Almost the best writing in this new Inspector Montalbano mystery, again translated by Stephen Sartarelli, occurs in the first few pages when he wakes from a dream and remembers it over his first coffee of the day. Thereafter, the Inspector embarks on a murder case that seems to involve a young woman whom he met in a traffic jam after part of the road collapsed in a storm. True to form, after feeding him a string of lies she disappears.
Much of the action in this book takes place in the harbor of Vigàta in which the body of a man is found by the crew of the yacht, Vanna, his face badly mutilated. The yacht’s crew is a very mixed bag and its owner, Livia Giovannini, subsequently puts Mimi Augello under considerable pressure. The need to work closely with the Harbour Office brings Montalbano into contact with Lieutenant Laura Belladonna [‘a good six inches taller than him, dark, with bright sparkling eyes, red lips in no need of lipstick, and above all, a very pleasant manner.’]. Despite being in his late-50s, the Inspector forgets about his longsuffering girlfriend, Livia, and starts to behave like a love-struck teenager.
At the same time, Montalbano’s dealings with his superiors cause him to construct elaborate stories about his non-existent wife and children, one of whom sadly dies, car accidents and bodily injuries. At such times, Camilleri’s humour is exhilarating although the well meaning and sympathetic Dr Lattes, in particular, is treated rather badly. The book is very much about the Inspector and his familiar strengths and weaknesses, not least his increasing tendency to over-eat. Fazio and, especially, Mimì are rather peripheral, and the author gives a nod toward Georges Simenon.
The plot is rather rudimentary and a great deal happens rather quickly towards the, rather tragic, ending, including the anticipated reappearance of the traffic jam victim. En route the reader is entertained by Catarella’s verbal delivery and amazed by his ability to get the name of caller correct, confused by Laura’s erratic behavior, enjoys Montalbano’s sparring with the pathologist, Dr Pasquano, and salivates at meals eaten at home and at Enzo’s [but certainly not at the Pesce d’Oro, ‘Stinking and expensive to boot! The cook must have been a terminal drug addict or a criminal sadist. . . . The guy didn't get a single thing right, not even by accident.’]
The recent clutch of Camilleri’s books has tended to play down the plotting in favour of subtle additions and reinforcements of Montalbano’s ageing character. Whilst this will no doubt delight almost all established readers, who can add more from their own personal impressions, it may create a rather bland impression in those coming newly to Sicily, Vigàta and the police investigators. However, there is a chilling scene when the Inspector is sent a ‘a funeral cushion of white flowers in the middle of his desk, the kind that lays on coffins.’, the classic Mafia warning.
As well as translating to his normal very high standards, Sartarelli also adds his usual informative notes at the end of the story.