The Shape of Water
add to cart
Read an excerpt
The Terra-Cotta Dog
add to cart
Read an excerpt
The Snack Thief
add to cart
Voice of the Violin
add to cart
INTRODUCTION TO THE SHAPE OF WATER
In the seaside town of Vigàta, Sicily, innocence and idealism die even faster than the whores, drifters, and small-time Mafiosi who infest the village with an air of gritty decadence and menace. Those who succeed in Vigàta have learned an astonishing array of tricks, either sexual, political, or both. Those who stumble quickly learn new meanings to the words ferocity and horror.
One citizen who has both risen and fallen is Silvio Luparello, a.k.a. the Engineer. After nearly twenty years of low-profile political maneuvering, Luparello has finally gained control of the local arm of his political party and has secured his long-hoped-for appointment as provincial secretary. Only three days after his appointment, however, a pair of trash collectors find Luparello dead in his BMW in a kind of open-air brothel on the outskirts of town, his head thrown back and his trousers lowered. As the local television news sanitizes the incident and the crime lab scrambles for answers, Police Inspector Salvo Montalbano tries to assemble a puzzle whose pieces refuse to fit. Why is Pietro Rizzo, the dead man’s closest political ally, so undisturbed by Luparello’s death? What is the significance of a valuable necklace discovered near the car? And what does any of this have to do with a transvestite named Marilyn?
Fast-paced, sharp-edged, and laced with hard-boiled humor, The Shape of Water marks the debut of Inspector Montalbano, a wily gourmand whose inquiries only begin with the facts of the case. In between elaborately prepared meals, Montalbano also ponders the ethics of his profession and the uncertain nature of truth in a world largely given over to concealment and deception.
INTRODUCTION TO THE TERRA-COTTA DOG
From the very first pages of The Terra-Cotta Dog, the second Inspector Montalbano mystery from the pen of Andrea Camilleri, the detective’s world seems to have been turned upside down. First comes a secret face-to-face meeting with a dreaded Mafioso who wants nothing more than to have himself arrested. Then there is the matter of the unknown thieves who clean out Carmelo Ingrassia’s supermarket, only to leave all the stolen merchandise in a tractor trailer behind a nearby filling station. Just as life is starting to make sense again, an eighty-year-old Fascist who prides himself on his slow driving dies behind the wheel in a high-speed crash, only hours before a scheduled meeting with the inspector. Strange as the inspector’s own times may seem, however, the most intriguing and poignant mystery is yet to unfold, and it comes not from the present, but from the past. While retrieving a cache of smuggled weapons, the inspector happens upon a pair of desicated corpses in a long-forgotten cave, entwined in a lovers’ embrace beneath the unblinking eyes of a terra-cotta dog.
As other events lead him toward mortal danger, Montalbano finds himself obsessively drawn to unearth the story of the two dead lovers. Not only must he learn what happened to them, but he must also confront the reasons why he finds their secret so absorbing. Is his interest, as the police commissioner suggests, merely a form of “mental masturbation”? Does he see some fleeting image of his own identity in the mysterious remains? Or is it that, in a world of corruption, violence, and deceit, he hopes to find some tattered remnant of purity and decency in the voiceless past? In this masterly novel, in which all explanations seem possible yet so much seems inexorably fated, Inspector Montalbano is less concerned with determining whodunit than with seeking rest for departed spirits and finding solace for his own.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SNACK THIEF
A man of rough language and occasionally rougher methods, Police Inspector Salvo Montalbano is not the first person one would accuse of sentimentality. Yet in The Snack Thief, the third Inspector Montalbano mystery by Andrea Camilleri, the detective faces events that remind him, sometimes uncomfortably, of the inescapable emotional connections that tie even a cynical crime analyst to those around him. Montalbano finds his sympathies aroused when he takes custody of the novel’s title character, an abandoned boy named François, who has managed to survive by stealing the snacks of other children on their way to school. These sympathies, however, start to give way to jealousy as François wins the affection of Montalbano’s lover, and the insular closeness of woman and boy threatens to leave the inspector the odd man out.
