After reading a review on npr.org of the latest book in Andrea Camillieri‘s allegedly popular Inspector Montalbano series, I decided to do a little detective work on my own about the author and the series, which I later learned was already 17-books long (and counting). The article on npr.org was about the 17th, and latest installment in the series, Angelica’s Smile. From the article, I learned that Camillieri’s novels have been well-received worldwide, though I had never heard of him or any of his books until I read that article, and in Italy, it has already been turned into a TV series. From reading the review, I didn’t get the impression that it was an extraordinary work of fiction, but it did say that Angelica’s Smile was a good mystery to take to the beach. Because I’m always on the lookout for good mysteries to escape into, that verdict was good enough for me!
There are 17 books so far, in what the Camillieri has revealed to be a 21-part series, with the end already planned out. Seems like a daunting task to read all 17 existing books, and I was glad that the first book, The Shape of Water, was only about 200 pages long – ebook format which I read using my smartphone, so I’m guessing the printed book is probably just about a hundred pages long.
The first book in the series, The Shape of Water, introduces the protagonist, Police Inspector Salvo Montalbano, and the setting for the novels (I’m assuming), the fictional town of Vigata, in Sicily, Italy. Not much is revealed about Inspector Montalbano, except that he seems to be a respected figure in his department and has formed good relationships with different people in his community – from pimps, to judges, to the Police Commissioner himself. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t think his age or physical appearance was even really discussed in the novel.
In The Shape of Water, the residents of the small town of Vigata are shaken when a prominent public figure – city engineer and an up and coming politician, Luparello, is found dead in his car while parked on a beach known to the locals as the Pasture. The Pasture is notorious for its visitors – prostitutes of all kinds, and their customers, parked along the strip, doing their business. On the same morning that Luparello was found dead in his car with his pants down, a sanitation employee combing the beach for the usual rubbish finds a huge and gaudy solid gold chain with a huge diamond-covered heart-shaped pendant.
Though the case seems like just an unfortunate case of over-excitement on the part of the politician, which turned into a fatal heart attack, Montalbano, from what he knows of Luparello and the circumstances surrounding his death, is not convinced that it is a straightforward event wherein, though shady in nature, no crime was committed. Montalbano is also intrigued by the case of the pendant – who it belonged to, how it got to the Pasture, and what, if ever, was its relation to Luparello’s death.
The Shape of Water is a fast paced detective novel that, unlike other novels of its kind, does not dwell so much on tiny details of the case or of the people involved, including the protagonist, victim, and suspects. Montalbano’s relationships with people are only briefly described, and his life, as I mentioned earlier, is still a bit of a mystery – nothing much is revealed about him except that though he is single, he is in a long-distance relationship with a woman named Livia, and he has a housekeeper whose son he helped put behind bars. Various internet sources have pointed out Montalbano’s gastronomic preferences and love for food, but so far, in The Shape of Water, I did not read anything that would reinforce those claims.
The Shape of Water is a no-nonsense detective novel. It doesn’t deal too much with the characters’ emotions, thoughts, personal problems, and inner conflicts. It is a straightforward novel; short and simple. Montalbano, unlike some fictional detectives, doesn’t seem to be the type of Inspector who is troubled by moral choices, conflicted with his chosen profession, or haunted by past mistakes. He is a man of the law and he does what it takes to carry out his job. Like the novel, he seems to be a no frills, straight to the point kind of guy.
As far as mystery novel goes, The Shape of Water is good in that it is short and easy to read, with a definite ending. One can easily read it while waiting for a flight, or while on a short flight or bus ride, or as described in npr.org, to take to the beach. However, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for a deep protagonist with a complex past, struggling with his inner demons. Nor would I recommend it for those looking for an intellectual psychological thriller along the lines of Se7en.
The first Inspector Montalbano novel wasn’t all that amazing, but that’s not gonna stop me from reading one or two (or three of four) more books in the series. It would be interesting to continue reading to see how the character develops or to see what else the author has up his sleeves.
Other mystery series I recommend which are great for passing the time are Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad series by Alex Grecian (#1 – The Yard; #2 – The Black Country‘ #3 – The Devil’s Workshop), and Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant.
The Shape of Water (Book 1 in the Inspector Montalbano Series) (2002) – Andrea Camillieri / Translated by: Stephen Sartarelli
Viking; 235 pages (e-book)
Personal rating: 2/5