Those who have watched the brilliant Rai Italia TV series Inspector Montalbano will be familiar with the Sicilian police inspector (commissar) created by Andrea Camilleri.
The prolific Italian writer has penned 22 novels, each more engaging than the one before, centred on the cases this endearing yet slightly quirky detective solves.
Sensitively translated by Stephen Sartarelli, the story starts with how it’s been raining for days in Vigata and persistent downpours have led to violent floods overtaking the inspector’s picturesque seaside hometown.
The rains sweep across the land and leave only a murky sea of mud behind. It is on one of these endless grey days that Giuglu Nicotra is found dead, his body discovered in a large sewage tunnel, half-naked and with a bullet in his back.
The investigation is slow to start with, but when Montalbano realises that every clue he uncovers and every person he interviews is leading to the same place – the world of public spending, and with it, the Mafia – the case begins to pick up pace.
Camilleri’s description, “The mud of corruption, of pay-offs, of phoney reimbursements, of tax evasion, scams, faked balance sheets, slush funds, tax havens,” makes one feel right at home…
In Montalbano’s case there’s one question playing on his mind: in his strange and untimely death: was Giuglu Nicotra trying to tell him something?
In Camilleri’s distinctive style, the southern Sicilian town of Vigata (a thinly veiled disguise for the author’s childhood home of Porto Empedocle) and the countryside are evocatively rendered – the beautiful old buildings, the rugged landscape, the aquamarine sea and the suberb Sicilian food and wines, of which Montalbano is a firm adherent