“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.