Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Voice of the Violin

The Voice of the Violin - Andrea Camilleri

This mystery is the fourth of a series starring Inspector Salvo Montalbano and set in contemporary Sicily. Character and setting drive the plot. Salvo is easily angered and distracted, both of which make him absent-minded and liable to make mistakes. He also has synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. For instance, Salvo’s brain may assign colors to smells.  Luckily for him, he’s a gourmand that demands silence when eating so as to enjoy the food better. The descriptions of food and eating are a foodie reader’s delight.

Camilleri does not make a big deal of Salvo’s synesthesia and doesn’t refer to it in every book. But it helps Salvo to make leaps of intuition when his emotions short-circuit his intelligence. Blending ideas and hunches creatively may also help him to understand quickly new social milieus and how people are compelled to behave in them. Readers that like the questioning of people in different walks of life and shrewd investigations of Simenon’s Maigret will find Salvo’s lack of method appealing.

Salvo is every scene and he has vigorous exchanges with this subordinates in the police station, his friends, and his long-distance romantic partner Livia. Dialogue and keen descriptions aid characterization and setting of small town Sicily. Camilleri also uses shifts in tone to excellent effect. For example, Salvo will be enjoying a traditional Sicilian dish. A couple pages later he will act as the cynical fighter for what he thinks is right. For him, it’s mainly uphill battles against the endemic corruption of Berlusconi’s government, the careerism of his colleagues, and depraved human nature that leads to grotesque crimes. Then a couple pages later the comic character Officer Catarlla will be making the reader crack up like Officer Toody did in Car 54 (boy, does that date me….). Then Salvo will be bemoaning Sicily turning into a concrete nightmare due to overdevelopment, sprawl, and road-building frenzy.

Readers who don’t require a puzzle will enjoy the characters and settings of Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano novels.

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