The Shape of the Water by Andrea Camilleri (1994) – The first Inspector Salvo Montalbano swiftly took me deep into the machinations of Sicilian life. Montalbano is advised he has a client (a term for the dead that will remain with me).
All levels of officialdom are instantly alerted when the client is identified as Silvio Lupanello, best known as “the Engineer”. Lupanello, heir to a construction dynasty, has spent his adult life in the shadows manipulating the local party in perpetual power to gain 80% of the government contracts. Only a few days before his death he moved into the position of provincial secretary for the party.
The establishment becomes agitated as it learns of the details of Lupanello’s death. He has been found in his car in an area of Vigata known as the “Pasture”. It is the place to go for all types of prostitutes. Not surprisingly Lupanello has been found in a compromising position.
An autopsy reveals death from natural causes. Religious and civil authorities lean on Montalbano to swiftly close the investigation and avoid all publicity about Lupanello’s manner of death.
Montalbano carefully asks for some time to assure the public there has been a proper investigation of a distinguished member of society. He is given a brief amount of time with emphasis on brief.
There are questions in his mind starting with why the car was driven over a very rough river bed that damaged the suspension to get to the Pasture.
Carefully examining the area of the death and questioning the government cleaners he comes up with a pivotal clue whose exploration leads him on an unpredictable journey through Sicilian society.
Montalbano proves as gifted manipulator as those attempting to control him. The truth is elusive in a society that is determined to preserve appearances. The title fits perfectly with the story. The author explains that on its own water has no shape. We make it the shape we want for our own purposes.
He develops an investigation that is ambiguous in nature. It is officially unofficial but he uses the power of his police position to gain information and conduct interviews.
The book slides smoothly. Author and translator have the knack of drawing the reader through the novel. I also want to taste the baby octopus dish that captivated Montalbano.
I will read more in the series. (Sept. 17/12)