Book Corner – September 2020 (4)

The Voice of the Violin – Andrea Camilleri

Published in 1997 and translated int o English in 2003, this is the fourth in Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano series. If you are going to dip your toe into the blue Sicilian waters of Camilleri’s creation, I strongly advise you to start with the first book. Whilst each book is a stand-alone and a discrete story in itself, you would miss out on the development of the characters of Montalbano and his team of police colleagues as well as some of the aspects of Montalbano’s convoluted personal life, the backstories to which are only briefly alluded to in this book.

I may have become more hardened to Camilleri’s style, but I did not find his descriptions of the fare that Montalbano consumed too overwhelming or irksome. He may not have eaten as many meals in this book; I did not count. I also found the book less compelling than his earlier ones. It is entertaining enough, a light read for someone who doesn’t want to think too deeply about what they are reading. There is clearly a huge market for such books but I find I reach for a Camilleri when I feel my reading palate a little jaded and I need an amuse-bouche to pep it up.

At the end of the third book, The Snack Thief, Montalbano had sidestepped a promotion and, surprise, surprise, he doesn’t get on with his new boss. The book opens with him being driven by the police station’s official driver, to a funeral. Not only do they arrive late and to the wrong church, but along the way they plough into a parked car. Montalbano leaves a number on the windscreen and is surprised that the owner has not called to complain about the damage.

Montalbano decides to return to the car and finding the note still there, decides to go to the house. There is no answer, he walks in and finds a beautiful, naked woman face down on the bed, suffocated to death. Leaving, he gets a friend to make an anonymous call tipping off the police about the murder. When forensics get to the scene, they find Montalbano’s fingerprints at the scene and after some shenanigans, he is taken off the case, replaced by his new boss who promptly “solves” the case, at the cost of shooting the suspect dead, a socially disadvantaged man who had been stalking the victim.

With help from his mafia contacts, who saw the stakeout, and his friend in the local TV station, Montalbano dishes the dirt on his rival and get himself reinstated on to the case. He solves the case with the help of his mother-like friend, Clementina Vasile Cozzo, who every Friday morning listens to a concert over the telephone, performed by her neighbour, a former professional violinist, Cataldo Barbera. The violin he is playing holds the key to the mystery.

I won’t say anymore for fear of spoiling the denouement. Suffice to say it is a clever plot and believable. There are the usual descriptions of the Sicilian countryside, its food, the complexities of Montalbano’s personal life and the borderline incompetence of his likeable colleagues. The translation, once again, is exemplary and it is a page turner, As a book, though, I founded it lacked the intensity of the earlier trilogy. It may just be me.

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