Camilleri, Andrea - 'The Track of Sand' (translated by Stephen Sartarelli)
The twelfth book in the Inspector Salvo Montalbano series provides just what the eager, regular reader will expect. Montalbano, Inspector of the Vigata (Sicily) police, lives in a house on the beach, is 56 years old, enjoys reading Swedish crime fiction, and has an extremely semi-detached relationship with Livia, in this particular book merely a voice on the telephone. He is increasingly prone to the mid-life crisis, still unsure about whether to "settle down" domestically or if this is even an option. One thing is clear, though; Montalbano is passionately opposed to corruption of any kind, and is equally passionately devoted to his country and its traditional ways of life, which are constantly being undermined by corrupt and other unwelcome forces of change.
THE TRACK OF SAND opens with a dream, from which Montalbano is rudely awakened. He goes out onto the beach and discovers the body of a horse, brutally slain. Very upset, he calls his colleagues but while they are deciding how to investigate and discovering which authority is responsible for removal of the carcass, it disappears, which seems to put a premature stop to further elucidation - unless someone reports a missing horse to the police.
Inevitably, someone does - in the shape of Rachele, an impossibly beautiful, rich and talented rider who keeps her horses at the stables of a wealthy and powerful man who the police suspect is involved in organised crime. Rachele turns out to be staying with Montalbano's close friend Ingrid, so he is more disposed to help her than he might otherwise have been. Without any evidence, though, it seems difficult to make any progress in solving the mystery, though Montalbano is taken by Rachele to a society racing day which has some personal consequences for the policeman.
The novel seems to tread water at this point, with the focus shifting to a case that had been going on before chapter 1, involving some extortion and kidnapping but not presented in very sharp focus. Montalbano's house is ransacked, whether related to the horse theft or not he is not sure - until one of his men provides an unmissable, if unintentional, clue that provides a breakthrough in both cases.
Although Montalbano has his share of wonderful meals in this novel, they are not described with the passionate gusto of the earlier books. I also have the impression that more and more of the characters are speaking in strange dialects as the series progresses - none with the inspired brilliance of the policeman Catarella, as ever on his top, linguistically challenged form. Montalbano's fear of ageing is here manifested by his fixation on his lieutenant Mimi Augello's recent purchase of a pair of spectacles. Montalbano cannot decide whether to be horrified, to criticise Mimi's taste in eyewear, or to admit that he now finds it increasingly difficult to see anything clearly and hence needs to visit the opticians himself.
In the end, of course, all is resolved, and one closes the last page with the usual sadness at leaving Montalbano, his colleagues and his beautiful slice of Sicilian countryside for another year.
Read another review of THE TRACK OF SAND.
Maxine Clarke, England