Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Dance of the Seagull

This is harder than I've been prepared to admit.

It only struck me with The Dance of the Seagull (2013, Penguin), just how much driving Salvo Montalbano and his crew do in these novels.  They are all over the place, thinking nothing of an hour or two there and back.  It's kind of like the American West, where people will drive 100 miles for dinner because they can do it going 100 mph.  I wish that Andrea Camilleri would include a map in his novels, so that I could sort out where, exactly, all of this is taking place on Sicily.  There are tours you can take of Montalbano's Sicily, but since I don't have plans to travel there (soon, anyway), I'll have to just do with imagining.

The Dance of the Seagull is a bit of a departure from Camilleri's usual sordid-not-so-under-belly-of-Sicily, in that the initial victim is none other than Salvo's sensible lieutenant Fazio.  Of course, the attack on Fazio happens because he is on the verge of discovering some nasty acts by some very bad guys, and the plot moves along quickly to involve the usual assortment of drug smugglers, transvestites, honey traps, mafiosi, bumbling jurists, grumpy pathologists, and so on.  This is not to say that any story featuring Salvo and his crowd is ever REMOTELY formulaic.  Rather it is that the neatly sketched characters and refreshingly non-per-le-touriste-Sicilia situations are regular elements to be happily anticipated, and slowly savored in every one of the Salvo stories.  Camilleri doesn't waste a lot of time, his scenes and dialogue move fast, and there is not so much in the way of long, deep introspective internal dialogue from anyone. Well, we do get Salvo's good and bad halves (Montalbano 1 and 2) arguing with each other occasionally, but they don't drag it out.  And nobody else thinks much, they just do.

A couple of differences from earlier stories.  Livia makes just a brief appearance, and an uncharacteristically gracious exit.  More critical is that there is a whole lot less eating going on!  Yes, of course Salvo visits Enzo's trattoria, and Adeli leaves some caponata or pasta 'ncasciata or something but mealtime just didn't seem quite the distraction that it has been in earlier stories.  And while there is a dalliance with a beautiful woman, it somehow seemed more clear than some of those in the past.  Who can figure out what Ingrid's role ever was, anyway?  Finally, the terrific translator notes at the back have been shrinking in the recent books, now comprising just a couple of pages of notes.

Perhaps I am the one distracted, as I am finding it hard to focus my thoughts.  So let's wind it up by saying that in any case, this latest entry is among the best in the delightful Salvo Montalbano series.

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