Book Review: The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri


The Shape of Water is the first in Andrea Camilleri’s wry, brilliantly compelling Sicilian crime series, featuring Inspector Montalbano.

The goats of Vigàta once grazed on the trash-strewn site still known as the Pasture. Now local enterprise of a different sort flourishes: drug dealers and prostitutes of every flavour. But their discreet trade is upset when two employees of the Splendour Refuse Collection Company discover the body of engineer Silvio Luparello, one of the local movers and shakers, apparently deceased in flagrante at the Pasture. The coroner’s verdict is death from natural causes – refreshingly unusual for Sicily.

But Inspector Salvo Montalbano, as honest as he is streetwise and as scathing to fools and villains as he is compassionate to their victims, is not ready to close the case – even though he’s being pressured by Vigàta’s police chief, judge, and bishop.

Picking his way through a labyrinth of high-comedy corruption, delicious meals, vendetta firepower, and carefully planted false clues, Montalbano can be relied on, whatever the cost, to get to the heart of the matter.

The Shape of Water is followed by the second in this phenomenal series, The Terracotta Dog.

 

Whilst this is the first of the book series, it is not the first in the TV series. My review of the exact episode can be found here.

Anyway, the events of the book are very similar to that of the TV episode, so I wont repeat here.  The books is translated from the Sicilian-Italian (a feat in itself, apparently). One of the things i struggle with with the TV episodes, is that not everyone gets named. Turns out, the same happens in the books. There are also things/inference in the show that doesn’t happen in the book.

Also: The relationship with Ingrid happens much earlier in the tv show than the book, with a seemingly different over tone in the book than in the book. In the book it’s Fazio, not Ingrid that takes the car down the waterway.

In Summary: the book is similar to the TV episode (something you should expect when Camilleri writes the screenplay too) but there are enough differences to make it worth the read.  Neither is better than the other, so feel happy in reading this book, and the series as a wole

 

Inspector Montalbano: Equal Time, Collection 3, Episode 2

This is based on another short story, and therefore not based on a complete book.     

The episode starts with two men pulling up in a car, with one getting out and approaching a young blond girl on a moped. Scared, she throws her helmet at him and rides off, with the men giving chase. She nearly loses them a couple of times in the narrow backstreets, but decides to ditch the moped once out in the countryside. The men fire at her as she runs across the fields, missing her, but letting her go.

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Inspector Montalbano: Turning Point, Collection 3, Episode 1

Based on the 7th book in the series, whose English title is “Rounding the Mark“, Salvo turns up to station to find workers getting rid of graffiti. He tries to keep Caterella’s spirits up, but when he goes through the eerily empty station, he decides to call the commissioner. Mimi over hears the conversation and realises that Salvo plans to resign after recent exposes as to police corruption.

 Mimi rails against him, telling him that he may feel betrayed, but his resignation would be a betrayal of those who actually work for and respect him.

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Inspector Montalbano: The goldfish and the Cat, Collection 2, Episode 6

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On the way to church, Mrs Todaro gets mugged, has her handbag taken, and a revolver is fired at close range but somehow misses.

Mimi comes in to pick up some papers, reminds Salvo re the wedding date and that he needs to pick up the rings, something Salvo has clearly forgotten, again. Meanwhile headquarters are sending cover for the month Mimi is off.

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Inspector Montalbano: Turning Point, Collection 3, Episode 1

montalbano-fazioI cant tell which book this comes from – it’s certainly not known under this name anyway – so cant do a “compare and contrast”.  Salvo turns up to station to find workers getting rid of graffiti. He tries to keep Caterella’s spirits up, but when he goes through the eerily empty station, he decides to call the commissioner (who is out of the office). Mimi overhears the conversation, and realises that Salvo plans to resign after recent raids on the police.  Mimi rails against him, telling him that he may feel betrayed, but his resignation would be a betrayal of those who actually work for and respect him.

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Inspector Montalbano, The Scent of Night, Collection 2, Episode 5

The scent of the NightThis is the 6th book in  the series, but slightly later in the TV series. The episode starts with Salvo turning up to a hostage situation, where the 80 year old Garzullo is holding Miss Consentino, the secretary of banker Gargano, hostage, claiming to have been robbed by Gargano. Salvo resolves the issue by pretending the banker has already been arrested, so holding the hostage is pointless. As usual, it’s great use of old Sicilian actor as the wronged man.

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Inspector Montalbano: Montalbano’s Croquettes, Collection 2, episode 4

Montalbano's CroquettesMontalbano’s Croquettes is not based on one of the books but rather a short story, Gli arancini di Montalbano, which is still not available in English.

When I came to watch this again, I barely remembered watching it the first time around – however, some things fell into place that I know I wouldn’t have spotted the first time round, and that come to play later in the series. In particular the presence of Pasquale, the son of Montalbano’s housekeeper and his involvement in what happens during the episode.

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Inspector Montalbano: The Sense of Touch, Collection 2, Episode 3

montalbano-3Like the previous episode, The Artist’s Touch, this is another episode based on a short story, rather than an actual book.

