S is for Sicily

Sometimes I give the impression that I worry about my age. And sometimes I do. I reckon I’m about four years off well-meaning relatives and domestically-blissed friends wondering out loud what I’m going to DO about ‘finding a MAN so I can have CHILDREN’ before it’s ‘TOO LATE’. I think it’s more the anticipation of this annoyance that stresses me, rather than the (not that many) years I’m carrying. Maybe it’s a single woman thing… I reserve the right to be contrary over matters of age, in any case.

It’s new year’s eve and notions of time passing are on my mind. And in August Heat they are also on the mind of my dear friend Inspector Salvo Montalbano, adrift in a sweltering summer in Sicily and pondering if his advancing years are affecting his reason, his actions, his decisions, his heart, his very being. The body of a young woman, throat slit, is found stuffed in a trunk in a hidden room of a holiday house and the police are determined to find her killer and violator, concentrating on a dodgy property developer and a simple young man with uncontrollable urges. Helping the police is the victim’s beautiful, twenty-something twin sister—but is she more of a hindrance than a help to our Salvo?

Like a glistening plate of antipasto; stuffed, fresh and colourful, and glistening with olive oil, an Andrea Camilleri Inspector Montalbano novel is always a delight. A feast of tight and pointed narrative, lashings of humour and social commentary, a sprinkling of literary and historical references, a breathing, sparkling sense of place, an intriguing mystery to solve and a cast of characters that gladden the heart. Reading this series always makes me so goddamn happy. Camilleri is a wonderful writer and I am highly sentimental about many of the characters, especially loyal Fazio and our Montalba.

But in August Heat Salvo is a troubled man, and though often a reflective creature, in this novel he has a darker edge. He does things, thinks things, makes errors in judgement which are out of character and a shade or two outside his usual moral code. Could it just be the interminable heat? Or is he losing his touch? Are the tendrils of senility starting to caress his mind? (Our protagonist is deeply worried about being 55 years of age ‘and more’.) These changes of character concern him as much as they concern his readers. Mind you, they concern his readers because of their affection for the detective, not because they don’t make for good storytelling. A darker Montalba in a state of slight despair only whets the appetite for the novels to come.

I find myself occasionally dreaming of visiting Montalbano’s Sicily. Strolling the beaches, swimming in the sea, dining in the trattorias, lying on a sun-drenched terrace, letting the Mediterranean breeze waft over me. Though in my crazy imagination I’d quite like the inspector to be there as well, and if we could just do something about the rampant crime and mafioso I’d be most appreciative. Of course there’s nothing stopping me visiting southern Italy the next time I’m in that part of the world. It’s definitely on ‘the list’. Perhaps I can visit it with that person who will help keep the well-intentioned questioners at bay for a few more years. You never know your luck.

Happy new year, everyone.

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