At the same time, Montalbano is working overtime to determine the connection between a pair of nearly simultaneous but seemingly unrelated homicides. On the same morning that a Tunisian patrol boat reportedly opens fire on a Sicilian fishing trawler, killing one of the crew, Mr. Aurelio Lapècora, an aging businessman, is found stabbed to death in the elevator of his apartment building. At the apparent center of all the intrigue is a young Muslim woman named Karima. The cleaning woman at Lapècora’s office, Karima is in the practice of performing “extras” for her male clientele. She is also both the mother of the little snack thief and, amazingly, the sister of the dead fisherman. But the center proves to be the empty space in the design, for Karima is nowhere to be found.
In The Snack Thief, Inspector Montalbano is called upon not only to make connections of a deductive nature, but also to attempt those that will require a more humane intelligence and sensitivity. Will the brilliant solver of criminal mysteries also be able to unravel the mysteries of his own heart? Only time and Andrea Camilleri will tell.
INTRODUCTION TO VOICE OF THE VIOLIN
Police Inspector Salvo Montalbano could write a book about the subtleties of Sicilian cuisine, but he is admittedly ignorant when it comes to music. Nevertheless, in Voice of the Violin, the fourth Montalbano mystery, the inspector must learn to listen to the world in unfamiliar ways in order to make sense of a baffling array of clues. A beautiful woman is found smothered and naked in the bed of her unfinished home, and a search of the house turns up no articles of clothing other than a pink bathrobe. Soon afterward, a prime suspect in the case is gunned down by a police squad in less than transparent circumstances. The dead woman’s husband, who claims to have loved her “like a daughter,” views her murder with a strange emotional detachment. Meanwhile, above all the confusion, as if on a level of existence more celestially beautiful than ours, a masterful but reclusive violinist plays free morning concerts for his paraplegic neighbor.
Voice of the Violin is a classic whodunit, taking the reader on a labyrinthine path that leads from the discovery of a murder victim to the climactic unmasking of the killer. In the hands of a master storyteller like Andera Camilleri, however, the classic is never the conventional. As Montalbano implacably tracks down the murderer, he also continues to deal with a thorny romantic life and the frustrations of working within the criminal justice system, all the while indulging his insatiable appetite for Sicilian delicacies.
Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano mystery series, bestsellers in Italy and Germany, has been adapted for Italian television and translated into German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Japanese, Dutch, and Swedish. He lives in Rome.
- Even before the grisly discovery that triggers Montalbano’s investigation, Camilleri presents a multitude of details that establish the character of the town of Vigàta and the general mood of the novel. Which details do you find most effective, and why?
- We first see Inspector Montalbano as he awakens from a vivid erotic dream. Given the brutal everyday realities that Montalbano confronts on the job, what is the significance of the fact that we first glimpse him as a fantasist and a dreamer?
- Like many fictional detectives, Montalbano works with informants who are active criminals. One of these, Gegè Gullotta, is a pimp who manages underage girls, some not yet in their teens. Making matters still more complex is the fact that Montalbano and Gullotta have been buddies since they were boys, and they still regard each other as friends. In using Gullotta as an informant and failing to arrest him, is Montalbano only doing what is necessary to do his job, is he giving a friend a break, or is he making himself an accomplice to crime?
- Early in The Shape of Water, Montalbano states with pride that he is an honest man. By the end of the novel, he isn’t so sure. The metaphor in the novel’s title is also a commentary on the nature of truth: just as water assumes the shape of its container, so, too, can facts be made to fit almost any theory, provided the theorist is clever enough. In what other ways does The Shape of Water comment on the nature of truth and honesty?
- A continual counterpoint to Montalbano’s investigation is its coverage by the news media. How do news reports reveal and relate to the political culture of the province, and do they subserve the hypocrisy of that culture?
