Monday, July 5, 2010

Review: The Wings of the Sphinx (Andrea Camilleri)

Image from Amazon

Author: Andrea Camilleri
Publisher: Penguin, 2009
Notes: I checked this book out of the library.

A brief summary: "Things are not going well for Inspector Salvo Montalbano. His relationship with Livia is once again on the rocks and-acutely aware of his age-he is beginning to grow weary of the endless violence he encounters. Then a young woman is found dead, her face half shot off and only a tattoo of a sphinx moth giving any hint of her identity. The tattoo links her to three similarly marked girls-all victims of the underworld sex trade-who have been rescued from the Mafia night-club circuit by a prominent Catholic charity. The problem is, Montalbano's inquiries elicit an outcry from the Church and the three other girls are all missing." —Goodreads summary

My thoughts: This is the first book I've ever read by Camilleri; I saw it in the new mystery section at the library and thought I would give it a shot. My first impression is that it's a bit difficult to jump into the middle of this series without knowing the characters prior; I occasionally had some difficulties trying to remember who was who. (This was especially the case when Camilleri would refer to someone by their last name for six or so pages before someone refers to the person in passing by their first name. Quite difficult to discern who the person in question was! But that may be a translation issue more than anything else.)

I had high hopes for this book, but was a bit disappointed. The first 70 pages—roughly a third of the book—were extremely slow. The murder occurs, but there's no progress toward finding the killer. Instead, Inspected Montalbano (the protagonist) is featured prominently—or more accurately, his relationship problems with a woman named Livia, with whom he has had an on-again off-again relationship for years.

This book is heavily male-oriented. By that, I don't mean that only men would enjoy this book. But the primary characters—eccentric and almost cracky—are all men. Tommaseo works with Montalbano, and he's obsessed with victims' sex lives (or sex in general). Meanwhile, Catarella—kind of the police lackey—speaks with a hokey accent. (For example, he says "poissonally in poisson" a lot, or "personally in person.")

Montalbano is kind of an interesting protagonist. In this book he seems rather gloomy, but passing references to other events and other cases implies that he's not usually so glum. The weather and access to fresh fish seem to affect his moods greatly, and he takes pleasure in a good mid-day meal, regardless of the cases he works. I found Camilleri's inclusion of Montalbano's internal monologues to be quite funny as well. He also plays a crazy cop with unusual "interrogation" techniques in the examination of one suspect, and yells out multiplication tables to get the suspect to stop crying—an extremely funny scene.

I felt that the plot twisted and turned but ended up sort of where you would expect, despite some surprising instances that interrupt one's first thoughts. I would like to read the first in this series to get a better sense of Camilleri's writing and characters before passing further judgment; I found this book a bit difficult to follow at times.

Rating: 2 stars

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