Andrea Camilleri: The Shape of Water

To say that a book that contains the kind of material this one does is “delicate” may be a stretch—but it somehow fits. Using a template that might be familiar to the legions of readers of Georges Simenon’s beloved Maigret stories, Camilleri sets his “honest man” smack in the middle of Sicily. Unfortunately, of course, for honesty. Sicily, according to this novel, may be one of the more corrupt places on the planet, with national and local police forces co-existing but not really working together, and of course the whole is complicated by the mafia.

Inspector Montalbano, Camilleri’s main character, is as likeable, smart and funny as his predecessor Maigret. (Unfortunately there is no Madame Montalbano, but Montalbano has a useful cleaning lady who cooks for him, despite the fact that he put her son in prison). The opening scene is somewhat confusing, as it’s so absolutely different from the way things work here, but when a murder is added to the mix the reader enters more familiar territory.

The body of an important politician, one Lupanello, is found dead in his car in the “pasture”, local gathering spot for prostitutes and their clients. Several witnesses reported seeing him having sex with someone, and indeed he’s found with his pants around his ankles, dead of apparently natural causes. Something about it bothers Montalbano, though, and he refuses to close the case despite pressure from all sides except, surprisingly, from the dead man’s wife.

Towards the end of the novel Montalbano has dinner at a friend’s house and after dinner they discuss, among other things, a novel titled Candido. In this novel, as his friend reminds him, sometimes things really are simple. Montalbano reminds his friend that Candido actually says things are “almost always” simple. As this book is the story of a seemingly simple crime, the resolution is a complicated one, yet Camilleri never makes it look difficult. He makes it look simple.

Along the way, as Montalbano goes about the business of solving the case, his various actions proving him to be by turns funny, honest, compassionate, and not afraid to bend the truth for the right reason. His girlfriend’s opinion of his bending the truth isn’t so complimentary, but in reading the story, Montalbano’s behavior makes perfect sense and seems like the right path. The simple bending of the truth, however, proves in the end to also be complicated. Montalbano is a wonderful character, as is this delightful, unforgettable book, written with delicacy and conciseness.