Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri

“The inspector contemplated his superior’s disturbing hairdo, which was very full with a great big tuft in the middle that curled back like certain turds deposited in the open country. An exact replica of the coif of that criminally insane psychiatrist who’d triggered all the butchery in Bosnia.”

I am currently reading the 13th novel in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series, Germinal, and if you have read the novel, you know it’s about French miners–French miners in the 19th century who slave under the most horrendous, unsafe conditions and barely make enough to eat. Well if that sounds downright depressing, you’d be right, and so I decided I needed something to read along with Germinal–something a little lighter. And so I turned to Andrea Camilleri’s novel, Voice of the Violin.

Voice of the Violin is the fourth novel in the Sicilian Inspector Montalbano mysteries. As I write this, I realize that it probably sounds odd to pick an Italian crime novel set in Sicily as ‘light’ reading, but that will probably give you a fair idea of the sort of crime novel Camilleri writes. Light on violence, no gore, & heavy on the humour which is mainly found in the protagonist, Salvo Montalbano.

Voice of the Violin is, so far at least, the weakest in the series. Bear in mind I’ve only read four, and funnily enough, the third novel, The Snack Thief, was the best to date.

In Voice of the Violin,  Montalbano investigates the murder of a beautiful young socialite. She is found naked, with her head shoved down into the mattress, and the autopsy reveals that she was suffocated–possibly during sex. While Montalbano painstakingly pieces together the woman’s last hours, he runs into a few stumbling blocks. The woman, Michela Licalzi, was married to a wealthy doctor, but to complicate matters, she led an almost completely separate life from her spouse and she had a lover.

Montalbano knows the victim’s identity, has the crime scene, but vital pieces of information are missing. Where are the victim’s clothes, for example?

As the investigation continues, Montalbano rubs shoulders with some helpful mafiosa who’d really like to buy his soul and butts head with a macho, corrupt Captain from the Flying Squad. Meanwhile he juggles the investigation with his troubled personal life. Still involved in his long-distance relationship with long-time lover, Livia, he faces temptation from Michela’s best friend.

With police detective series novels, it’s always a juggling act , and a fine balance must be maintained between the crime and the series detective. After all, we readers become fond of the series detective–that’s why we keep reading. In Voice of the Violin, while the crime doesn’t fade, the victim does. And although a few details of Michela’s life emerge, her corpse seems little more than a plot device to kick the story into action.  But perhaps I am still feeling the after-effects of reading Derek Raymond’s He Died With His Eyes Open–a novel in which a police detective practically merges his own identity with the victim…..

Of course, Montalbano is strongly present: grumpy, unpredictable, naked at times and always in search of the next gastronomic indulgence. Well, I have more Montalbano mysteries on my shelf, and I expected some to be better than others. In Voice of the Violin, Montalbano makes some huge errors, and he admits this, but at the same time, he battles police corruption in his own inimitable way–by rolling with it and playing the game with just enough underhand craftiness combined with bureaucratic finesse that he gets his way–eventually.


Filed under Camilleri, Andrea

6 responses to “Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri

  1. Okay, I am dragging up a two-year-old review — which is excellent, incidentally, and people should pay attention to it — that provoked nary a comment, but I have a reason. While I am not an avid reader of ficton or noir, a recommendation from Guy concerning Inspector Montalbano about a year ago has produced more dollars spent on DVD purchases (and much enjoyment, I hasten to add) than I think on spent on books this year (shame on you, KfC). To wit:

    1. Montalbano — we own and have watched all 22 episodes, most three times. We are also running our own version of a lending library with the DVDs, with about five other couples waiting in line.
    2. The Octopus — an Italian series on the Mafia, extending over 10 years. We have them all, with three seasons yet to go before heading back to season one and starting over.
    3. Inspector Colliandro — crime in Bologna featuring a hapless cop who always manages to find a beautiful, smarter female co-solver.
    4. Commissario Brunetti — Film versions of Donna Leon novels (17 have been done, we only have four but four more are on the way). Set in Venice (the production values are exceptional), dialogue is in German with English subtitles — this is as multi-cultural as you can get.
    5. Wallander — an obvious choice, but we’ve ordered the Swedish versions after seeing the BBC adaptations.

    Oh what a tangled web Guy weaves, when first he …. Do the math on how many DVDs have been bought and you will see how much he has cost us in the last year. Then again, more evenings that not we settle in to enjoy one of these, so I guess he has to be forgiven.

  2. What a great list of series. Despite my love of Bologna I’ll skip the Colliandro but the others sound good.

    Nice that Montalbano makes errors. All too unusual in fictional detectives. I’m not surprised by the way the Raymond was lingering in memory. He Died … really is a remarkable book.

  3. Kevin: How about the ZEN series?

  4. Guy: ZEN is noted. The others tend not to get to Rome very often, so that is an attraction. I’ll admit the production values and surroundings are every bit as important is the actual story. Mrs. KfC is planning a Sicily trekking trip next year and her guide has already promised a day-long tour of Montalbano sites.

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