originally published as Una lama di luce, 2010
translated by Stephen Sarterelli
One thing I really enjoy about this entire series is that the tone of each story, as well as brief hints to what's coming, are both established right at the outset. Many years and many books ago, Camilleri began to start these novels with Montalbano in a sound sleep and deep in a dream before being rudely awakened by someone at the office who's looking for him. After the first couple of times I was like "well, that's definitely gimmicky," but as time's gone by, the author has really refined how that entire sequence relates to the rest of story. He has actually outdone himself with that technique in this installment (number 19) -- I won't say why, but he nails it this time. He's also nailed the story -- A Beam of Light is, like its predecessor, trading much of the quirkiness of many of the earlier books for a more serious story here, one that gets downright sad. I'll go on record as saying that it offers readers a glimpse of Montalbano at his most mature self as compared to his character in the preceding novels.
At the opening of a new art gallery Montalbano meets and finds himself instantly attracted to the gallery's owner, Marian. The two hit it off right away, but Marian is soon tasked by a buyer with finding some works of art that will take her out of town. Luckily, there are a couple of different cases to fill his time until she gets back. First, a young woman is robbed of a large sum of money at gunpoint late at night by someone laying in wait, after which she is subjected to a kiss by the bandit. The story doesn't quite ring true to the inspector, so the team goes to work to try to ferret out the truth. While that's going on, Salvo is also occupied with looking for a pair of Tunisians who just may or may not be involved in the arms trade and who have gone missing shortly after he'd come to talk to them. Then there's the case of the body left burning in a car, where the evidence points to possible Mafia involvement. While he's kept very busy running here and there between investigations, Salvo spends most of his time coming to terms with his feelings about both Marian and Livia.
While there are some truly funny moments here, mostly centering around Mimi Augello and his undercover work as an attorney, A Beam of Light is more about Montalbano reaching a sort of crossroads in his life and having to make some important decisions about the future. While the crimes are intriguing, most especially the case of the kissing bandit, it's the inspector's personal life that takes center stage in this one. People who've been with the series since its beginning will definitely appreciate this particular story more than someone who hasn't, although sadly, I can't say why. I don't mind saying that the ending made me a bit teary-eyed, but to find out why, well, I suppose you'll just have to read the novel.
Regular fans will NOT want to miss this newest book, and as I always say, do not let this latest installment be your introduction to this excellent series, most especially because of what happens here. I also have to say that I don't often get so attached to fictional characters, but after reading these books for so long now it's really impossible not to with this odd group of quirky people, and I'm particularly fond of Montalbano himself. He's like an old friend that I hear from now and then as we both get older. Granted it's a one-way conversation, but I love hearing from him.
crime fiction from Italy