Book: The Paper Moon - murder and mayhem in Etna's shadow

 The Paper Moon, By Andrea Camillieri, Translated by Stepehen Sardarelli, Published by Picador

Okay. So you've read Morse and Poirot. You're up to date with Dalziel and Pascoe, Rebus and Adam Dalgleish. What now? How about giving Montalbano a try. Who's he? For the uninitiated, Salvo Montalbano is the urbane, seafood-loving Sicilian police Inspector created by veteran Italian crime writer Andrea Camillieri. The first book in the series, La forma dell'acqua (Shape of the Water), was published in Italy in 1994, closely followed by eight more. Fortunately for enthusiasts of this particular genre all the titles have at last been translated into English (expertly and sympathetically by Stephen Sardarelli), and having read them all thus far the latest offering, The Paper Moon, didn't dissapoint.

In this, the ninth book of the series, Montalbano is involved in the murder of one Angelo Pardo, who's form of dispatch, a bullet to the face, he finds particularly gruesome. The victim's sister, Michela, who had initally reported her brother as 'missing', proves a bit of an enigma. On one hand pleading that everything be done to find the killer, whilst on the other, as Montalbano believes, not being completely open and honest in her dealings with him. She steers the Inspector in the direction of her brother's girlfriend, Elena Sclafani, vigorously insisting that she must obviously be the one who has murdered Angelo. It also comes to light that the victim's life was not as normal as at first thought. When the police try to access his computer they are faced with passwords and encrpyted messages which they find impossible to crack. Montalbano assigns one of his team, Catarella, to sort out the mess. 'Cat' is the likeable buffoon of the Vigata police department, who, after previously being sent on a basic computer course, has suprised everyone, none more so than his boss, by becoming a veritable genius when faced with the most complex problems concerning the mysteries of a computer! Also thrown in for good measure are a series of anonymous threatening letters, drugs, political murders and numerous red herrings, before all is revealed.

As with all his novels Camillieri writes with the authority of a native-born Sicilian, capturing the spirit of this rugged and much-maligned island and giving the reader an insight into the humour, resilience and character of its people. In Salvo Montalbano, with his love of fine food, wine and good books, he has created a believable character who is passionate about justice, loyal to and supportive of his underlings, but as flawed as the next man, as he comes to terms with the problems and pleasures of middle age. A man whose ascerbic tongue and sardonic humour often cause friction between himself and his superiors, and add further tension to the already tenuous relationship with his long-term fiancee, Livia.

Stephen Sartarelli has, as ever, done an admirable job with the translation, missing none of the subtlety and humour of the original Italian. What is also a bonus for the reader is the inclusion of a helpful glossary section. Here you will find translations of any Sicilian dialect which may have been used in the book, explanations of Sicilian proverbs, the background to references relating to events in Italian history and even, joy of joys, descriptions and recipes for the meals which fuel not only Montalbano's body, but also his soul! I look forward with relish to Book Ten!

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