So I found myself in the seaside town of Calafell, about 35 miles down the coast from Barcelona. Like a lot of beach resorts, it had one of those little shops that sell foreign newspapers, bric-a-brac, stationery and books.
I can easily spend two hours in a massive bookshop like Waterstones and fail to buy anything, but somehow, being far from anywhere and having only a small shelf of titles to choose from gets me queuing up for the till in no time. That was how I came across A Voice in the Night.
It’s an Inspector Montalbano mystery. Montalbano is well known to UK audiences who are used to seeing his subtitled adventures on TV. He is an Italian detective based on the island of Sicily, which already tells you that we’re dealing with a man with nerves of steel.
This is the nineteenth book in the series so little time is spend characterising anyone. We are thrown into a police investigation, told mostly through dialogue, which features a twentysomething tearaway and a break-in at a suburban supermarket.
‘All right. And what do you normally do with the day’s proceeds? Do you go and deposit them every evening in your bank’s night safe?’
‘And why not yesterday?’
‘Madonna biniditta! I explained that to this gentleman here! How many times do I have to say it?’
‘Mr Borsellino, I already told you on the phone to calm down. It’s in your own interest.’
What do you mean by that?’
‘Emotion gives bad advice.’
When the supermarket manager commits suicide, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary robbery. Deaths mount up while heat from the local apparatchiks builds, as our inspector doggedly breaks law after law in his determination to find out what has taken place.
Montalbano is a fascinating character. He is a workaholic bachelor who lives by the sea, whose main pleasures are watching old movies and eating a lot of Mediterranean food.
Suddenly he remembered having read, in a book by a scientist named Alleva who worked with animals, that octopuses are extremely intelligent. He sat there a moment with his fork in midair. He reflected that it was always the fate of the intelligent to be eaten in every way possible by the more cunning cretins.
The detective is smart and cautious: he knows how the game is played. Although the mafia is an ever-present, invisible menace to him in his work, they are not the prime concern of his investigation. Rather they are a threat that must be danced around while the case continues.
For a book originally published in 2012, Montalbano makes very little use of computers and mobile phones, which I found confusing until I did a little research on the author (i.e. I read his Wikipedia page). It turns out that Andrea Camilleri was 87 when this book came out. In fact, he is still knocking about today at the age of 93, so he can be forgiven for being slightly behind the times in the technology department.
A Voice in the Night is a fast read and a crafty one. It’s pretty much impossible to guess what has actually happened until all is revealed in the denouement. Although I would possibly have been better off starting with the first book in the series, since we’re kind of expected to know who all the characters are, I would still plump for another one of these whodunits next time I’m in that little shop by the sea.