The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Viking Penguin, 2002
Originally published as La forma dell’acqua by Sellerio editore, 1994
Book 1 in the Inspector Montalbano series
So I picked up the first Inspector Montalbano book after hearing so many good things about the television version of his books (it hasn’t aired in the U.S. yet). I wasn’t sure what to expect except a focus on corrupt government officials, and the book definitely covered that. The cover didn’t really give me an accurate feel for the novel. It’s billed as “a novel about wine, food and homicide in a small town in Sicily.” There’s a bit of wine and food in this novel, but not lots. It doesn’t really feel like a travel-to-Sicily type of novel to me, but that’s not to put down the setting of the novel.
It’s a police procedural in a small town in Sicily, a town where crime gangs are feuding and killing each other, a town where the army appears to restore law and order, and a town with plenty of political intrigue. The mystery revolves around the death of the death of a political operative named Luparello, who is found dead in his car in the Pasture, an area of town known for prostitution. Montalbano works on the case for a limited period of time though the coroner rules the death of natural causes. His investigation leads him in several scandalous directions.
The mystery revolving around a political sex scandal was not the most interesting aspect of the book for me. The character of Montalbano was more interesting. His friend the police commissioner calls him, “a friend whom I know to possess an intelligence, an acumen, and, most important, a courtesy in human relations quite rare nowadays.” He does seem pretty respectful of everyone he interviews during the course of the investigation. The ending does point out, however, that he may not be the perfect inspector, which is an interesting take that I’m sure fuels subsequent novels in this series. I think he’s more into justice than the letter of the law.
Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland
Soho Press, 2008
Orignally published as Diamond Dove in Australia, 2006
Book 1 in the Emily Tempest series
Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel
Source: library copy
Moonlight Downs takes place in the Northern Territory of Australia in both the camp of Moonlight Downs and the town of Bluebush. Emily Tempest is a half-Aborigine, half-white woman who grew up on Moonlight Downs after her mother died when Emily was five years old. She lived there with her father Jack until she was a teenager. The book finds Emily returning to Moonlight Downs at age 26 after trying a handful of college degree programs and lots of different jobs.
Emily is a flinty, tough character who investigates the murder of her surrogate father and tribal leader Lincoln Flinders. The investigation takes up much of the second half of the book, with the first half of the book more of an introduction to the area, the land, the characters, and their backgrounds. It’s interesting stuff: anthropology, geology (Emily’s dad is a miner, so she grew up identifying rocks, minerals, and crystals), and sociology. Black-white relations are pretty horrid, and life in the bush as well as in the rough-and-tumble settlement of Bluebush isn’t pretty.
I enjoyed the first half of the book, which is Emily’s return Moonlight Downs and her mob, or tribe. The actual resolution of the crime was not my favorite part of the book, in part because the conclusion is quite violent, which was a bit jarring. I hope that the next book in the series spends more time on the crime and less time setting up the setting and characters.
Another review appears in International Noir.
I read this book as part of the Global Reading Challenge 2012.
The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura
Translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates
Originally published in Japanese as Suri
Publication date: March 20, 2012
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
The Thief is a brief tale told by an unnamed thief, who primarily is a pickpocket in the crowded subways and streets of Tokyo but who also has done work for various gangs. The story begins in mid-crime, and Nakamura gets into the thoughts and sensations of this unnamed man who, he admits, does not have a place insociety. He currently works alone, but in the past he had a partner who he fears is dead. During the course of our following the thief, he becomes a mentor to a young boy who is not such a successful shoplifter. He comes to care for him, especially as he fears his days are numbered after he’s enlisted by a criminal gang that threatens to kill him if he doesn’t complete his assigned tasks.
This is book is a crime confessional. It’s a story that humanizes the man whose entire livelihood depends on being unnoticeable and unnoticed. This is also a story about fear of the yakuza. I really get a feel for the insanely crowded subways in Tokyo in this story. The fact that the main female characters are a prostitute and the thief’s unstable ex-mistress is a bit grating since the characters are pretty clichéd. In any case, it’s a quick read into the mind of a pickpocket.