When a young woman’s body is found in a rubbish dump Inspector Silvio Montalbano and his team are at first baffled. Her face has been severely damaged so the only identifying feature they have to go on is a tattoo of what appears to be a butterfly on her shoulder and Montalbano uses his friends in the local media to publicise this and try to drum up some information. Eventually the team is led to a charitable organisation in which things are not always what they appear to be.
I read my first Camilleri novel only last year and while I liked it, I did not fall in love with its protagonist as so many other readers have done. However on my second meeting with this character and his environment I am well and truly smitten. This is, quite simply, a delightfully concise book full of humour and warmth and I revelled in its myriad of little joys that felt like they were hidden just for me.
Montalbano is once again worried about his advancing years but whereas this annoyed me a little in the previous book here I found it amusing and at times even poignant. The depiction of two Montalbanos inside his head who argue with each other about his motivations and behaviour is priceless (and relief-inducing because it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who hears such voices). He is also experiencing some difficulties with his long-time love interest Livia but he doesn’t let this get in the way of his investigating. Well not much anyway. In the end he wades through all these personal problems, stands up to the ever-present political and business interests who try to influence his work and even untangles all the wrongly transcribed messages from his devoted but fairly useless desk sergeant Catarella to solve the crime with intelligence and a dash of panache.
Much of the enjoyment in the book stems from the word play and language games with which the book is littered; a testament both to Camilleri and his translator Stephen Sartarelli. I cannot think of any aspect of translation that would be more difficult to get right than the range of both obvious and subtle humour on display here. But the book is not all laughter and lightness; alongside the almost slapstick moments such as a police department which can’t afford petrol for its cars there are touching elements too like Montalbano’s growing intolerance for the death he is confronted with in his work and on his television screen.
I read this book in not much more than a single sitting and enjoyed every minute of it. The implausible but nevertheless compelling set pieces, the seriousness with which Montalbano treats lunch and the brilliant depiction of local life and customs are a welcome treat. In the middle of a cold and gloomy winter you can’t ask for much more than a book which puts a smile on your face for several days.
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This is one of seven books nominated for this year’s International Dagger award for translated crime fiction which will be announced later this month. So far I have read Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom’s Three Seconds, Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack, Fred Vargas’ An Uncertain Place and Valerio Varesi’s River of Shadows. I have Domingo Villar’s Death on a Galician Shore and Jean-Francois Parot’s The Saint-Florentin Murders still to read. I’ve got both on my eReader and will definitely read the Villar but haven’t yet decided on the Parot – it sounds a bit heavy-going for someone who hasn’t read any of the earlier books in the series.
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My rating 4/5
Translator Stephen Sartarelli
Publisher Penguin 
Length 227 pages
Book Series #11 in the Inspector Montalbano series
Source borrowed from the library