A scorching Sicilian summer detective story

2009-11-04 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

August Heat

Andrea Camilleri

Picador

IN THE lazy, slow month of August, Chief Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his girlfriend, Livia, prepare for a relaxing summer ­holiday in a delightful ­villa he has found for them at Marina del Montereale.

Sounds blissful — except that this is a particularly scorching Sicilian summer, with such unrelentingly high temperatures that even the beach is little fun: holidaymakers are perpetually sweltering and ­gritty with adhering sand. Also, the ­villa, newly built, is swarming with cockroaches, and along the way the young son of Livia’s friends goes missing.

The solution to that problem has Montalbano discovering some of the strictly illegal — and alarming — ­idiosyncrasies of Sicilian building, as well as a human body in a trunk. Not a recipe for a peaceful and ­rejuvenating summer holiday, ­especially when combined with the suspicious death of an Arab labourer.

The story, like those of all the Montalbano detections I’ve read so far, is slight. But as always ­Camilleri’s loving hand casts a new, ­modern and kindly light on the harsh, bloodstained island of Sicily, develops the characters one has come to love, including Montalbano and several of his colleagues, and­­ ­introduces some marvellously ­colourful new ones.

A splendid — if rather sweaty — read, the text as always elegantly yet colloquially and wittily trans­lated by the poet Stephen Sartarelli, who again supplies an interesting set of explanatory notes at the end.

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