Andrea Camilleri: The Shape of Water – La forma dell’aqua ( 1994) Inspector Montalbano 1

Andrea Camilleri is an Italian crime writer, famous for his long-standing Inspector Montalbano series. Camilleri was born in 1925 in Sicily, where the series is set. I’ve been aware of him for ages, but for some reason, I never felt tempted to read his books. I thought this was a cozy crime series and while I occasionally enjoy them, I’m rarely willing to read a whole series. After reading a few reviews recently, I realized, I was wrong and that this wasn’t a cozy series at all.

Thanks to Stu, who dedicated March to Italian literature, I finally picked up the first in the series,  The Shape of Water – La forma dell’acqua.

The Shape of Water, like all the other novels in the series, is set in the fictional small-town Vigàta, in Sicily, which was inspired by Camilleri’s hometown Porto Empedocle, near Agrigento. On the outskirts of Vigàta, there’s the Mannàra, an open-air brothel. And it’s exactly here that the body of the dead engineer Luparello is found. The verdict is – natural causes – something that’s almost unheard of, in a region where the mafia drops body after body. Luparello was a prominent political figure and a lot of people profit not only from his death but from its unsavoury circumstances. Montalbano who is anything but obedient, demands to conduct an investigation. There are too many things that do not add up. Why would someone like Luparello go to a place like the Mannàra? Who is the woman who lost an incredibly expensive bracelet close to where the body was found? Who did Luparello meet with at his love nest?

Montalbano’s investigation introduces us to many striking and colourful characters. We get to know him, his girlfriend, his boss, his subordinates and friends very well. The book also introduces us to a place where corruption and violence are all too common. A place, where the mafia reigns and the police have a hard time keeping up with the crimes that are committed daily.

In his unorthodox way, Montalbano discovers more than one criminal act. And he decides to “play God” as his girlfriend calls it.

I’m so glad I finally read Camilleri because I enjoyed it so much that I have already started book two. This is such a perfect series for so many reasons. It paints an accurate, if somewhat embellished and exaggerated, picture of Sicily, its people, and customs. And its food. Montalbano enjoys good food, and for many readers, discovering all the dishes he eats in the books, is part of the appeal. While the descriptions of the place and its mores is part of the success of the series, the biggest reasons for loving it, is the character of Montalbano. He’s unorthodox, funny, dry, doesn’t suffer fools but has a big heart when it comes to “little people”. Montalbano’s name is an homage to Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. It’s no surprise then, that the inspector reads one of Montalban’s detective novels in this book.

Another aspect that won me over is that this isn’t the kind of police procedural, that most UK or US authors write. The police in this book are chaotic, a bit useless and the investigation isn’t conducted very rigorously. At times it reads like a satire, which I enjoyed very much.

People often wonder, why an author chooses a fictional town. In an interview Camilleri gave a very good reason. While he used his hometown and its surroundings to make the descriptions in the books more authentic, they aren’t particularly violent places and definitely not places where so many people get killed.

I’m not at my most eloquent today. Possibly because I loved this so much. I often find it difficult to write about favourite books. I’m very fond of Sicily and this brought back memories, but even if this hadn’t been the case, I would still have loved it. It’s so colorful and original and Montalbano is one of the greatest fictional inspectors I know.

27 thoughts on “Andrea Camilleri: The Shape of Water – La forma dell’aqua ( 1994) Inspector Montalbano 1

    • He’s hugely popular in Germany and Switzerland and I alos think he was translated way earlier into German. Since I mostly eat Italian food (and/or Asian), I’m really getting hungry reading this. I read the German translation but there were no recipes. Maybe that comes later in the series. I’m sure readers asked for it.

    • These were the first German editions, from almost 20 years ago. I guess they subsequently dropped the recipes. How sad!

      It actually surprised me, looking up the dates of publication, to see that the series is now almost 25 years old.

      • That is sad. There are descriptions or rather explanations of the dishes as the names are in Sicilianand not Italian but no proper recipes. Yes, 25 years. And he’s still writing it at the age of 92.

    • The characters are wonderful. So rich, even the minor ones. Glad to hear you enjoyed it as well.
      Italian food isn’t very fattening, unless you eat tons of it. But delicious.

