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Andrea Camilleri

Penguin $5.99pbko

Reviewed by Ayo Onatade

Italian author Andrea Camilleri is well-known in his native country for a series of mysteries featuring a listless and at times dejected but rather urban Sicilian Inspector of Police Salvo Montalbano. The Shape of Water is the first of his adventures that have been translated into English.
A local politician has been found by two garbage collectors locked in his BMW in the rather incongruous position. Not only was he found in the local neighbourhood colloquially known as "the Pasture" which is normally frequented by prostitutes and drug dealers but he was also found with his pants down. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the coroner rules that he died of natural causes. However, Montalbano refuses to let the matter die and continues to dig. It is only when there is another murder that matters begin to fall into place.
In The Terra-Cotta Dog Montalbano finds himself accepting an invitation from his former school mate (now a small-time drugs dealer and brothel owner) Gege Gulotta to a meeting with Mafiosi Gaetano "Tano The Greek" Bennici. Surprisingly, Bennici wants Montalbano to arrest him so that he can undergo an operation in hospital without losing face amongst his peers. However, his enemies still manage to find a way of killing him. A supposedly bungled raid on a supermarket also comes to the attention of Montalbano and soon the two cases are intertwined.
In both cases Montalbano finds himself encountering a number of weird and tragic characters from an elderly schoolteacher who appears to be driven round the bend by his eighty year old wife's cheating in The Shape of Water to his demanding mistress Livia in The Terra-Cotta Dog as well as having to fend of the attentions of his attractive deputy, who uses every opportunity possible to try and seduce him. Montalbano's pokerfaced drollery and piercing comments, coupled with the sly comedy at the expense of his fellow policemen make this an extremely refreshing series.
Subtle and sardonic, Montalbano is a detective who is not above bending the law to suit the situation, but what he would like more than anything else is to finish the Barcelona detective novel.
While this series for some may not be seen as your typical crime novel, they are certainly engrossing. Camilleri has managed to infuse in both novels an extreme sense of place. The sights, sounds and people of contemporary Sicily are brought to the attention of the reader in a number of different ways, which enhance the story, no end. An elegant translation, which is well worth reading.