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Paper Moon (2008)
trans. by Stephen Sartarelli
§ A local doctor who was struck off the register for arranging an abortion and is now a pharmaceutical drug salesman, is found dead, shot in the face with his dick hanging out.
This sort of literary eroticism as a narrative trigger isn't unique to Camilleri -- it's a genre tradition -- but he does rely on it a lot. Where would Montalbano be without a bevy of thirty-something year old beauties to drive his misfiring hormones, sequester his sympathy, render him sleepless and prone to fits of compensation eating and ill-advised drinking? So often the women are aggressive and manipulative that Montalbano reacts like a homosexual in fear for his chastity and you're left wondering if this role reversal is considered etiquette in Italy.
Or is Montalbano just a normal man in an abnormal world that will soon see a female pope?
'She stepped forward.
"'bye, see you soon," said Montalbano, running for the door, opening it and dashing out on to the landing before the cheetah could spring, grab him in her claws and eat him alive.' (Paper Moon, p. 206)
If these women -- Michela, Eleana, Paola the Red et al didn't have double/secret lives going on, there'd be no case for Montalbano and no story for Camilleri. And none of these women appear to tell the full truth in their initial interviews, so that Montalbano is always left with having to figure out back stories that drag out the action and force Montalbano to use blackmail to get at the truth. In terms of sexual misconduct, all are guilty. All are willing to use sex to corrupt Montalbano if possible, so that the narrative becomes extended foreplay rather than an inquest into a suspicious death.
The plot in Paper Moon might be layered, yet the murderer is fairly obvious from the start. The main purpose of the story is to examine M.'s fear of aging and how he compensates by allowing attractive delinquent women to go free. Here justice (or is it the law, which is a different thing) is a sham, a cover-up rationalized as pragmatic. Realpolitik, some might argue. Yet M's solution -- paradoxically -- seems more like a conservative response to sustaining the socio-political status quo. On a psychological level, you might wonder if the Inspector's cover-up is a form of paternalism or vanity... or even worse, a rooted Oedipus Complex. M. is getting old. His inverse sexism reeks of insecurity and the need to look good in women's eyes. Indeed, their eyes appear to be the trap into which he is often falling. Women cannot be held responsible -- even for murder -- as beauty trumps evil, and if he can rationalize the action as justifiable homicide, hey, just let her go free.
In the early novels, Montalbano's actions seemed moral, necessary corrections in a legal code stacked against the weak and disadvantaged. Now he looks like a patsy. He allows Michela -- who is guilty of conspiracy, incest and murder -- to commit suicide rather than face arrest or exposure. Some will say her suicide was beyond his control, yet it's clear than he had no intention of charging her, that all he wanted was her admission and the missing details. In The Patience of the Spider, he allows a young woman to walk who stages her own kidnapping in order to blackmail a relative into repaying a large sum of money to her impoverished parents. So there always seem to be extenuating circumstances that allow Montalbano to play good cop (feel alright/ on a warm Vigàta night). He, and only he, has the right to understand the mystery. The evidence is jigged for the books, and he plays the confessor.
You could look to Hollywood film noir or the history of ancient Rome for the root of these Camillerian sirens. In the Potter's Field (2011), Camilleri introduces a Colombian femme fatale who reduces M.'s subordinate Assistant Inspector Mimi Augello to a shagged-out shadow... meanwhile, you've been to the Vatican Library and read Procopius's infamous Secret History about the insatiable Empress Theadora, know these dangerous women are always out there.
Fun, isn't it?
© LR April 2017
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