Tuesday, July 20, 2010

August Heat, by Andrea Camilleri

Penguin, 2009
Original Italian title: La vampa del agosto, 2006
translated by Stephen Sartarelli
278 pp.

I had not intended to skip from Camilleri's Shape of Water  (#1 in the Montalbano series) all the way to this one (#10), but the fact that August Heat is one of the  CWA International Dagger finalists inspired me to leave 2-9 for later. As it turns out, I didn't need to have read books 2-9 to be able to enjoy this one.

Without going too much into plot so as not to wreck the book, this particular summer is extremely hot in Sicily, and Inspector Salvo Montalbano is having a great deal of difficulty dealing with the heat.  At the request of his girlfriend Livia, Montalbano has rented a seaside home for her friends Laura, Guido & their 3 year-old son. After they move in for the season, strange things begin to happen, culminating in the disappearance of the little boy.  The search for the boy (whom he finds)  also yields the discovery of the dead body of a teenage girl in an old trunk. Since the family and Livia are finally in a great mood again, ready to start their vacation in earnest, he hides the discovery of the body until the next day. When he finally breaks it to them, they take off, and Livia goes with them, extremely angry at Salvo, refusing to talk to him whenever he phones.  Be that as it may, Montalbano still has to figure out who the girl is and who killed her -- and his investigation ends up not only being about this dead girl, but also spreads out  to include the death of a construction worker, while at the same time eventually sending the inspector down a very treacherous path that he should definitely be avoiding.

Although there are plenty of opportunities for laughs in this novel, the story gradually shifts to something much more serious. At first the mood is lighthearted -- the family's troubles with the house, the banter between Salvo and his fellow policemen, the accepted local politics and patronization,  the beauty of the seaside and of course, the delightful food scattered throughout. And Camilleri even finds a minute to make a sideways comment to readers who
 did not deign to read mystery novels, because in their opinion, they were only entertaining puzzles
while Montalbano is reading a book by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who, he notes, fill their pages with attacks on social democracy and government (113).

But the easygoing mood that Camilleri sets up at the start eventually fades into a more somber tone as the heat, Livia's absence and the frustrations brought out by the case all begin to take their toll on Montalbano. 

August Heat is very well written, with a much fuller style than is present in Shape of Water, which tells me that I have something great to look forward to in books 2-9.  The setting is excellent -- so well done that you can almost feel the heat coming through the pages and the feeling of relief each time Salvo dives into the sea to cool off.  While the plot is a good one, my only niggling issue with this novel is that once events started rolling toward the end, they picked up speed at an incredibly fast pace, leaving me scratching my head as to why the author was in such a rush to finish so quickly. But -- it's definitely worth your time to sit down and read this book.

fiction from Italy

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