Latest Reading: The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

The Shape of Water is a crime novel featuring police chief detective Salvo Montalbano. It is a classic detective procedural and is the first in a series featuring the fictional detective. RAI, the national public broadcasting company of Italy turned The Shape of Water and the later other novels into the series into a television series. Kirkus Reviews calls Montalbano the Latin version of Phillip Marlowe. Marlowe is a character by Raymond Chandler, the most famous author in the “hardboiled crime fiction” genre that started in the 1920s.

I chose the book because Camilleri’s Montalbano stories are set on the island of Sicily. We are visiting the island in June and I am reading about Sicily to enhance my visit. It was another book I borrowed from the Great Lakes Digital Library and it took me 4 hours and 31 minutes to complete. I don’t know how I feel about digital books providing usage data. It is interesting to learn how long it takes to read a novel and I don’t think I would have guessed that it takes that much time.

I like crime stories and the book is a page-turner. It is set in the fictional south coast town of Vigata. Two municipal garbage collectors find an important politician dead in his car at an abandoned factory on the outskirts of the town. The factory site has turned into an outdoor brothel of sorts with immigrant women plying their trade. Powerful political players try to cover up the crime behind the death and Montalbano sets out to uncover what happened. It is an entertaining, light read and would be good on an airplane.

Ideas I am taking away from the book and things I learned about Sicily are as follows:

  • I knew southern Italy is different from northern Italy and that some Italians feel it could not be part of the country. I didn’t realize that there was a Sicilian dialect that is so different from Italian that it is considered a separate language. Sicily to me seems to be poor, a bit rough-edged (the mafia originated there), hot, dry and having seen better days. I know hundreds of thousands of Sicilians immigrated and their culture is a big part of New York culture today.
  • The carabinieri are the military police of Italy. I guess they would be the equivalent of the Michigan’s State Police but with stronger ties to the military. Officers are assigned regionally and are usually not from the districts they are patrolling.
  • tambasiare – Sicilian verb similar to English to dawdle and specifically refers to poking about from room-to-room without a precise goal.
  • accuttufarsi Sicilian verb meaning to get beaten up and to withdraw from human society
  • pied-à-terre – a French term literally mean “foot on the ground” and it refers to a small apartment or residence used as a secondary accommodation by a rich person. It is not a vacation home but just as an occasional residence. In the book, the deceased victim had a cottage on an isolated cape that he used for illicit romantic encounters. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we used our friends family hunting camps or lake cabins to take girls or drink alcohol. I guess those would have been our pied-a-terres. Cities like New York and Paris have been trying to reduce the number of apartments purchased in this manner because for most of the year they are empty and they drive up the cost of real estate.
  • tufa is a variety of limestone and I imagine I’ll be seeing a lot of it on our visit. It also has the name travertine and we are using it as the facade of our school buildings.
  • cália e simenza – a Sicilian streetfood mixture of roasted chick peas and salted pumpkin seeds
  • Prudence – means good judgment

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