In Sicily, life and death can seem as brutally simple as the baking-hot sun overhead. But for Inspector Salvo Montalbano, complexity looms behind every crumbling ruin on the island and around every curve of its twisting coastline. When the illustrious politico Silvio Luparello turns up dead on a whore- and drug-infested beach called the Pasture, the circumstances of his demise are a little odd, but the cause appears to be straightforwardly non-homicidal: He succumbed to a heart attack, during or soon after a moment of illicit ecstasy with an unknown companion. Montalbano, despite official pressure to close the case promptly, insists on exploring the puzzling facts that surround it—surround it with the same random profusion as the used condoms that lie scattered across the Pasture. How did Luparello’s car cross a treacherous riverbed to reach the spot where a pair of garbagemen found it one morning, with its owner’s naked corpse inside? Who dropped a diamond necklace worth millions of lire near the crime scene? What role in the whole sordid business did Ingrid Sjostrom play? (She’s a Swedish beauty who once drove race cars for fun; now, it seems, she just drives Italian men crazy with lust.)
The vicissitudes of present-day Sicilian life—labor strikes, drive-by Mafia shootings, opéra-bouffe political maneuvering—hang about the murky edges of this tale, but Montalbano knows his way around them. Suave, savvy, bereft of illusion but not entirely cynical, he makes for a trusty guide through a brutal, fascinating landscape. Equally worthy of trust is the novel’s translator, Stephen Sartarelli, who renders Camilleri’s crisp storytelling in sprightly English.