyment of mediterranean food coupled with a detailed description of the sea and the warm and rocky Sicilian geography. With a mix of humor, cynicism, compassion, and love of good food, Montalbano goes into battle against the powerful and the corrupt who are determined to block his path. This is a"delicious" discovery for mystery afficionados and fiction lovers. (less)
Review written in May 2013
So while this is a successful audiobook, I think that this is a series I will mostly read in print.
In the midst of working out the details of why a migrant child would be running away from his "mother" and the mother's subsequent fake broken leg & running out of ER only to be picked-up by a passing motorist... Montalbano swims farther than usual and comes across the remains of a corpse, which he ties to himself via his swimsuit & tows back to shore.
Montalbano's staff works hard to reconstruct the face of the corpse and in doing so is told that the corpse could not have possibly have died twice; but thanks to Ingrid a positive ID is made, which leads Montalbano back to the boy & to the area in the ocean where he came across the corpse.
Below the cliffs of illegally built fortress-mansions, Montalbano discovers a hidden jetty & cave entrance... All leading to the illegal trafficking of children.
This was a very good story, with twists, turns, & humor... The humanitarianism of Montalbano is refreshing.
It begins with Montalbano finding a corpse in the water near his home and being filmed naked by local TV, then alarming criminal behavior by higher ups in law enforcement is publicized, and progresses to what starts out as a small mystery about a young boy. Montalbano is disheartened by the police scandal and plots to retire, but then the small boy is murdered. The rest of the story is just as fascinating yet also balanced with humor. Another winner!
Steven Sartorelli is the deviously clever translator, and Grover Gardner is the narrator extraordinary.