The colors on the covers of the books by Andrea Camilleri are in primary colors, bright and cheerful. It doesn’t seem appropriate for a murder mystery but Salvo Montalbano and his fellow residents of Vigata are equally colorful. Sicily isn’t like the mainland and Salvo is Sicilian to the core.
The front cover of the book reads, ‘THE SHAPE OF WATER – The First Inspector Montalbano Mystery – a novel of food, wine, and homicide in small town Sicily.” It is all that and more.
The story opens with the discovery of a body in an area known as the Pasture. It has long since stopped being used for animals. Now the Pasture, at night, is the destination of couples who are in relationships that can’t see the light of day. Assignations after dark are routine for the poor, the rich, the famous, and the infamous of Vigata. The body in this case is that of Silvio Luparello who is rich, famous, and perhaps a little bit infamous. Luparello was the man in the background, the man who always walked one step behind the powerful, until, suddenly, everyone realized that he was the most powerful man in the majority political party and, therefore, in their little corner of the world.
Salvo Montalbano knows immediately that he needs to keep journalists away from the Pasture; it would cost him his job if the media carried pictures of the the state in which Luparello was found. The woman who was with him when he breathed his last had gotten out of the Pasture far quicker than anyone could imagine so there are no eyewitnesses.
Luparello’s body is found by two well-educated men, Pino and Saro, who were grossly underemployed. Instead of working as land surveyors, they were “ecological agents”, garbage collectors, whose responsibility it is to clean up the condoms, the coke cans and the beer cans every morning. It is they who find the body and it is Saro who finds something else. On the ground is a necklace, a gold chain with a diamond studded heart; ugly and ostentatious as it is, Saro sees it as a miracle he can hide in his pocket. His infant son is very sick although no one knows of what. All Saro and his wife know is that they have to get their son to a doctor in Belgium. That ugly necklace is going to keep their baby alive if they can keep everyone from knowing that Saro has it.
Montalbano has a high profile death to explain, a girlfriend who visits from Genoa and who is less than pleased when Salvo is easily distracted by crime and other annoying Sicilian oddities, and two other women who are complicating his life because one of them is being framed for a crime. Salvo has a housekeeper who keeps him very well fed despite the fact that he has sent her sons to prison and he is a frequent guest of a couple who invite him to dinner when the wife wants to try out a new recipe. Readers are treated to exact descriptions of the wonderful food Salvo enjoys.
What readers do not get are exact descriptions of violence and the injuries that are inflicted upon some of the people of Vigata. Andrea Camilleri has written fifteen Montalbano mysteries, twelve of which have been translated into English. They all provide moments that are laugh-out-loud funny.