30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A Man of Respect Cleans Up Messes in Sicily,
This review is from: The Shape of Water (Hardcover)The Shape of Water is a fine European-style mystery (lots of action with the little grey cells and little physical action) that will appeal to most readers who enjoy police procedurals. The main attraction in the book is the detective, Inspector Salvo Montalbano, who strives to do the right thing for the right reason. That can be a challenge in the midst of the corruption that seems to surround him in Vigata on Sicily. Like many fictional detectives, he's fixated on his work . . . even to the point of having a long-distance relationship with his girl friend so he can keep working all the time. There is a lot of subtle humor in the book as he organizes his day to avoid having his zealous and sometimes incompetent colleagues make messes while ensuring that he has fine meals whenever possible. The story itself depends on witty juxtapositions that create irony of the sort that one often hears used in stories told by people in Italy. Be sure to refer to the notes in the back to understand many of the references. The book's main drawback is that the sentence structure is often extremely long and convoluted. The last sentence on the first page has 96 words in it, for example. Mr. Camilleri will never be confused with Mr. Hemingway.
I have also read The Terra-Cotta Dog and The Snack Thief by Mr. Camilleri and found them to be remarkably fine novels. I encourage you to read this book with the understanding that good things await you. I suggest that you begin your introduction to Mr. Camilleri with The Shape of Water because the other two stories build on the character and plot developments in this one.
When the Shape of Water was first translated into English, I read several reviews of the book in national publications and found what I read about the book in them to be unappealing. Having read the book, I now find that those reviews and some of the jacket blurbs are at odds with my reading of the book. Let me see if I can clarify what this book is all about for you.
First, Mantalbano is simply a man who wants justice done. He is not a vigilante, but he will bend any rule or say anything necessary to achieve his ends. He's a practical cynic who understands how the misguided self-interest of others will pervert justice if he does not watch out. Yet, at bottom, he has sympathy for others and wants to be helpful to them. As he goes about it, he has a charm that reminds me of Hercule Poirot. While Poirot was fussy about everything, Mantalbano is mainly fussy about food.
Second, the humor here is laid on with a trowel through large contrasts. For instance, the man who supervises the local sex workers is his school friend. Montalbano finds himself both working with and against his friend in ways that will amuse you. Two well-educated surveyors cannot find work and must become garbage collectors. They get their jobs by doing political favors. Mantalbano ends up helping them more than their own machinations with politicians provided. However, it's not Stephanie Plum humor. It's more like Dante's humor, as he assigned his enemies to various rings in the Inferno. Seldom will you laugh aloud, but you will be smiling at and enjoying his jabs as they occur.
Third, although there's a lot of corruption going on, it's not so extreme that you enter a world that you cannot recognize. The exaggeration is there, but mainly to make the point . . . not to paint a dark shadow over the book. That said, some of the worst hidden corruption is pretty disgusting. But good works will out, and your faith will be reaffirmed in the potential to right wrongs.
As I finished this story, I was reminded that keeping one's sense of humor during difficult times is a very good idea.