Book: August Heat by Andrea Camilleri

August Heat sees the return of Andrea Camilleri's wily Sicilian detective Salvo Montalbano. As the title suggests it is the height of summer on the island and soaring temperatures cause the slightest task to drain both energy and spirit, giving rise to Montalbano's theory that even the criminal fraternity will probably be suspending their nefarious activities - for the time being at least! Livia, his long-time and long-suffering fiance, has asked him to find a holiday home for her friends Laura, Guido and their three-year-old, Bruno, a child much-given to creating havoc wherever he goes. His particular forte is disappearing!

Salvo comes up with the goods in the shape of a villa by the sea, and all goes well for a week or so. That is apart from an infestation of cockroaches, an invasion of mice and, finally, spiders. However, the worst was yet to come, On the ninth day, whilst en-route to the beach, Bruno goes missing. After searching high and low his hysterical parents convince themselves that the child has been kidnapped, leaving Livia no alternative but to call on her fiance to come to the rescue. The middle-aged Montalbano can be crochety at the best of times, but his humour is severely tested at having to summon his crack team to look for a boy who has been missing only a short while and who has a history of leading everyone a merry dance!

He eventually discovers Bruno's location, the boy having fallen down a hole at the side of the house, which has been uncovered by a recent downpour, which in turn leads to a concealed passageway.

On entering Bruno's 'prison' and as his eyes become accustomed to the light, Montalbano is left dumbstruck! He is standing in a complete underground house, a mirror-image of the villa built above.  When Bruno has been liberated and returned to the bosom of his family and our detective is alone, he notices a chest in one corner of the living room and can't resist the temptation to open it. He is once again left reeling. This time with the discovery of a body, wrapped in the same plastic sheeting used to seal the underground house. Having had time to gather his thoughts and informing the medical examiner, he awaits the results of the autopsy.The victim. a teenage girl, has indeed been murdered and has been concealed in the underground villa for about six years, the lack of decay being attributed to the airtight environment in which the body has been kept.   In the meantime the Inspector seeks the assistance of the estate agent looking after the property as to the background and meaning of the hidden house and the whereabouts of the owner and anyone else associated with the development. Two suspects emerge in the shape of the owners feeble-minded son, and the contractor who built the property. But is there anyone else lurking in the background? Also thrown into the equation is the deceased identical twin sister with her own agenda. The six-year time lapse, coupled with the unbearable heat and humidity, cause Montalbano and his team from the Vigata police department no end of trouble before the totally unexpected conclusion.

Once again Stephen Sartarelli has captured the spirit of Camillieri's dogged, food-loving Montalbano with his faithful translation from the original Italian, and again he includes a useful glossary explaining the meaning of the various Sicilian proverbs, obscure local topics and historical events which the author uses throughout the book. Having mentioned the expertise of the translator it would be remiss of me not to mention Jeff Fisher, who designs the covers which adorn all the books in the series. Having spent more years than I care to remember in publishing I find the artwork an absolute joy! Worked in bright, colourful pen sketches, simple in their originality, the covers cleverly convey the essence of each individual storyline. Jeff deserves an award!

August Heat by Andrea Camilleri is published by  Picador, £12.99. Available online from Amazon on ICN. 

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