Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Shape of Water, by Andrea Camilleri

Penguin Books, 2005
Originally published as La Forma Dell'acqua, 1994
218 pp.
translated by Stephen Sartarelli

Just past the midway point of this novel, the mother of the victim, local "big-shot" Silvio Lupanello, implores Inspector Salvo Montalbano to uncover what really happened to her son. Lupanello was found dead, pants down around his ankles, in a car in a local area of Vigàta (Sicily) used by prostitutes and drug dealers.  Although the coroner has judged that Silvio died of natural causes, his mother knows that something more sinister lies at the bottom of Silvio's death, even if he truly died of a heart attack. She tells him a story about when she was a little girl, and her friend once put water into things like bowls, teapots, cups, and a square milk carton, trying to establish its shape.  When asked "what shape is water," she replied
Water doesn't have any shape!...It takes the shape you give it.
She asks Montalbano to discover what really was behind Silvio's death -- the alternative, as she noted was to "stop at the shape they've given the water." Because of where her son had been found and because he'd been caught with his pants down, so to speak, Lupanello and his family name had been disgraced and his cronies were assured of never being part of local politics again.   But the inspector had already guessed there was more to the story, and despite pressures from higher-ups, he had prolonged the investigation, refusing to close the case.

Montalbano is an interesting character. He declares himself to be an honest man, but also understands that there's a certain way things work politically in Sicily and he rolls with it. He's funny and cynical, able to mix compassion for others with his duty as a cop. He's involved in a relationship that takes place mostly over the phone, yet doesn't stray with local women. He has a love of good food, which is described throughout the novel.  He also has an incredible sardonic wit and is not afraid to speak his mind. As a character, he definitely stands out in the world of fictional detectives, and he, rather than the crime he is working on, is the focal point of this novel.

Camilleri evokes a strong sense of place here, there are rarely any distractions which get in the way of either the main plot or the characters, and there's a sarcastic sense of humor that floats in the background of this book. He makes his people real and believable, which guarantees that I'll be back for the next book in the series.  Very highly recommended.

fiction from Italy

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