Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
This novel is the twenty-third book in the Montalbano detective series written by Italy’s most famous contemporary writer, ninety-four year old, Andrea Camilleri. His books have been written in Italian and translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli, who includes in each Montalbano novel translation a set of illuminating footnotes that explain references to Sicilian holidays, in-jokes and menu items. Andrea Camilleri is the author of the historical comic mysteries Hunting Season and The Brewer of Preston. His books have sold over 65 million copies worldwide.
Although most of the earlier Montalbano plots have grown out of news stories, this latest novel, The Overnight Kidnapper, is purely a Camilleri invention. Set in the fictional town of Vigata on the southern coast of Sicily the Montalbano stories include themes of the mafia, corruption, political incompetence and Italian food.
In the novel, The Overnight Kidnapper, after an inauspicious start to the day Inspector Montalbano is made aware of a strange kidnapping that has occurred where the victim returns home the next day safe and well. When another kidnapping occurs under similar circumstances and it is discovered that the victims are both in their thirties and work for banks, the police believe they are on the way to solving this mystery.
Then there is what looks like arson leading the police to believe that the mafia might be involved. When a car is torched and another kidnapped victim is revealed, this time naked with small cuts over the body and another man and a woman cannot be located, the police begin to suspect that all these incidents are linked but they cannot find the connection. It is not until a body is found wrapped in plastic that a new idea presents itself to Montalbano, ‘As far as I’m concerned…the so called kidnapper is starting to look like someone we know’ (168). And the evidence does seem to be pointing in this direction.
It is only when the final missing body is found badly beaten and tossed in with the rubbish that Montalbano reconsiders his thoughts about this case. While all this is going on there is the interaction between the inspector and a local businessman who for various reasons never seem to be able to find a suitable time to meet. This man may have crucial information and when they finally manage the connection, this does seem so. However, Montalbano is not satisfied. After giving this case much deliberation, he is now convinced that he knows the truth, but how to get the evidence he requires! He devises his plan.
Much of this narrative concerns discussions among the police as they try to meld together all the pieces that are slowly revealed. Added to this is the humorous, though somewhat indecipherable dialect of the Sicilian police station’s switchboard operator as he passes on messages to the inspector. But it is the astuteness of Montalbano that ties the storyline together.
For me, the writing style of this author did not flow as easily as some other authors. This is probably because of the prolific use of short words in the sentences and the detailed description of things which should be obvious to the reader or are unnecessary to the narrative e.g. ‘After leaving the trattoria he took his customary stroll along the jetty; out to the flat rock just under the lighthouse. He sat down on the rock, lit a cigarette, and started thinking… None of it made sense. And yet there had to be an explanation for it all’. He then goes on to talk to a crab, to which ‘The crab did not reply’ (55). Earlier in the book three pages had been dedicated to the inspector chasing a fly which crawls up his nose. And then there are the ‘Let’s let’ which have cropped up a couple of times. This writing style could also be the result of the novel having to be translated from Italian to English.
I have to admit though, that as I became more involved with the storyline the writing style lost some of its significance. For the fans of the Inspector Montalbano books, I am sure they will thoroughly enjoy this latest book by Andrea Camilleri. One cannot but wonder how many more of these books will be published considering the age of the author.