originally published as La danza del gabbiano, 2009
translated by Stephen Sartarelli
And we're back in Sicily again with The Dance of the Seagull, #15 in Andrea Camilleri's excellent series of novels featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano. Having faithfully followed the series in order over the years, I've come to realize that picking up the newest, latest installment is like checking in on an old friend. Unlike most crime fiction novels I read, in this series of books, plot has come to take a back seat to character, a big exception in my case. Now at age 57, Montalbano's self-doubt resurfaces, to be followed by a chaser of melancholy. Luckily, at least in the short run, it's nothing that can't be handled by a plate of Adelina's marvelous caponata.
One of Livia's increasingly rare visits is interrupted when Montalbano is made aware that Fazio is missing, apparently going out alone on an investigation the Inspector knew nothing about. On a tip, he searches in an area filled with dry wells (where once the land was green and arable until a cancelled highway project made a desert of it once more), and while there's no sign of the missing policeman, two bodies are found. After Fazio reappears and is hospitalized, Montalbano has his hands full protecting his friend, trying to figure out the identities of the bodies, and acting on information given to him by Fazio, trying to get some answers.
As always, even in the middle of serious crime solving, there are some very funny moments in this book. For example, in trying to evade having to report to the Commissioner, Montalbano comes up with a whale of an excuse (a fake procedure that made me wince while reading about it) and then has to hole up in a room at Enzo's because the Commissioner is eating in the next; Camilleri gives us a little meta moment as Montalbano tries to talk Livia into a different mini-vacation destination so as to avoid running into Luca Zingaretti who plays him on TV, and recurring scenes with a nurse whom Montalbano refers to as "the Sing-Sing prison guard." But the series has been trending lately to focus much more on the Inspector himself and his doubts about his career -- and that path continues in this novel as well, sparked by the death of a seagull and Montalbano's growing awareness that he's become tired of all of the violence. If you read these novels only for plot, you're missing out on one of the best-developed group of characters ever created by a crime-fiction novelist, and offering Montalbano an ongoing chance to voice his worries and anxieties makes him more genuine. Unlike many crime novelists, Camilleri doesn't cripple his character by having him express himself in this way, leaving plenty of room for the humor that is so prevalent in this series. And unlike a few other crime novelists, the author is also able to give his readers his opinions on ongoing problems in his country without being preachy or in your face about it.
While it may not have been my favorite book of the series so far, it's still a winner. Do not let this be your first experience with Montalbano and the other members of his squad. Even if you could care less about the ongoing changes in Montalbano, these are books you want to be in on at their start.
crime fiction from Italy