  1. I’ve been meaning to read Camilleri for so long – you’ve pushed me to get more organised! I really enjoy the Montalbano TV adaptations and I saw a documentary about Camilleri where he was completely charming. Also, I’m sick of the grey in London and could do with some Sicilian sunshine in my life 🙂

    • I should be more organized too. I still buy so many new books although I have authors o my piles I wanted to read forages. Camilleri is very charming. If you’re in need of color and sunshine – these books offer plenty of both and are quirky and intelligent. I hope you’ll enjoy them.

  2. I like the fact that the police are a bit disorganized in this book. That sounds like a nice change of pace. My wife tends to like mysteries set in Europe so I will recommend thus series to her.

    • Yes, please tell her. If she hasn’t read it yet, I’m sure she’ll enjoy it. For once the rave reviews are justified. Politics are chaotic too in Italy. I remember seeing parliamentary discussions on TV where everyone landed on the floor hitting and slapping each other. And the corruption. . .

  3. I have this but haven’t read it. I saw the tv version of The Snack Thief (which comes later) and thought it very good so while you’re very persuasive on this I’m still not sure whether I’ll read it or watch the show. With detective fiction it tends to be one or the other for me (since after reading or viewing I know whodunnit…).

    • I’m glad I started reading this but I’m tempted to watch it too. Fourteen books is a lot and I have a few other series on the go. We will see. I’m sure you would like his writing. One can’t really compare him to anyone else. I watched a trailer on YouTube and it looks like they got a lot right.

  4. Wonderful review, Caroline! I have read ‘The Shape of Water’ and loved it. I also loved Inspector Montalbano, especially his love for food. I loved what you said about the police department is depicted in the book – that it is chaotic. So glad you liked this book! Happy reading the next volume of the series!

    • Thank you, Vishy. So nice to hear you loved it too. There’s even more food in book two. I think this is one of my favorite inspectors. Did you read more books of the series?

      • I love the fact that food plays an important part in the Montalbano books, Caroline 🙂 I have read the second book of the series, ‘The Terracotta Dog’, but haven’t read more yet. Have to get back to it one of these days. Hope you are liking the second book. Will look forward to your thoughts. Happy reading!

  5. I have been a big fan of the Inspector Montalbano series for several years now! I stumbled upon them one night. I am glad that you are enjoying his descriptive and humorous books.

    I thought it was interesting that you mentioned “cozy mysteries.” I know some titles that meet that category, but imagine my surprise when I googled the words and saw Agatha Christie’s name as the first on the list. The more posts that I read about the topic the more I was unsure about how books are categorized here. I think that for literary people “cozy mysteries” have a bad reputation.

    There is nothing that I enjoy more than a well-written book, but there is a place for some of the fluffy books too!

    I really enjoy your reviews!

    • Thank you so much, Heidi. That’s so nice of you.
      I’m reading book two now and like it a lot as well. I’d love to watch the series now. Cozy is t a pejorative term at all. It just means the books are on the gentler side. Usually it’s an amateur sleuth and the murders are never describe. No gory details. Some humor and atmosphere are key. Many crime readers love it more gritty but I have some I like a great deal like the Hamish Macbeth series. But I know what you mean, some people find the quality of the cozies isn’t as good. I would disagree. Only I like my crime a bit grittier too but there are times when I need a good cozy.
      I

  6. A lovely review of one of a favourite detective series. Like you, I love all the references to food in these books. An top-notch Italian restaurant in London even hosted a number of Montalbano-themed lunches a few years ago, each one featuring a selection of dishes from a particular book. I like the fact that Montalbano champions the underdog too, the downtrodden locals and ordinary folk he encounters in his work.

    • Thank you Jacqui and welcome back. Good to see you again.
      It’s a wonderful series. I’m pleased to hear you like it as well. The food sounds delicious. I. Not surprised s restaurant would use the ideas.
      Montalbano is such a great character.As far away fro. Snobbish as you can be.

  7. I love the books and I think the films are ok. It takes a long time before they’re translated to Swedish so I read them in English. I have learned some Italian but I don’t know enough to read them in the original language

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