Salem Witch: Patricia Hermes
Children's Literacy Round-Up: October 15

Two Enjoyable Grown-Up Mysteries

Due to time constraints, I mostly limit myself to reviewing children's and young adult books on this blog. I know, however, that many of the people who visit this blog also like adult mysteries. Therefore, I'd like to briefly recommend two recent reads to you.

Excursion to Tindari is the fourth (or possibly the fifth) book in the Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri. This series is set in the fictional village of Vigàta in Sicily, where Montalbano labors under the shadows of the Mafia and his own corrupt (or at least corruptible) superiors. Montalbano has assembled a functional, if quirky, team of honest cops, and together they tackle cases that range from mundane to downright evil. I find that Camilleri has a unique voice, dealing with dark and depressing crimes, yet maintaining a relatively light tone. Montalbano is simply obsessed with food, and is capable of jumping with joy over food left by his housekeeper in his refrigerator. His right-hand man, Mimi Arguello, is a womanizer, though a highly capable officer. Another team member has a photographic memory, while a fourth is ludicrously stupid, but with a gift for computers. Montalbano himself is moody and irritable at times, occasionally manipulative, and definitely subversive regarding his upper management. But he's likable all around.

In Excursion to Tindari, Montalbano and his team investigate two apparently unrelated cases: the murder of a young man named Nene as he returns home to his apartment, and the disappearance of an unfriendly elderly couple who live in Nene's apartment building. Toss in a summons by the local mob boss, and you have vintage Camilleri. My favorite scene is when Mimi tells Montalbano: "I've decided to take a wife."

"Montalbano reacted on impulse, prey to an uncontrollable rage. With his left hand he swept the glass and bottle off the table, while with his right he dealt Mimi, who'd turned towards him, a ringing slap on the cheek."

It turns out that Montalbano has mis-heard Mimi, and thought that Mimi said that he had decided to take his own life.

Anyway, the Montalbano books are a unique and entertaining series, a bit lighter in tone (though not in the nature of the crimes) than Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti series (which is set in Venice). I highly recommend them. But you should read the series in order, starting with The Shape of Water.

The other recommendation that I have for you is set in a very different place and time. The Last Kashmiri Rose is the first book in Barbara Cleverly's 1920's series about Scotland Yard Commander Joe Sandilands. In this book, Joe is on a short-term assignment in Calcutta, and is sent to the small town and military base of Panikhat to investigate the possible serial murders of several British military wives, spread out over 12 years. Each of the deaths has been ruled accidental (except for the first, which stemmed from a Dacoit uprising). However, all of the deaths occurred in the same month, and there are other, hidden similarities which are gradually revealed. The deaths are important politically, also, since if an Indian is prosecuted, they could spark renewed unrest in the region. Joe finds himself in an awkward position socially and culturally, but does encounter allies (and a liaison with a beautiful woman) in his quest for the truth.

I found this book a bit slow to start with, with a fair bit of description of 1920's British India. However, the pace of the book gradually ramped up, and I also became attached to Joe, and to Naurung (the Indian policeman who assists him). I found the historical details interesting, too, more in the small things than the large ones. What the hierarchies were among the military personnel, and between the white and Indian people. How women were treated, and what the 1920's attitudes were towards flirtation and infidelity. And so on. The writing is excellent, and the plotting complex. I plan to check out the other books in the series.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.