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the Scent of the Night (2005)

Andrea Camilleri

trans. by Stephen Sartarelli

'The moon was frightening, so much did it seem like daylight outside'

§ As usual, the writing is full of the wit and charm that we recognize as part of the Camilleri signature, although the narrative is a bit slack at times, pursuing personal nostalgia and relationships that are by now -- novel six in the Montalbano series -- becoming predictable in their repetition. Do we really care this much about Livia, his long-distance nag from Genoa, or Francis (The Snack Thief), the kid he likes to play uncle to? It's filler, sideways to the plot, stuff to pass the time, like coffee-break gossip from the job at hand.

Camilleri: the Scent of the Night

The crime is interesting, by no means unusual in these times of free market largesse. A financial shark by the name of Emanuele Gargano arrives in Vigàta driving a fancy Alfa Romero 166 limo promising big returns to any investor interested... and after the first quarter, he doesn't disappoint: 20%. Other citizens pile in with their money, failing to realize that it's a pyramid scam, that they're being paid out of their own principal, and that sooner or later Garganzo will disappear with the rest of their money. When he does, he leaves behind heartbreak and tragedy, as the investors deal with the shock of being swindled. Outrage, anger and heart attacks follow... and Montalbano, who is only a witness to the carnage (the case is one for the fraud squad), decides to seek revenge of behalf of his fellow citizens.

'A bitch, yes, but a beautiful bitch, even more beautiful than the time before, perhaps because she was over her flu. She climbed into the car, thighs flashing festively on the wind. Montalbano turned....'

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story is in the Faulknerian psychology of Gargano's employee, Mariastella Consentino, a fifty year old woman who loves her boss like a favorite slave. Of course we're distracted by another of his employees, the familiar Camilleri femme fatale, the aggressively beautiful Michela Manganaro ('the bitch with the Marlene Dietrich voice') who seduces Montalbano as easily as dialling up a cup of coffee from a vending machine. And as usual with these Camilleri women, she's a bit unbelievable, and as usual, we don't care, as a Montalbano drama has to have a sexy woman to break all the codes and punish the inspector while rewarding the reader as per the cop genre. Yes, he guilt eats lots too, and if we thought about it rationally, we would realize Montalbano would have to be a 100 pounds overweight despite all his smoking and swimming and walks along the beach or the jetty to the lighthouse.

It's all very funny, of course, and the tragedy is always leitmotif. Even when he finds his inspirational Saracen tree has been cut down by a careless builder working for one of Gargano's employees at 'King Midas', a young homosexual called Giacomo Pelligrino, there is justice... although can there ever be justice for a thousand year old olive tree with still lots to give? Maybe a bullet to the face or a voyage to the bottom of the sea might suffice. A drunken Montalbano vandalizes the property and then has to deal with the crime when it's reported first thing the next morning. Funny? That's only the beginning.

The key to the story? A retired school teacher who's considered a crank by all and sundry because he once reported seeing a UFO on one of his walks near Punta Pizzillo. Some of the best imagery happens when he accompanies Montalbano to the cliff and a shaft of light ('like a votive painting') provides the relentless inspector with the clue he needs to crack it all open... although a little bit of James Bond action is required before he can bring his ad hoc investigation to a close.

Uneven, stretched out with speculative exposition typical of a production team trying to storyboard a script, The Scent of Night nevertheless has enough character and imagery to satisfy anyone who has read a few of the Montalbano novels, although maybe fatal for a jaded neophyte looking for action and easy murder. Montalbano's outlaw behaviour keeps us going, and we might even consider taking up smoking in sympathy for his sense of persecution.

© LR April 2017

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