Camilleri, Andrea - 'The Potter's Field' (translated by Stephen Sartarelli)
The thirteenth novel to feature Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his police team in "Vigata", Sicily, has a strongly elegiac quality compared with previous books. Montalbano is rapidly approaching the age of 60 and for the first time is genuinely feeling like taking a back seat. His team are like a family to him, and he feels all the agonies and conflicts of a father letting go of his adult children.
The plot begins simply, with the discovery of pieces of a body in a black bin-bag. The bag was buried in an area of clay used by the locals for making pottery. Fierce rains have washed the shallow topsoil off the land, causing the bag to emerge, discovered by a local man - inevitably leading to some humorous vignettes as the police realise how complex and dirty it is going to be trying to retrieve the grim burden.
Salvo is completely puzzled by the behaviour of Mimi Augello, his deputy. Mimi is always exhausted and is uncharacteristically abrasive to his colleagues. He's rude to Salvo, demanding that he be given total charge of the case and that Salvo keeps out of it. The old Salvo would have risen to this testosterone-fuelled challenge, but the older and wiser Salvo bides his time, deciding to see what has caused this personality transplant in his friend.
The case becomes more complex as the police search to find the victim's identity. Salvo's partner Livia intervenes by phone to beg him to find out what is wrong with Mimi; she has heard about the situation because she is a friend of his distraught wife Beba. Salvo spends much time at his house by the sea, stymied, until one evening he picks up and reads a book by Andrea Camilleri which is a reworking of the story of the gospels. While reading the section about Judas Iscariot, he has a flash of inspiration. Once he has cemented his instinct by testing a few hypotheses, he puts into play a complex strategy both to solve the case (which by now has a suspected Mafia angle) and to deal with the increasingly intolerable situation concerning Mimi while attempting to keep Livia at arm's length from the truth.
THE POTTER'S FIELD is an excellent book. All the familiar characters are here, but events have taken a darker turn. Salvo is feeling his age, and with reason is increasingly depressed about the state of his beautiful country and the way in which it is ruined by politicians and gangsters alike. The novel is more than a crime novel - though the plot is very clever and convoluted, because of the way Salvo decides to proceed with it - it is a meditation on getting older, on failing powers, and on the uncertain future we all face.
Read another review of THE POTTER'S FIELD.
Maxine Clarke, England