“Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They
read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t
buy any more. The first page sells that book. The last
page sells your next book.”
I am a sucker for a good mystery, especially one set in Italy. Besides the sheer pleasure of getting lost in a good book, as a mystery writer, I love to see how other writers in the genre practice their craft. There is probably room for as many mystery novels as there are writers with unique mystery voices. This is one of the best and most unique that I have ready late.
Translated from the Italian, The Potter’s Field in the latest in the series featuring Inspector Montalbano, a police detective in the fictional town of Vigáta, Sicily.
The story begins when a local man finds a dismembered body in a plastic bag in an area called “‘u critaru,” which is Sicilian for “the clay-field.” Even as the police officers fight a driving rainstorm to reach the site where the body was found, their personality quirks illustrate the relationships of these men. Montalbano must identify the victim, find the killer and deal with personality conflicts in the police department at the same time. The first of those tasks turns out to be comparatively simple, due to skillful forensic work when a dental bridge is found in the victim’s stomach.
The case becomes much more involved when the victim is found to have connections to a local Mafia boss. To complicate matters further, one of Montalbano’s officers has been in a particularly bad humor for some time, and his romantic entanglements also have a bearing on the case.
With all these pressures going on in his life, Montalbano begins to dream of retirement, but he is able to see through the complexities and identify the betrayals, as he connects the potter’s field where the body was found to the Bible and the betrayal of Judas for thirty pieces of silver.
This is the first in this series that I have read, and I felt that I missed out not knowing the background. However, Camilleri’s descriptions of the foibles of the police officers often had me laughing out loud, even as I read the gruesome details of the crime. Only an author with true knowledge of Sicilian life could create a story which reflects the unusual setting, as well as the human weaknesses and idiosyncrasies that are universal.