- The novels of Andrea Camilleri have been compared to the hard-boiled detective stories of Raymond Chandler. If you have read some of Chandler’s work, what similarities or differences do you observe? You might consider such points of comparison as the two authors’ use of humor, their concept of gender roles, and their attitudes toward violence.
- Some of the sharpest insights in the novel come, not from Montalbano, but from Secretary Luparello’s widow. Ingrid Sjostrom also proves to be an unexpectedly strong character. What characteristics in women does Camilleri depict as admirable?
- Late in the novel, Montalbano’s lover, Livia, says that he has promoted himself from inspector to a fourth-rate god. What precisely does she mean? Throughout the novel, has Montalbano performed his professional duties, or has his conduct been somehow self-aggrandizing?
- Inspector Montalbano’s passion for food is a touchstone of his character. What, in your view, do the frequent descriptions of food contribute to this and, if you have read them, other Inspector Montalbano mysteries? Is it significant that Montalbano is so often shown eating, but so seldom preparing his own food?
- Montalbano often uses questionable methods to achieve his goals, as when he uses blackmail photographs to intimidate Ingrid’s father-in-law. Do Montalbano’s ends always justify the means, or do you sometimes find his conduct unacceptable?
- Alcide Maraventano suggests to Montalbano that life involves a vast system of diverse codes that people are always devising and deciphering. One such code is represented by the unlikely objects found near the mummified corpses of Lisetta and Mario. What kinds of messages can visual codes communicate that written words cannot? In what ways is The Terra-Cotta Dog a coded text?
- In The Terra-Cotta Dog, Montalbano continues his vexed relationship with the press. Early in the novel, he barely makes it through his appearance at a press conference. Later in the book, however, he makes adroit use of the news media to prompt a key figure in the mystery to come forward. What has Montalbano learned about the manipulation of the media?
- Typically, detective fiction starts with a crime and moves linearly toward the apprehension of the perpetrator. Andrea Camilleri’s mysteries do not consistently follow this pattern. Rather, Camilleri uses the subgenre of the “police procedural” to engage thoughtfully in character development and to raise issues of moral ambiguity. How does Camilleri manage to resist some of the usual expectations of detective fiction while telling an engaging story?
- In probing the mysteries of the Crasticeddru cave, Montalbano fears that he has desecrated both life and death. To feel that one has desecrated something, one must have a sense of the sacred. What, in the eyes of Inspector Montalbano, is sacred?
- In The Terra-Cotta Dog, Montalbano is almost as frustrated by his law enforcement colleagues as he is bedeviled by the forces of the Sicilian underworld. How do the personality quirks and periodic incompetencies of the inspector’s fellow officers contribute to the atmosphere of Camilleri’s work?
- Although Montalbano has rewarding friendships with women he respects intellectually, he routinely exasperates the women in his life who approach him with romantic intentions. How can it be that he is so comfortable with women on one level, but so ill at ease with them on another?
- In the violent, corrupt milieu that is Vigàta, opportunities for redemption are scarce. If the possibility of redemption exists in The Terra-Cotta Dog, what are its sources? Despite its violence, is The Terra-Cotta Dog an essentially optimistic novel?
- The Snack Thief is the first Montalbano mystery to place the inspector in a context of family relationships. Montalbano both deals with the terminal illness of his own father and takes determined steps toward becoming both a husband and an adoptive father. In general, he is not as comfortable with familial relationships as he is in his professional work. Why not?
- One of the most important figures in The Snack Thief, the mother of François, never appears directly in the story. How does Camilleri attempt to make her a convincing and even sympathetic character, even though we never actually meet her? Does he succeed?
- Montalbano is deeply suspicious of his second-in-command, Mimì Augello, on both a personal and a professional level, yet Augello may also be viewed as a compassionate man and an earnest, if sometimes imprudent, subordinate. Does Augello deserve suspicion, or is Montalbano irrational in his appraisal of him?
