Camilleri, Andrea - 'The Paper Moon' (translated by Stephen Sartarelli)
Michela Pardo a woman disconcertingly trying to hide her attributes comes to Inspector Montalbano to report her 42 year old brother Angelo missing.
When Montalbano accompanies her to her brother's house, at first it seems empty, but Michela leads the Inspector on to a terrace with a one-room box structure. Montalbano breaks down the door and finds Angelo Pardo, half his head blown away, exposing himself and with the remnants of women's panties in his mouth.
The victim Angelo Pardo was a former doctor whose medical licence had been revoked, and had been working as a medical/pharmaceutical representative. He had been lavishing gifts on his beautiful mistress, Elena Sclafini who was married to a much older man, a 'cornuto' perhaps. Angelo seems to have had too much money, a gambling habit, a luxurious lifestyle and a strong-box no one can find. He also has on his computer three files protected by passwords that the childlike Catarella tries to unlock.
Meanwhile some of the most important politicians in the region are dying and these 'cadavere eccelente' are suspected of indulging in recreational cocaine.
Montalbano, assisted by the faithful Catarella and the reliable Fazio, must unravel the case by delving into the background of the suspects, and a meticulous investigation of Angelo Pardo's life. The sardonic Montalbano as usual has to deal with his politically conscious superiors and also cope with the considerable distractions caused by two beautiful women, who hate each other.
This is the ninth Montalbano mystery to be translated into English by the excellent Stephen Sartarelli and is another little gem. I frequently find 'blurb' writers annoying but on the back cover of this book is a comment by Clive James that succinctly sums up the skill of Camilleri: "Camilleri can do a character's back story in half a paragraph."
How does the author keep things fresh and explore new aspects of his protagonist? I am not sure he does but his formula is so successful and the Camilleri fan club love these short journeys to Sicily that they come back again and again for more of his subtle work.
This book has a little less eating and a bit more philosophising on life as Montalbano finds himself getting older and disconcerted by the antics of Michela and the very beautiful Elena.
"She performed the movement perfectly naturally, without modesty or immodesty. Her panties were smaller than a G-string. With that in his mouth, a man could still have recited all of Cicero's Catilinarian Oracles or sung Celeste Aida."
Catarella is rapidly becoming one of the great comic figures in the genre, a Sicilian Signor Malaprop.
"Ahhh, Chief, Chief! We's sinkin' fast! The last word's got a last word! I can't get in! Iss impetrinable!"
But for all the fun, food and frolics this is still a solid police procedural with systematic investigation by some of the most endearing characters in crime fiction.
"If you ask me, this key opens a little wall safe somewhere," the inspector surmised.
The good news is that AUGUST HEAT, number ten in the series, will be published early next year.
Read another review of THE PAPER MOON.
Norman Price, England