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ROUNDING THE MARK
on 6 August 2007
Inspector Montalbano is mightily cheesed off. His dislike of the current government has been heightened by the revelation that they ordered that evidence be fabricated against a group of political protesters in order to justify their detention. The fact that the high-ups in the police went along with it is the last straw. Montalbano has decided he's going to quit the police.
However, while having a swim in the sea to mull things over and relax a little, Montalbano accidentally bumps into another body. After apologising and receiving no reply, he discovers much to his horror that the body is a corpse. The death of the unidentified man is later put down to accidental drowning.
To cap off his week, he is called out when yet another boatload of illegal immigrants lands on Sicily's shores. While reluctantly assisting in the rounding up of the newly arrived immigrants, Montalbano notices that a little African boy has broken away from his family and has run off. He gives chase and finds the boy cowering, terrified behind some barrels. He takes the boy by the hand and leads him back to his mother. But later on, after reflection something about the boy's demeanour and his apparent terror seems to be out of proportion to the situation.
When the boy's body is found a few days later, the victim of what seems to be a hit and run accident, Montalbano feels guilty that perhaps his actions in returning the boy have somehow contributed to his death. The fact that the boy has been found in the same isolated area as the drowned man strikes Montalbano as being more than an unhappy coincidence and he takes it upon himself to investigate.
ROUNDING THE MARK is Andrea Camilleri's seventh Inspector Montalbano novel and not for nothing is he currently Italy's most successful author. The fact that Camilleri was in his seventies before creating the irascible inspector is even more remarkable.
ROUNDING THE MARK is my first encounter with Inspector Montalbano and associates. I loved the sly, slightly macabre humour injected into the story. (The description of the inspector swimming into the body and how he goes about towing it to the shore had me giggling to myself).
By no stretch of the imagination could you call Salvo Montalbano a loveable character, but his grouchiness and his quirks do have an endearing quality to them. You can't help but like him. His work colleagues too have their own individual personalities. Fazio, who is almost as grumpy and outspoken as Montalbano, the loyal Mimi Augello and of course where would they be without Catarella? Catarella is incapable of opening a door without slamming it into a wall. He can never remember names and he always gets phone messages wrong. And finally there is the unseen Toretta who always seems to have what's needed: from a spare pair of spectacles to rubber hip-high wading boots. (In fact the Inspector remains to be convinced that Toretta hasn't set up an emporium in his office).
The success of a book written in a language other than English often hinges on the work of the translater. ROUNDING THE MARK has been translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli. One of the most challenging tasks for translaters must be how to convey to the reader a sense of a character by his accent or dialect. Sartarelli has managed this deftly by giving the character of Catarella an almost Brooklyn accent and has also avoided any hint of pomposity or long-windedness which often sneaks into translated books.
The end result is a nicely complex tale populated with three dimensional characters, each with their own individual personality traits. Andrea Camilleri is another author I shall definitely be reading again.