I first encountered Andrea Camilleri’s name while reading through Detective Beyond Borders, a blog that showcases crime fiction from around the world. Finding the copy of The Shape of Water from Booksale gave me such a thrill, and I’m glad to say this book didn’t disappoint at all.
The leisurely first chapter sets the tone of the story, with two garbage collectors performing their early morning jobs in the Sicilian town of Vigata. Their discovery of a corpse at “The Pasture” (a notorious spot of land where prostitutes and drug dealers congregate) brings them much grief, especially when they find out that the corpse is that of Engineer Luparello, an important politician. Inspector Montalbano is inevitably called into the crime scene, and immediately suspects that there is more to the story than a simple case of dying in flagrante delicto. He doggedly pursues his investigations–using unconventional and often comical methods to wring out the truth from those involved–despite pressures from political leaders to close the case quickly.
Reading this book is a thorough pleasure, a perfect blend of realism and lightness. Though the discovery of the corpse is described baldly, the story never delves into grittiness for very long. Camilleri writes of moments that actually made me laugh out loud, as well as loving descriptions of food and art, two of Montalbano’s interests. While the plot itself is decent enough, the best parts of the book are the deft characterization of the characters and the society they live in. That the dialogue succeeds in translating some of the flavor of the Sicilian slang originally used by Camilleri is the mark of a very good translation by Stephen Sartorelli.
Detective Montalbano is a man who doesn’t rail against the corruption rampant around him, but he is concerned with righting wrongs. The title itself is an indication of how politicians and law enforcers need to act in order to survive such a society. To take the shape of water means to take the shape of whatever container one is put in–fluidity as a virtue. Montalbano sometimes needs to bend the rules of propriety to get the answers he needs to solve a crime. He isn’t concerned with tilting at windmills, however. The two main preoccupation by Montalbano is his long-distance lover Livia and food. Which is more than all right with me.
My copy is a double edition that includes the second book in the series, the Terra Cotta Dog. I’ll probably put off reading that one for a while as I try to keep up with some of my reading challenges but sufficed to say, I look forward to visiting Inspector Montalbano’s Sicily once again.