The episode starts with an old blind man leaving his house with his guide dog Orlando. The house is not one of the more salubrious places in Sicily, which, despite being near the sea, is a one story structure with the basics. No lighting, a double bed, a chest of drawers, low ceiling. There is none of the wealth and high ceilings displayed in other episodes.
The man’s departure is watched by another man, his face shrouded by hat and upturned collar, who promptly breaks into the house to put something in the medicine bottle beside the bed

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Inspector Montalbano,The Artist’s Touch, Collection 2, episode 2

Apparently this story is the first one not based on a book, and it makes a departure from the usual opening (of Salvo swimming or being woken by Catarella). Instead it starts with a close up of intricate metalwork art being made. Sitting on the workbench, there’s a book titled “Manuscript found in Saragossa”.

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A beautiful woman makes early morning visit to an old man called Alberto, there’s lots of mist outside and inside the garden, it’s all very atmospheric, and overall nicely shot. However, inside it’s not mist but smoke which is the result of a fire, and the woman finds something shocking. The coolness and dampness is a good contrast with the next view, which is an inside view looking out onto Salvo’s balcony where he takes his breakfast coffee. Caterella rings to advise of a Russian woman (“Larussa”) being found dead in suspicious circumstances.

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Inspector Montalbano: Excursion to Tindari, Collection 2, Episode 1

excursion to tindariThe fifth of the Commisario Montalbano novels, and for once, the episodes match. A young man found dead in street, with a single bullet to the forehead. Emanuele Sanfillipe, aka Nene, has no job, and a mother on small pension, but lives apparently above his means. Initial theory (based on that he was shot in the forehead by a single bullet) is that he’s shot by some one he knows.

Back at the station, Davide Griffo pops in to report his parents are missing. Turns out they live in same place as Sanfillipe, which gives Montalbano an excuse to nip round to get inside. The Griffo’s neighbour (older, v flirty) says the Griffos were very standoffish, and that Sanphillipe had prostitutes around every night for loud sex. It is clear she quite enjoyed listening to the sex noises, even if she pretends otherwise.

Mimi’s been acting distracted, but won’t say why. Caterella is put to work on the computer in Nene’s flat, going through the files and the CDs. Whilst Salvo is watching the evening appeal is made re the Griffos, there’s a knock on the door…it’s Mimi to explain his behaviour. Turns out that he’s getting married….to a policewoman! The two get drunk on whiskey and Salvo wakes the following morning with a raging headache, and Caterella missing….seems he’s been working all night, has found dirty letters, a novel and dirty pictures.

Griffos went on a coach trip to Tindari the previous Sunday with group of others. Nene had a job in computers, but had recently quit and moved out. Investigating his finances, he was found with 3million lire in cash and a cheque for 2million.

Turns out that Mimi has put in a request for transfer to be near his fiancée, but when the commissioner said he was glad because it would break the Mafiosi of the Vigata station up, Mimi took his transfer request back and said he would have to reconsider. Another scene of Italian male posturing, gesturing and pouting.

Mimi gets the job of reading the letters and the novel and has a theory of who the woman is. The bus driver comes in, confirms the Griffos were on bus going out, that they were 30  mins late getting back in, stopping 3 times, but he can’t remember if the Griffos made it back to Vigata.

Montalbano Livia At home, Salvo gets call from Guttadauro, the lawyer. His client, Don Balduccio Sinagra, has reached 90 years old, would  like to see Salvo in private. He has interrupted Salvo in the middle of getting dinner ready, and in the fine tradition of bachelors, Salvo attacks his dinner with a spoon, rather than go back for a fork.

The other people on coach trip get interviewed, some great old actors (believe they are all scicilian). They don’t really remember the Griffos, but one couple makes reference to a Miss Beatrice di Leo, who was on the bus to sell some of her household wares.

Mimi wants Salvo to talk to Ingrid as hethinks Ingrid and unknown woman know each other and he believes he knows who the woman is. Finds it hilarious that Salvo and Ingrid aren’t lovers…

Salvo and Beatrice meet at the local restaurant and eat before interview, neither like talking when eating. Despite Bebe having samples on back seat and coach only half full, Griffos sat on back seat regularly looking out back window.  They don’t get off bus until last unscheduled stop and she doesn’t know if they got back on.  Mimi joins in partway, is distracted by Bebe and Salvo leaves them to it.

Salvo goes to visit mafia man despite Fazio’s warnings. Lovely villa, great set piece, used multiple times in series. Great intimidation piece (it’s where Zingaretti got married in real life apparently).  Shows monied Sicily and power at best. Don Sinagra wants Salvo to believe his grandson Japichinu is sick and doesn’t understand what’s going on. New mafia doesn’t know how old mafia used to do it, and are therefore not playing by the rules. Don Don Sinagra, MontalbanoSinagra has had to take back control. He is not sorry for what he did in the past,  because he did it from faith and principle, which can’t be said for the new guard. There seems little reason for the meeting but I’ve learnt in watching these programs and reading the books that the mafia people here talk in code, saying one thing, meaning another, and Salvo is bright enough to get the hint.

