@@@ (3 out of 5)
There’s little of that celebrated Italian charm in The Shape of Water, the first in Andrea Camilleri’s widely-read series of crime novels featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano. The book is set in the town of Vigata in Sicily, where corruption reigns supreme and murder is nothing out of the ordinary. In this quaint but unpleasant setting, the incorruptible Inspector Montalbano routinely finds his work to be rough going. He’s frequently described as charming. But the story isn’t.
The body of the region’s political boss is discovered in blatantly compromising circumstances, setting off a chain of puzzling political juggling acts. There is pressure from all sides on Montalbano to close the case quickly. It seems that everyone insists the old man died a natural death. Montalbano doesn’t believe it. He doggedly sets out to understand what happened and finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue and betrayal that tax him to the limit. Corrupt judges, a political hatchet-man, the Mafia, and a gorgeous six-foot Swedish blonde (as well as a gorgeous young gay man, also blond) all figure in the story.
Given the stereotypes of Sicily so popular in literature as well as the news media, it’s tempting to think that Camilleri’s picture of the place is fitting. To my mind, though, this stretches the imagination.
I thought Donna Leon’s latest Commissario Brunetti mystery was awful. Perhaps I just can’t wrap my mind around anything Italian. My one visit to the country was unpleasant, too. So it goes.