Veteran Italian crime writer Andrea Camilleri won the 2012 CWA International Dagger with his 13th book to be translated in English by Stephen Sartarelli, The Potter’s Field. His 14th book The Age of Doubt is another fine addition to this addictive series.
Only Camilleri could begin a novel with Salvo Montalbano dreaming he is dead and with the detective attending his own funeral. When Montalbano awakes he drives to Vigata in the pouring rain, but is held up by a line of traffic as the road has been swept away by the sea. He approaches the first car which is hanging over the chasm and encourages the young woman driver to leave her vehicle and come back to his house. The young woman introduces herself as Vanna Diguglio and says she was going to the harbour to meet her aunt Livia’s yacht named the Vanna. Montalbano learns that the Vanna is bringing in a corpse they have found floating in a dingy just outside the mouth of the harbour. The dead man’s face has been deliberately disfigured, and when Montalbano realises the glamourous yacht owner Livia Giovannini is very surprised to learn she has a niece he knows this case is going to test his abilities to the full.
This novel contains most of the ingredients that have made this series such a success. There is social commentary as the reader learns about Italy’s not so gentle treatment of immigrants; and we are invited to enjoy Catarella’s malapropisms, Montalbano’s appetite for food, Mimi Augello’s amorous talents, and Fazio’s solid police-work. The ageing Montalbano falls head over heels in love with the aptly named Lieutenant Laura Belladonna, while discovering the identity of the disfigured corpse, and eventually the mysterious niece.
The lieutenant not only lived up to her surname, she exceeded it. She wasn’t just beautiful; she was knockout. For a brief moment, Montalbano was speechless. She was a good six inches taller than him, dark, with bright sparkling eyes, red lips in no need of lipstick, and above all, a very pleasant manner.
‘I’m entirely at your disposal,’ she said.
I wish! thought the inspector.
Why didn’t I enjoy this novel quite as much as some of the previous Montalbano books? I should say this is relative because this series is always a good read. Firstly I watched the TV version on BBC4 before I read the book, and therefore I knew the detail of the plot. I do prefer to read a book first and then watch the TV or movie version. It should not make any real difference but I enjoy seeing if the film follows the book.
But also Montalbano’s attitude to his superiors is usually amusing, unfortunately in this book the lies he tells the well meaning Dr Lattes are in poor taste and frankly not worthy of the honest policeman we have grown to admire. That won’t stop me going on to read The Dance of the Seagull which sits expectantly on my book shelf.
He started with a seafood antipasto. Since the nunnati were crispy as can be, he ordered a second side dish of them. He continued with a generous helping of spaghetti in squid ink. And he ended with a double portion of mullet and striped sea bream.