This Montalbano investigation is a treasure of modern crime literature. It’s delightful to read; a frothy confection of familiar, entertaining themes wrapped around a darker, poignant and potent core.
The only reason August Heat doesn’t score a full 10/10 is because it isn’t very accessible to new readers to the series. It’s the tenth book in the series and you really do need to have some familiarity with the characters and the Sicilian situation to enjoy this novel to the full. It won’t be a problem if you’ve seen the excellent Italian TV series; that’ll give you enough understanding into Montalbano’s complicated romantic involvement with Livia, his passion for fabulous food, and his primordial urge to submerge himself in the sea at frequent intervals; to wash away the sordid, sorry moments, to escape the hectic, stewing summer heat of the title.
This is a relatively slim book by modern (by which I may mean ‘American’) crime novel standards, and all the better for it. Camilleri’s translated prose is featherweight, easy to absorb and understated. He compellingly evokes the sweat-saturated, airless environment of a small Sicilian town, and peoples it with delightful characters. Mimi Augello doesn’t get much of an outing in this book but Fazio more than makes up for that with his endless lists; almost all of the regulars make a satisfying appearance.
Better yet, Camilleri wraps his characters around a convincing mystery with Montalbano at its heart. A Montalbano who is feeling both the heat, and his age. A faithful man who isn’t beyond temptation. An honest man, prepared to use devious means to see a murdering criminal brought to justice…
The plot seems almost secondary to the series’ continuing theme, in which a flawed but fundamentally righteous man attempts to act in a moral manner in the most difficult circumstances. Here a missing child leads to the discovery of a dead body, which in turn highlights the commonplace corruption that pervades Sicilian society. Where the younger Montalbano has made remarkable deductive leaps to resolve near-impossible cases in the past, his middle-aged incarnation is rather more susceptible to malign influences.
Compared to Scandinavian noir, this series can seem quite lightweight at times. But this novel in particular contains darker themes which reveal the weakest and worst aspects of humanity – and make them real, without resorting to gore and splatter.
Altogether wonderful. Like I say, not a great place to get to know Montalbano and the gang, but extremely rewarding for fans of the series. Prego!
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
August Heat is available at Amazon as a paperback and ebook