- When Montalbano discovers he is about to be promoted, his reaction is emphatic: he fights tooth and nail not to have the promotion go through. Why do you think Montalbano is so averse to what would seem to be a step forward in his career?
- Montalbano is openly disgusted with Lapècora’s son, who callously ignores his father’s desperate plea for help. Later in the novel, however, Montalbano cannot bring himself to visit his own dying father. How might this seeming contradiction in attitudes be explained?
- Little François provides Montalbano with an important inspiration when he tries to cut up the pieces of a puzzle so that he can try to reassemble the puzzle’s picture in the way he likes. How is François’s reshaping of his puzzle an apt metaphor for Montalbano’s approach to sleuthing?
- The plot of The Snack Thief involves the operations of Islamic terrorists, yet the portrayals of some of the Muslim characters who are not involved in terrorism are very favorable. How does Montalbano’s treatment of the Islamic element in the culture of Sicily differ from the approach to Islam that one might expect from an American writer of crime fiction?
- Camilleri depicts the antiterrorist authorities, as represented by Colonel Lohengrin Pera, as being almost as indifferent to human suffering as the terrorists themselves. Were you comfortable with this characterization? What obligation, if any, do counterterrorist forces have not to descend to the moral level of their enemies? Do the “reasons of state,” such as Pera describes them, justify acts like the “neutralization” of Karima?
- In The Snack Thief, after dodging the issue for the better part of three novels, Montalbano finally proposes marriage to Livia. However, he does so in an unorthodox fashion and for a somewhat unusual reason. If you were Livia, would you accept Montalbano’s offer of marriage on the terms in which he couches it? Explain your reasons.
- Toward the end of the novel, Professor Pintacuda accuses Montalbano of perpetually trying to escape from everyday reality. Is this accusation truthful? If so, is Montalbano justified in his penchant for escapism?
- As in all of the Montalbano mysteries, Andrea Camilleri paints a detailed portrait of small-town Sicilian life, which he portrays as violent and corrupt, yet redeemed by a sensuous awareness of beauty. What are the sources of beauty in Voice of the Violin, and do they compensate for the harsher aspects of the life Camilleri describes?
- In chapter nine, Mimì tells Montalbano that he is not cut out to be a father, either biological or adoptive. Is his assessment of his boss accurate? Why would the inspector make or not make a good father?
- In Voice of the Violin, Montalbano continues his love affair with Livia, a liaison that both find intensely frustrating but without which neither is prepared to live. What, in your view, makes the two so dependent on each other and yet so mutually infuriating?
- The hapless Catarella, whose endless blunders generate much of the comedy in the Montalbano series, seems finally to have found his niche in computer technology. How is Camilleri using Catarella to express an opinion about the computer age?
- Adelina, Montalbano’s housekeeper, routinely leaves exquisitely prepared dishes in her employer’s refrigerator, but the two almost never see each other face to face. When Montalbano dines out, he very often eats alone. Why do you think Camilleri has Montalbano gratify his love for food without more human contact?
- The Montalbano novels take few specific political positions. However, the general political flavor of these is somewhat left of center. Nicolò Zito, arguably Montalbano’s best friend and the most astute television news commentator in the province, is a communist. When a labor dispute breaks out, Montalbano reflexively sides with the workers. How do you respond to the political undercurrents in Camilleri’s work?
- Although Montalbano is inwardly hurt when the boy he has hoped to adopt rejects him, he makes no attempt to press for the child’s custody. In your view, should he have put up more of a fight? Why or why not?
- Montalbano admires Anna Tropeano for her “astonishing, wholly feminine capacity for deep understanding, for penetrating one’s feelings, for being at once mother and lover, daughter and wife.” How does Montalbano’s concept of femininity influence his ability to understand and have relationships with women?
- Near the end of the novel, Montalbano looks back on the entire Licalzi case as “one mistake after another.” Why do you think this novel, and crime fiction in general, so often revolves around mistakes and accidents of one kind or another?