Camilleri, Andrea - 'The Paper Moon' (translated by Stephen Sartarelli)
This is the ninth in the series of books featuring Inspector Montalbano, a detective who is based in Sicily. The Inspector, now in his fifties, feels he is getting old. He has started to use an alarm clock to wake himself, not because he can't wake up, but to avoid the thought 'When your dying day comes…': the thought that has started to come to him first thing in the morning, when he wakes up naturally. Fortunately, a murder turns up to take his mind off his own death.
Signorina Michela Pardo insists that something must have happened to her brother Angelo, as he hasn't been in touch for a couple of days. They apparently have a very close relationship and normally she talks to her brother every day. The inspector accompanies her to his apartment to investigate, but everything looks normal. They are just about to leave, when Michela suddenly turns and runs back upstairs to the terrace above the apartment, in the middle of which is the old laundry, which is locked shut. She says she doesn't have the key, and the inspector has to break down the door. He immediately smells the scent of death. Angelo is lying dead in his armchair, half of his face blasted away by the shot that killed him, but bizarrely, his flies are undone, with nothing left to the imagination.
Michela suspects that the killer is her brother's lover, a married woman called Elena, who apparently was a jealous woman. But Angelo has many secrets that suggest there may have been others who wanted to kill him. He worked for the pharmaceutical industry as an 'informer' (a kind of sales representative). Was he involved in bribing customers to stock certain drugs? Is there something in his past that has caught up with him? Meanwhile, several people start dying from tainted cocaine, including several politicians. Is there a connection? If so, what is it? How did the deceased manage to afford to buy expensive presents for his girlfriend Elena on his salary as a sales rep? Did he have a secret income, and a secret bank account? Gradually, the Inspector finds out about the victim and his life and uncovers his secrets, in between perpetually postponed appointments with his commissioner, several delicious meals (which make you wish that you were at the same table) and various vivid dreams and encounters all of which help Montalbano to solve the crime. He manages to piece together what happened, and realises that he has been keen to believe certain people blindly, just as he believed his father when he was a child, and his father had told him that the moon was made out of paper just to tease him.
As usual, Camilleri succeeds in writing an amusing and entertaining crime novel that keeps us hooked until the final pages. His particular strength is in conveying how the smallest thing, seemingly insignificant at first sight, can be a major clue in unveiling the mystery. These small clues gradually form a cohesive picture of just what might have happened and why. Camilleri weaves a fascinating picture of human foibles, secrets and mistakes that lead inevitably to the crime of murder. One of the most enjoyable crime novels I've read this past year.
Read another review of THE PAPER MOON.
Michelle Peckham, England