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Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Books – August Heat by Andrea Camilleri

Star rating – 8/10

This is the 10th novel in the Inspector Montalbano crime series. For those who have grown to know and love, and at times get infuriated with, the Sicilian Inspector over the past fifteen years, then this latest offering does not disappoint. This time however, the suave and renegade policeman is showing his age somewhat. His hearing is started to worsen, and his attraction to a beautiful girl young enough to be his daughter leaves him in a moral dilemma. But even in his middle age he is still an attractive man, and Camilleri reminds us that ‘he looked exactly like Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace’.

All the usual elements of the series are here. There is his explosive relationship with his girlfriend Livia, who lives in a different town, and whom he seems to disappoint on a very regular basis without even really trying to. He always seems happier on is own than when she is around. And that certainly suits his long serving housekeeper Adelina, who cannot stand Livia and will not even come to the house when she is around. Adelina prepares an endless supply of delicious meals for Montalbano (and his readers) to salivate over:

‘Adelina had made a pappanozza for him. Onions and potatoes boiled for a long time and mashed with the back of a fork until they blended together. For seasoning: olive oil, a hint of vinegar, salt and freshly ground black pepper.’

And when he is not sampling the delights of Adelina’s cooking, he is usually to be found at his favourite local trattoria, Enzo’s, where he gets special treatment whatever hour of the day he visits.

Camilleri is not afraid of expressing political and moral views via his inspector. He reads a detective novel by two Swedish authors ‘in which there wasn’t a page without a ferocious attack on social democracy and the government. In his mind Montalbano dedicated the book to those who did not deign to read mystery novels because, in their opinion, they were only entertaining puzzles.’ The mafia, for example, come under fire as being ‘like an obscene ballet’.

And so what of the crime that unfolds in the sweltering Sicilian heat? As usual, the crime is really just the framework on which to hang the well observed machinations of Montalbano. He has to fight his colleagues and the criminals of the island alike to solve his mysteries. But he is dedicated to his job day and night. This is a familiar yet very welcome addition to the series. Camilleri manages to keep us interested in and on the side of Montalbano. These are gentle crime stories alongside many others in the genre, but nonetheless extremely they are enjoyable all the same, and not afraid to place then in a solid moral and political framework.

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