The Fourth Secret by Andrea Camilleri

fourth secretThe Fourth Secret by Andrea Camilleri

Translated by Gianluca Rizzo and Dominic Siracusa

Open Door Media, November 2014

Originally published as La paura di Montalbano, 2002

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

I’m a sucker for novellas or short stories featuring characters I really like, and this is an important installment in the Inspector Montalbano series for spoiler-filled reasons that I won’t mention. Montalbano unofficially investigates a series of industrial accidents that may not have been accidents after he receives a belated tip-off. He is driven by guilt because he was unable to prevent the death of one construction worker, and he’s also driven to investigate the accidents because he would like to outdo the carabinieri, the military police, who are also pursuing the accidents.

Wikipedia led me to find out that this story was one featured in a collection titled La paura di Montalbano, and I’m not sure why this translated edition is just one story instead of six. Reading just a one-off makes it a bit difficult to say much more about the story or the context, but I enjoyed the story.



The Deliverance of Evil by Roberto Costantini

DELIVERANCE-Hi-Res-Cover-400x600The Deliverance of Evil by Roberto Costantini, translated by N.S. Thompson
Quercus, February 2014
Originally published as Tu Sei Il Male, 2011
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

The Deliverance of Evil is shaggy book: it comes in over 600 pages, deals with multiple murders over a twenty four year period, and touches on government, police, and religious corruption in Rome. It’s an interesting backdrop, but the actual mystery didn’t grab me. The main character Michele Balestreri, is a Libyan-born Italian who was a Fascist in his youth, then infiltrated Fascist groups as part of the secret police before becoming a police officer in a quiet neighborhood in Rome. The book begins in 1982 as he’s part of a shoddy investigation into the murder of a young woman who worked for a Cardinal. He is a thoroughly unlikeable, misogynistic character in the first hundred or so pages of the book. He cleans up his act considerably as he ages, but this book fundamentally has a woman problem: they’re either objects of lust or murder, and not much else. It’s maddening.

There was so much potential in this book, but it felt like it slowed down and meandered too much. I understand part of that is because the investigation starting in 1982 was a mess, but part of it too was Costantini’s focus on personal stories at various points in the book that took away from the focus of this book’s plot. It may very well be a setup for the other books in the trilogy, though. Book two focuses on Michele’s past in Libya, which is only briefly alluded to in the first volume. I’ll be passing on it.

For more positive reviews, see EuroCrime and Thinking about books. Dave’s review expecially made me realize that I’m not a fan of antiheroes in books though I don’t mind them on television shows. I prefer to sympathize with a character, any character, in a book, and I didn’t find that in this book because the main character was so unpleasant.

Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

those who walk awayThose Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

Originally published 1967, this edition Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994

Note: There are spoilers in this review.

My 2014 reading resolutions involve tackling more books written before 2000 and books that have been sitting on my shelves for awhile, so I decided to make a dent in my stack of Patricia Highsmith novels. This is my first Highsmith novel, but I’ve seen the movie version of The Talented Mr. Ripley from the 1990’s.

So Those Who Walk Away begins with Ray, a young widower, being shot by his former father in law, Coleman, in Venice just three weeks after Ray’s wife and Coleman’s only child Peggy killed herself in Mallorca, where the young couple was living for the year after they married. Ray is merely grazed, but the rest of the novel involves Ray and Coleman’s violent encounters and hiding from each other around Venice. Ray doesn’t report the murder attempt and later hides from Coleman, which is not a response I expected from him.

The book spends most of its time in Ray’s head, but Coleman gets several chapters as well. Even though we spend the novels in their heads, I don’t really feel like I got to know them, though. Coleman and Peggy are artists, and Ray is an aspiring gallery owner who is schmoozing painters in Europe during his extended honeymoon. It’s a novel that takes place among a small circle of rich ex-pats with artistic leanings and a handful of Italian people they take in their confidences, and Highsmith is playing with the idea of what you do when you suspect someone of murder. In this case, most people do nothing. It’s a grim worldview.

