Tuesday, May 18, 2010

THE SHAPE OF WATER by Andrea Camilleri

Many mystery stories and mystery series have an underlying premise.

We all know about Hercule Poirot's "little grey cells."  We know about Spenser's code, and about how Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels usually involve Archer delving into family history, finding the seeds of murder, often a generation or more back.

My favorite writer, Ed McBain, always made the point that solving crimes is not about clues. It is about doing the leg work, the procedure.

Judging from Andrea Camilleri's The Shape of Water, the first in what is now a long-continuing series, Camilleri may have an underlying premise too. 

At one point, the Commissioner tells  police inspector Salvo Montalbano, "Wait a minute.  I was determined to find a way this evening to scold you again.  For wanting always to complicate simple matters.  Surely you've read Sciascia's Candido.  Do you remember that at a certain point the protagonist asserts that it is possible that things are almost always simple? I merely wanted to remind you of this."

And Montalbano replies, "Yes, but, you see, Candido says 'almost always.'  He doesn't say 'always.'  He allows exceptions."

This story of a prominent politician found dead in a compromising place and situation is one of those exceptions.

This is one of the most complex stories I've read in a long time.  At first, it seems like a simple police procedural.  Montalbano investigates the death, clearly by natural causes, and keeps the case open because he intuitively knows there's something wrong.

And the deeper he delves, the more complicated the story gets.

Along the way, Montalbano is clear-spoken, devious, and yet as kind as he has been in the two other stories I've read.  He covers up when he needs to cover up.  Helps those who are deserving but suffering and need help, and finally, ends up letting the case go listed as unsolved.  He also makes mistakes.

This story features Montalbano's clear-eyed (though sometimes confused) pursuit of the truth.  It does not show his volatile Sicilian personality in the same way some other stories have.  But it is nonetheless, a good story.

Even the title of the book is an enigma which has to be explained.  The whole story reflects Montalbano's intelligence and cultural understanding, though he sometimes seems to be (and may be) a buffon.

If I were rating this story on a five star system, I'd give this book four stars, but a strong four stars.  It is a good beginning to a series I enjoy.

And one more little comment.  If I remember correctly, I came to the Montalbano stories through a mention in the blog Detectives Beyond Borders (listed at the right).  Every time I read one of these stories, I think again of how much I appreciate mystery story bloggers.  Most of the books I enjoy nowadays, I find through blogs or I dig back in my past to read them again.

So here's a tip of the hat to all those mystery bloggers who lead me to good reading.  And here's a tip of the hat to Andrea Camilleri too.  I'm sure he will continue to give me a lot of hours of good reading.


Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the kind mention. If this was your first Montalbano novel, you have much good reading ahead.
 Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Joe Barone said...

This is about the third one I've read. The first, I read at your suggestion. It was one of the more current ones. I decided I'd go back and try to work my way up from the first one. I've loved them all so far.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'll include this one, Joe. I think this will be the first time Camilleri is mentioned.

Evan Lewis said...

Fine review, Joe. Looks like you're one of those mystery bloggers who'll lead us to good writing.