Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review of August Heat by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli, published by Picador (2009, in Italian in 2006)

I ordered a copy of August Heat after reading a Glenn Harper’s review posted on his International Noir blog and it was with some envy that I read about the Sicilian sun while the rain poured down outside in North West Ireland!

In the scorching heat of an August summer, Inspector Salvo Montalbano arranges for his girlfriend’s friends to stay in a villa that overlooks a secluded beach and the cooling, blue waters of the Mediterranean. When the friend’s young son – ‘a master at breaking the conjones of all creation’ – disappears, Montalbano’s hopes for a quiet summer are dashed. It transpires that what seemed like an idyllic villa has a dark past and a hidden secret and Montalbano is soon investigating the murder of a beautiful young girl and the death of an Arab labourer, jousting with the head of forensics, the prosecutor, the commissioner, and a mafia and politically connected owner of a construction company. When his girlfriend and her friends head back to the mainland, the inspector finds himself falling for the victim’s identical twin sister, a young siren more than thirty years his junior. And all the while the blazing sun makes life hot and uncomfortable.

He locked the door to his room, stripped down to his underpants, threw the papers that were on the armchair on to the floor, pulled this up next to the mini-fan, which he turned in such a way that it blew onto his chest, then sat down, hoping to survive.

It is difficult not to like an inspector that strips to his underwear or swimming trunks at every available opportunity! Easy going, sly, witty, sometimes lethargic, and happy to bend the law for the greater good, Montalbano is the urbane cop with loyal underlings and boorish or priggish equals and superiors. Written with warmth and humour, August Heat slips down easily like a fine wine. It was a great antidote to the rain lashing down outside and certainly made me pine for a bit of sun. Camilleri’s dialogue sparkles in places, his characterizations are sharp, and he manages to keep the story light and frothy and rolling along, especially in the first half of the book. Stephen Sartarelli has done an excellent job of translation, even managing to capture accents and dialect. This might have been a four star review except for the ending. The plotting is well paced, but then speeds up at the end to just stop at the closing climax leaving a couple of loose ends, which I won’t detail to avoid spoilers. After some nice work getting there it did feel like a bit of a let down. Regardless of the ending, I enjoyed August Heat and I’ll keep an eye out for others from earlier in the series many of which I’m told do deserve a four star rating.

Other reviews can be found at:
Random Jottings ...
International noir
Crime Scraps


Dorte H said...

The good inspector is certainly engaging. Like you, I have also read one only - the one I happened to find in my local library.

He is on my list, though - that list which grows longer for every month I blog :)

Maxine Clarke said...

I enjoyed this book too, though I don't think it is one of his best - in a sense the plot doesn't really matter but I do agree that the ending seemed a bit rushed this time. I think the previous one (Paper Moon I think) was one of the best Camilleris I've read, if not the best. So August Heat suffered a bit by that high standard. It certainly passed a wet south-west London sunny afternoon very aimiably!