Although I haven’t read all the books in this series I have read enough of them to both know what to expect when opening the front cover of a new one and to eagerly anticipate my expectations being met. Happily I was not disappointed with the 13th instalment of the Inspector Salvo Montalbano series. At the centre of this book and its predecessors is an intelligent, introspective protagonist who loves good food, gives credence to his dreams and is in an unhappy struggle with the ageing process. Here he is called out to a rain-sodden crime scene where a body – or at least parts of one – has been discovered in a bin bag. When all the pieces of the poor individual have been collected it turns out to have been a middle-aged man but he is difficult to identify. As Montalbano grapples with the beginnings of the case several other troubles bubble to the surface including a beautiful woman reporting her husband missing and the behaviour of Montalbano’s faithful deputy Augello becomes increasingly erratic.
In its review of this novel Kirkus recommends the book for “mystery readers who enjoy the journey more than the solution” and I think that is a perfect description of who should read this book. The solution to the mystery is actually quite obvious from relatively early on but what kept my interest was watching how the case affected Montalbano and to see if things could be resolved so that those near and dear to him remained unhurt without causing lasting damage to Montalbano’s own integrity. And along the way there is the usual mixture of irascibility, good food and bad driving as well as some provided by the police station’s linguistically challenged desk sergeant and Montalbano’s own cynical side shining through such as when he muses that
“Ingrid’s husband was a known ne’er-do-well, so it was only logical that he should turn to politics”.
Amongst all the gentle humour and stopping for long, delicious lunches there is some meat to the novel as it explores the nature of betrayal and its many guises. In turn this pushes the always philosophical Montalbano into consideration of more biblical references than I have seen him do in the past but they fit well into the story. In fact the only somewhat clunky cultural reference came from the self-referential scene in which Montalbano reads an Andrea Camilleri novel that turns out to have an indirect relevance to the case. This and the novel’s many purely slapstick moments prevented it from being the best of this series for me though perhaps these are the elements others look for.
Irrespective of any minor quibbles I thoroughly enjoyed THE POTTER’S FIELD which was, always, deftly translated by Steven Sartarelli whose notes at the end of each novel are almost as much of a treat as the story itself. It mixes humour and seriousness with ease and is just surreal enough to be surprising without stepping into absurd territory. Fans of the series won’t want to miss it though I probably wouldn’t recommend it as a starting point for people new to the series (its predecessor THE TRACK OF SAND would be a better place to start).
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My rating 3.5/5
Translator Stephen Sartarelli
Publisher Penguin [this translation 2011, original edition 2008]
Length 277 pages
Book Series #13 in the Inspector Montalbano series.
Source borrowed from the library