Sunday, August 24, 2014

Treasure Hunt

God I needed a break from that blathering Ishmael and mad Ahab.  So I took the opportunity to go back to the latest Salvo Montalbano story, that I'd left because it seemed a bit slow.  Turns that the unimaginatively titled Treasure Hunt (Penguin, 2013 in English translation) heats up quite a bit at the end.

The contrast between Herman Melville's dense verbiage and Andrea Camilleri's spare prose finally made me realize what is so distinctive about the latter's style.  A Montalbano mystery is almost all dialogue.  It is what I imagine reading a television script might be like, without a lot of stage direction.  The only inner voice we hear is Salvo's, and even that is often presented in dialogue form between his good and bad sides.  When you think about it, it is pretty amazing that he manages to draw the other characters so well almost entirely through their interactions with Montalbano.  

In this story, Salvo is bored out of his gourd because nothing is going on at his station.  Well, nothing other than a daring raid he executed on the home of a nutty old sniper who was living in lunatic squalor with equally ga-ga old sister. Salvo is captured on national TV climbing into their apartment to resolved the situation, and becomes a brief local celebrity.  Still, Salvo can barely bring himself to Thanks to this unwelcome notoriety, he's also getting some vaguely creepy anonymous notes offering clues in a treasure hunt that seem to target him.  Salvo is intrigued but too lazy to do much about it until the fabulous Ingrid's nephew happens along, looking to learn more about the policeman's brain and Salvo takes him on as a sort of unpaid intern to deal with the treasure hunt.  But really, the whole story was kind of farting along (which it turns out is the point) and that's why I put it down for Moby Dick. But not long after I picked it up again, a girl disappeared and the plot snowballed down into a very dark place, with a disturbing crime that tied it all up.

I've said in other reviews what I like about Camielleri's books:  interesting characters, drawn with just a few strokes of what I realize now are largely dialogue, darker-than-you'd-expect crimes, wonderfully spare settings of sun and sand and landscape, and of course, a great attention to food.  The regular characters - Fazio and Mimi, Gallo and Gallucio, Cattarella - get a little shorter shrift in this one than I recall in others, although the enigmatic Ingrid features more prominently.  But I'm pleased to report that Adelina and her pasta 'ncasciata and swordfish involtini and arancini and eggplant parmesan and caciocavallo cheese and Enzo and his trattoria's spaghetti alle vongole veraci and striped mullett are all present and accounted for.   

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