Fazio is put on surveillance detail on mafia priest Crucilla, who was specifically introduced to Salvo by Don Sinagra, and who expects to be followed. Fazio is to follow him, letting Crucilla know he’s being followed w/o anyone else knowing it. He is to lead Fazio to Japichinu. .

The new commissioner,  who doesn’t like Salvo, calls Salvo to the office to point out he does not like fact that Salvo has been seen in cahoots with mafia old guard, but Salvo swings it his way, pretending  Sinagra wants to be informant.

It is only after meeting  that he hears of murdered old Couple that have been shot execution style whilst holding hands.  Fazio catches up with Salvo to tell him the priest will lead them to Japichinu the following morning.

Salvo goes to nenes flat finds videos of Nene with girls, falls asleep with one tape running. Wakes to banging on the door, neighbours complaining about noise, Mimi with his gun drawn. Salvo leaves Mimi to watch all the videos to see whether the lover is who he thinks it is. Sure enough he finds a video and brings it to Salvo, identifying her as Vanja, the wife is the transplant surgeon Isigo. Mimi doesn’t know if Isigo is jealous enough to kill.

The following morning, a team go down to hut with priest to pick up Japichinu, only to find him dead. Salvo doesn’t report finding Japichinu dead, wanting to thwart whatever plan Sinagra is using him for. Meanwhile, photos taken by bus driver confirm that sanfillipe was following the bus to tindari.

Salvo checks the Griffos post office account (nice post office!) to find they have nearly 100,000,000 lire in it, with half deposited in last two years. Son has no idea how they came up with that money, but he does point Salvo to dead aunt’s estate, and Salvo goes to visit Miss Baeri, who has inherited the flat and remembers that  Margherita being left some land and a stable.

People who watch shows like morse tend to dislike the switch between drama, comedy and back again in Montalbano. I’m beginning to like it, and this scene, where Miss Baeri doesn’t let Salvo in, but shuts door whilst she goes to get the will, only to have to call him back as he takes a huff, is a small but amusing scene to me.

Salvo goes to stable and seeing phone lines, breaks, hurting his shoulder. Cue mandatory topless shots of Zingaretti. Goes home to find Ingrid waiting. She rubs cream into his shoulder and he falls asleep. Wakes later and he shows the video of a naked woman Mimi found, and who Ingrid confirms as Vanja. Vanja has left for home a few months back, husband no longer interested in her and is unlikely to kill for her. Ingrid stays the night, in bed with a clothed Salvo spooning – the following morning Salvo is worried they did something more and Ingrid does nothing to allay his fears (In a later episode she complains about his “holier than thou” attitude towards her, when he sleeps with someone else, but still refuses to sleep with her).

Salvo and Mimi talk through theories, about how Sanphillipo and the Griffos are working together. Ingrid rings asking for a meet up as she’s talked to Vanja. The two have dinner on Salvos balcony, making good use of the sun setting into the sea. Turns out that Isigo had walked in on Vanja and Sanfillipe having sex, and Vanja got the impression the two men knew each other pretty well.  Following day, Isigo takes her to airport, sending her home, and telling her to stay away.

Salvo reads the book found in Sanphillipe’s house and finds passages that make him throw up. He gets a call from Sinagra, who claims he needs a kidney transplant, and that he hopes Isigo recovers from his current health scare soon enough to open his clinic again. Putting the phone down Sinagra’s shaking stops, showing he’s not as frail as he linked to make out – he has delivered the message he wanted, knowing that Salvo will understand sooner or later.

Mimi and Salvo discuss the book. Turns out it is a thinly veiled story of Isigo, who is massively in debt, and performs illegal transplants for rich clients, with the body parts taken from people whose remains are subsequently buried or dumped in the sea. Sanphillipo is the intermediary between Isigo and the gangs finding and disposing of the bodies. The illegal transplants also include children (which is what upset Salvo).

Salvo believes that Vanja can provide the link to everything, so she gets sent home to safety, Sanfillipe and the gGiffos are killed. Isigo is kept alive as he is still useful, but likely to be killed the minute he’s not.  Too many important people involved to make this public so salvo and Mimi to do nothing.

Salvo goes to the doctor’s house and finds him sitting on his own in silence. Isigo thinks Salvo is mafia and there to kill him, attempts to bribe and begs him not to. Salvo points his gun at him, Fazio and Mimi break in and chase Salvo, pretending to shoot at him. Salvo’s annoyed they not only followed him, but that he was being that predictable.

Mimi takes the Doctor to headquarters, winding him up enough to make him confess all to the commissioner. Salvo asks Nicolo to make a big deal of it on the news, including that Japichinu was involved and killed by same … He knows he was most likely killed on his grandfathers orders.

Calls Livia as he’s feeling down, she promises to visit following day. Meeting Bebe and seeing how she and Mimi interact, Livia suggests that she and salvo could get married too. For once, salvo doesn’t come up with an excuse. Finishes on some great romantic views over looking the sea, with a huge church in the background