Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri

First Line: What ever happened to those early mornings when, upon awakening, for no reason, he would feel a sort of current of pure happiness running through him?

Inspector Salvo Montalbano continues to feel his advancing years in this eleventh outing in Sicily, and it doesn't help that his relationship with Livia is once again at an impasse. When the body of a young woman is found-- with half her face shot off and only a tattoo of a sphinx moth to identify her-- Montalbano realizes that he's even becoming tired of all the violence he encounters while on the job. 

The investigation has barely started when the sphinx moth tattoo leads his team to three more unsolved murders. All the women are victims of the sex trade... and they were all rescued by the same prominent Catholic charity. With the Church vehemently protesting the investigation, will  Montalbano and his team be able to put an end to the deaths?

With Montalbano's bitterness about his ever-increasing age, I have to admit that I've found the last two books in this series not as enjoyable as the rest. I'm from the school that believes getting older is better than its many alternatives, and it's best to put up and shut up. Montalbano did not attend the same school. Fortunately, he spends very little time grousing about the inevitable in this installment, so my enjoyment factor shot back up to its usual level.

Another element that can adversely affect my enjoyment is Montalbano's relationship with Livia. Too often, their squabbling has appeared to be squabbling for its own sake, but in The Wings of the Sphinx, their disagreements show that they both realize that they are at a very serious crossroads in their relationship.

One of the things I enjoy most about Camilleri's series is the economy of his writing. He packs food, travel, musings about life, death, aging, the government, as well as humor and an intriguing murder investigation into fewer pages than many writers today. His economy of style doesn't sacrifice plot or character either. And I can't say enough about Stephen Sartarelli's translation. It's clear and engaging yet still gives English readers the flavor of Sicilian speech. He also includes notes in the back that can enlighten us about various items mentioned in the story. (But it's possible to ignore them and not lose anything in the reading.)

The Wings of the Sphinx is another strong book in one of my favorite series. I look forward to more.

The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri 
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
ISBN: 9780143116608
Penguin Books © 2009
Paperback, 240 pages

Police Procedural, #11 Inspector Montalbano mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet


  1. Cathy - This remains a top series on my list. I love the depictions of setting and lifestyle. More than that, I love the way the cases flow out of and are a part of that setting and culture. And of course, there is the wit. It's never done for comic effect, so it just comes naturally. You're right too about Camilleri's style. And it's communicated beautifully in Sartarelli's translations.

  2. You've recently introduced me to this author, and I need to stock up on these sooner rather than later. Thanks!

  3. I agree with every word of your paragraph about the things you like about these books.
    I like the fact that Camilleri shows that a book can be interesting and complete in about 250 pages. I can zip through one of Montalbano's adventures in a few days, whereas these door-stop books take me days, a week, so much time and not every word is necessary.
    Camilleri shows how to write economically, and yet examine a case completely.
    And the wit--I can't say enough! Some scenes in some books have had me floored, laughing so hard I had to call a co-Montalbano fan, and read it to them. In one book, Montalbano is discussing reading Camilleri's books. In another, he is giving his reaction to meeting the actor who plays him in the Italian TV series.

    And in many books, there is a social or political issue discussed. In some, there is empathy for immigrants, for low-paid workers, and others, too.

    I enjoy Stephen Sarterelli's translations and his end notes. I've laughed at those, too, as this translator adds his own wit, as well as knowledge of Italian history -- and food.

    And the menus. In Treasure Hunt, the most recent translated book, Montalbano is berest because Adelina, his housekeeper, is ill and there is no food in his oven or refrigerator. But a great triumph occurs the day she returns and leaves swordfish and pasta. I was starving by then, having experienced Montalbano's hunger along with him.

    I tore to the refrigerator hoping for antipasto and pasta (of any kind), and all I found was crackers.

    There are still four more to be translated, and I hope Camilleri, who is now 88, lives to be 115, and writes 20 more books.

    1. 20 more books would certainly be nice. Fortunately I have my own co-Montalbano fan here in the house. I introduced Denis to these books, and he loves them, too. :-)

  4. I meant Montalbano was "bereft," without Adelina's dinners.

    1. Don't you just love it when you notice a typo AFTER you've clicked "publish"? I know I do!


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