Review published on September 18, 2017.
Montalbano is back and once again I have spent a couple of pleasant afternoons chortling to myself and revelling in his delightfully mischievous presence. A Nest of Vipers was shelved by Camilleri in 2004 because of similarities with his previous novel, Paper Moon. However, the similarity is in the victim profile rather than the investigation. This story has a very different plot so don’t be put off. It does, however, mean the novel has to slotted correctly into time line of Montalbano’s life but that is not a problem.
I made the mistake of reading a so-so early review of A Nest of Vipers before I bought the book. The writer was clearly not a fan and it had me a little worried, was Camilleri slipping? Would Montalbano leave me underwhelmed? Not a bit of it – although this novel is by no means the best Montalbano it is thoroughly enjoyable. A Nest of Vipers has the right mix of humour and noir (in this case dark family secrets) to be an entertaining murder mystery. As I have championed Camilleri’s previous novels (historical ones included), and waxed lyrical about their brilliance it is only fair to report that this novel is not the right place for a beginner to start. Obviously, I would say go for the early novels or even the collection of short stories Montalbano’s First Case as a starting point. Once you get Camilleri, you won’t look back. For the seasoned Montalbano reader this novel has all the usual ingredients that we know and love; great characters, clever plotting, laughs and a profound contempt for the corruption of the Sicilian way of life by bureaucracy, the mafia, official incompetence and corruption.
Montalbano is as irascible as ever, still perplexing the people around him, still insisting on seeing things his own way, and vexing and out witting the authorities. He is ploughing his own furrow on the murder of a businessman and ultimately getting a step ahead of the rest to solve the crime. Long suffering girlfriend, Livia, picks this time to come and visit but as usual Montalbano is distracted by a case. The shooting and, as it turns out, poisoning of ragioniere (accountant) Cosimo Barletta early one Sunday morning throws up some nasty details about his life. Nobody seems to miss him much, not even his grown up children, Arturo and Giovanna. The siblings appear to be more interested in their father’s wealth, the inheritance is substantial but the will is mysteriously missing. Cosimo Barletta has made his money through legitimate business interests but also loan sharking. Worse, the police discover photographs of naked young women in his bureau, Cosimo was also a blackmailer. So no wonder two people wanted to murder him. There are dark secrets behind the killing, witnesses are hard to find, red herrings are plentyful and what does the man who lives in a cave have to do with it all?
If there is a flaw in the novel it is that the clues to one of the elements of the crime become a little too obvious about two thirds of the way into the story. Once the reader starts to piece together the possible motives for the crime one thing stands out and you realise you have part of the solution. It would be a spoiler to say any more about it but it may not have been entirely unintentional because it encourages the reader to keep an eye on one character and ponder how they might be found out.
Real fans of Montalbano have had their say since I read the book and the general consensus is that this is a winner. Personally, I am already anticipating the next instalment A Pyramid of Mud but that’s next year! Camilleri, the grand old man of Italian letters, always writes a lively thriller with depth. A Nest of Vipers is for the fans, who won’t be disappointed.
Paul Burke 4/3
A Nest of Vipers by Andrea Camilleri
Mantle 9781447265986 hbk Aug 2017
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