Ever keen to try work from authors outside of the UK and USA, I have been meaning to try Camilleri’s work for a while now and this particular title was recommended to me. The story is set in Sicily and Inspector Montalbano is on sick leave after being shot in the shoulder by a criminal he was trying to apprehend. Yet despite Montalbano still being physically and psychologically affected by his injury, waking up each night at the exact time the original incident occurred, he is called in, in an advisory capacity, to help on a kidnapping case. Susanna Mistretta has seemingly been kidnapped on her way home from studying with a friend. Yet even from the beginning something doesn’t feel right with this case for Montalbano. Susanna lived at her home with her parents, her mother dying from a mysterious incurable disease. Her father, Salvatore is understandably worried sick, especially since he knows he does not have much money and cannot possibly pay any ransom demands. An added dimension to this kidnapping case is that the kidnappers are keen to involve the social media and use them to further their own aims. It takes a cliché (Montalbano’s own term for it), a spider’s web, to help him unravel the case completely.
I didn’t really warm to Montalbano a lot, the flawed hero form of detective doesn’t always work for me. Although his often humanitarian response to those involved in the case made him more appealing as a character. I think my lack of affinity with him stems from the fact we see Montalbano in his private life before we see him in his professional sphere and it is in his private life that he doesn’t come across so well. From very early on the reader gets a close up view of his relationship with Livia (sometimes a little too close up too soon in my opinion). In this relationship we see him lying and trying to dodge arguments, as well as manipulating Livia’s feelings by putting on a show of emotion: ‘He’d put on a good performance. The audience was moved.’ Though I think the end of the book shows that he and Livia are probably well matched though.
I think I was expecting a greater sense of place in the book, though this aspect does pick up as the book progresses and it was enjoyable to read about a different way of life. There is also an undercurrent in the book of highlighting the differences between northern and southern Italy and rural and urban Italy. Kidnapping is a more unusual choice of crime to have as the focus, as most crime novels tend to focus on murders. The investigation of this crime is prevented from being too slow and it is made interesting by the deductions Montalbano is able to make at different points based on the clues. Due to Montalbano being more of an individualist than a team player and ever keen to speak his mind there are also moments of subtle comedy which again helped to make him a more engaging character. The main issue I probably had with this book was the simplicity of the case as I was able to solve the crime quite easily, with my initially hunches being confirmed 2/3s of the way through the book. The way information is revealed in the story contributes to this issue, as does the small cast of characters. On the whole the prose style was strong and I think Montalbano is perhaps a character you need to get to know/ used to over several books rather than in one mystery, though the ending of the book is quite telling of his character.