It’s a strange book because I was expecting more action after the attempted murder of Ray on page 2, but I assume Highsmith is trying to be realistic: lots of people go unpunished by the criminal justice system, lots of people feel guilty about suicides of their spouses and family members, and some relationships are irreparably broken over such a tragedy. That being said, I finished the book feeling quite uneasy about the characters: I’m still pretty suspicious of Ray by the end. All in all, this book was disturbing, but it wasn’t as disturbing as I was expecting from Highsmith.

I bought my copy of the book.

Montalbano’s First Case by Andrea Camilleri

montalbano's first case

Montalbano’s First Case by Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Gianluca Rizzo and Dominic Siracusa
Mondadori/Open Road Integrated Media, October 2013
Originally published as La prima indagine di Montalbano, 2004
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

It feels strange to call a crime novel delightful given the subject matter, but Camilleri manages to balance out the violence of the crime Montalbano investigates with the humor and bits of life that make him human. I’ve only read the first novel in the series, but I’m already a fan of this series. In this novella, Montalbano is 35, apprenticed in the mountains and eager for a placement by the sea. Once he moves to Vigata, he investigates a thwarted shooting of a public official instead of an actual murder, and Montalbano displays plenty of skill in dealing with corrupt government officials as he pursues the case.

My English edition only contains one story unlike the three billed in the Italian edition. It appears that the other two stories in the Italian collection take place in Mascalippe, in the mountains of Sicily, before Montalbano is promoted to Inspector and moves to Vigata, on the Mediterranean. The novella feels like a Camilleri novel in miniature, which is a compliment, and it was nice to meet some of the characters when they are a great deal younger. Not all of the regulars appear in this story.

Beastly Things by Donna Leon

Beastly Things is the latest novel in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series by Donna Leon, and it’s the first book I’ve read in the series.  So this review is my take, with fresh eyes.  Brunetti is a detective in Venice, and he’s a Venice native.  It’s a police procedural that spends plenty of time with Brunetti’s family as well as with his police colleagues and the people he interviews while investigating the crime.

Brunetti is a well-read family man.  It’s refreshing to read about a non-screwed-up detective without, as far as I can tell, a dark past.  Brunetti is a bit tortured by his interest in his colleague Signora Elettra, the police’s resident hacker, and he’s tortured a bit by bureaucracy in the police force and government corruption, but he doesn’t seem totally overwhelmed. He seems to succeed at compartmentalizing his family life from his work life, but his work does wear on him heavily.

The actual murder investigation starts with the discovery of an unidentified body in a canal in Venice, and it takes Brunetti to the mainland as well.  The title of the book relates to the concurrent story about factory farming and government inspection of meat.  Vegetarianism is a big topic for at least one of his work colleagues as well as his daughter.  Also, there’s a parallel between the murder investigation and Brunetti’s wife’s work at a university, but Leon doesn’t belabor it.

What I appreciated most about the book is that the book began and ended with the murder victim: the story began with his body on the autopsy table and ended with his funeral, which is a nice touch.  It humanizes the story.  I think overall the series sounds quite humane.

Beastly Things by Donna Leon

Atlantic Monthly Press

Publication date: April 17, 2012

Source:  Publisher via NetGalley

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

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

Source:  library

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.

ME AND YOU by Niccolo Ammaniti

          Me and You by Niccolo Ammaniti is a short novel about fourteen-year-old Leonardo and his much older half-sister Olivia.  The story takes place in the basement storage area of his parent’s home, his hideout while his parents think he’s skiing with school friends for the week. Olivia appears half way through the story, and this story captures their strange relationship.  It’s a short novel written in a spare style from the perspective of a loner fourteen-year-old boy, so it’s a good story for people like me who like teen angst.  I can’t say much more about the book because it’s such a short piece with such a small set of characters in such a narrow, circumscribed space.
          I chose this book in my quest to try out new authors from other countries.  I’ve read that Ammaniti’s previous works described as creepy (I’m Not Scared), and he’s written the crime novel As God Commands, which seemed like indications that this book would fit right with my fictional interests.  While this book is definitely creep y(Leonardo is a bit of an anti-social oddball at fourteen, but so are lots of fourteen-year-olds), it’s not overly so. It was an enjoyable, well-written story, though.  I’m interested in reading his longer works.
ME & YOU  byNiccolo Ammaniti
Black Cat
Publication date: February 1, 2012

Source:  Publisher via NetGalley