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The Shape of Water (Inspector Montalbano Series #1)

The Shape of Water (Inspector Montalbano Series #1)

4.0 17
by Andrea Camilleri, Stephen Sartarelli

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The Shape of Water is the first book in the sly, witty, and engaging Inspector Montalbano mystery series with its sardonic take on Sicilian life

Silvio Lupanello, a big-shot in Vigàta, is found dead in his car with his pants around his knees. The car happens to be parked in a part of town used by prostitutes and drug dealers, and as the news of


The Shape of Water is the first book in the sly, witty, and engaging Inspector Montalbano mystery series with its sardonic take on Sicilian life

Silvio Lupanello, a big-shot in Vigàta, is found dead in his car with his pants around his knees. The car happens to be parked in a part of town used by prostitutes and drug dealers, and as the news of his death spreads, the rumors begin. Enter Inspector Salvo Montalbano, Vigàta's most respected detective. With his characteristic mix of humor, cynicism, compassion, and love of good food, Montalbano battles against the powerful and corrupt who are determined to block his path to the real killer. 

Andrea Camilleri's novels starring Inspector Montalbano have become an international sensation and have been translated from Italian into eight languages, ranging from Dutch to Japanese. 

A Voice in the Night is the newest novel in the Montalbano series and is now available from Penguin Books.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com review
The Barnes & Noble Review
Bestselling Italian author Andrea Camilleri has built a massive international following for his sardonic Sicilian mysteries featuring a listless, dejected, nonconformist protagonist who somehow always accomplishes his duty in spite of himself. The Shape of Water is his first Inspector Salvo Montalbano adventure to be translated into English.

When a local politician is found dead in his car, half naked, in a seedy neighborhood known for prostitution and drug trafficking, it's assumed that he died of natural causes in the middle of a sexual escapade. Hoping to avoid an embarrassing situation, Montalbano's superiors expect him to close the case quickly. But the inspector senses that not all is as it seems and determinedly launches a full investigation.

While pursuing the case, Montalbano encounters a number of bizarre and comical characters, from an elderly schoolteacher driven mad by his 80-year-old wife's "cheating" to a former classmate who's now an intellectual pimp. The inspector is drawn into the shadowy world of Sicilian politics as he discovers affiliations made between bureaucratic adversaries, meets with promiscuous beauties, and finds corruption that might even reach into the Church. He takes it all with the accepting attitude that one needs to survive in an often bleak and impoverished part of the world.

Not your typical fast-paced, shootout-filled genre mystery, The Shape of Water is an artfully written novel that provides its own brand of rewards. Replete with the sights and sounds of Sicily, this is an atmospheric and frequently droll tale that offers American readers a new and distinctive voice. (Tom Piccirilli)

Publishers Weekly
Urbane Sicilian police inspector Salvo Montalbano, whose exploits have sold more than four million copies in Europe, makes his long overdue U.S. debut in this spare and spry English translation of the first novel in the series. When two garbage collectors find the body of local politician Silvio Luparello locked in his BMW with his pants down, in "the Pasture," the Vig ta town dump frequented by whores and drug dealers, the coroner rules that Luparello died of natural causes, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Montalbano refuses to oblige his superiors who want a hasty close to the case, and it will take a corrupt lawyer's murder to break it open. The author's view of Sicily is the all-too-common one of a poor and backward place that many would like to see separated from the rest of Italy. Camilleri's strength lies in his gallery of eccentric characters: Signora Luparello, the victim's admirably cool widow; Geg , a pimp and old classmate of Montalbano's; Giosue Contino, an 82-year-old schoolteacher who shoots at people because he thinks his 80-year-old wife is cheating on him; and Anna Ferrara, Montalbano's attractive deputy, "who every now and then, for whatever reason, would try to seduce him." Even the two garbage men have Ph.D.s. The maverick Montalbano doesn't hesitate to destroy clues or extract money from a crook to help a child, but his wrapping up the case by telling rather than showing, while acceptable to European audiences, may disappoint action-oriented American fans. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An elegant translation of the first in a popular Italian series, in which world-weary, empathetic Sicilian Inspector Salvo Montalbano is handed a hot potato when the body of Silvio Luparello, a local politico, is found in the Pasture, the little town of Vigata's red-light district. The death seems to have occurred in flagrante of natural causes, but Montalbano's instincts tell him something is wrong. After years of patiently working behind the scenes, Luparello was about to take center stage. Why would he risk scandal by grazing in a place like the Pasture? Montalbano keeps the case open in spite of pressure from his supervisor, a judge, and a bishop to close it. Luparello's closest political ally, the lawyer Pietro Rizzo, then proposes an astonishing new alliance with Dr. Cardamone, an enemy of both Luparello and Rizzo. Is this maneuver related to several clues that place Cardamone's promiscuous daughter-in-law at the scene of Luparello's death? A lucrative reward is being offered through dubious channels for one such clue, a distinctive necklace taken from the scene by a poor garbage collector. When Luparello's dry-eyed widow insists that she knows what her husband's peccadilloes were and were not, Montalbano explores another network of crimes and desires, as tangled as the tentacles of that Sicilian specialty, the octopus. Subtle, sardonic, and molto simpatico: Montalbano is the Latin re-creation of Philip Marlowe, working in a place that manages to be both more and less civilized than Chandler's Los Angeles.
From the Publisher
Praise for Andrea Camilleri and the Montalbano Series

“Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano mysteries might sell like hotcakes in Europe, but these world-weary crime stories were unknown here until the oversight was corrected (in Stephen Sartarelli’s salty translation) by the welcome publication of The Shape of Water…This savagely funny police procedural…prove[s] that sardonic laughter is a sound that translates ever so smoothly into English.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Hailing from the land of Umberto Eco and La Cosa Nostra, Montalbano can discuss a pointy-headed book like Western Attitudes Toward Death as unflinchingly as he can pore over crime-scene snuff photos. He throws together an extemporaneous lunch of shrimp with lemon and oil as gracefully as he dodges advances from attractive women.”—Los Angeles Times

“[Camilleri’s mysteries] offer quirky characters, crisp dialogue, bright storytelling—and Salvo Montalbano, one of the most engaging protagonists in detective fiction…Montalbano is a delightful creation, an honest man on Siciliy’s mean streets.”—USA Today

“Camilleri is as crafty and charming a writer as his protagonist is an investigator.”—The Washington Post Book World

“Like Mike Hammer or Sam Spade, Montalbano is the kind of guy who can’t stay out of trouble…Still, deftly and lovingly translated by Stephen Sartarelli, Camilleri makes it abundantly clear that under the gruff, sardonic exterior our inspector has a heart of gold, and that any outburst, fumbles, or threats are made only in the name of pursuing truth.”—The Nation

“Camilleri can do a character’s whole backstory in half a paragraph.”—The New Yorker

“Subtle, sardonic, and molto simpatico: Montalbano is the Latin re-creation of Philip Marlowe, working in a place that manages to be both more and less civilized than chandler’ Los Angeles.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Inspector Montalbano Series , #1
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Penguin Group
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18 Years

Read an Excerpt

No light of daybreak filtered yet into the courtyard of Splendor, the company under government contract to collect trash in the town of Vigata. A low, dense mass of clouds completely covered the sky as though a great gray tarp had been drawn from one corner to another. Not a single leaf fluttered. The sirocco was late to rise from its leaden sleep, yet people already struggled to exchange a few words. The foreman, before assign- ing the areas to be cleaned, announced that this day, and for some days to come, Peppe Schmmari and Caluzzo Brucculeri would be absent, excused from work. More than excused, they'd been arrested: the previous evening they'd attempted to rob a supermarket, weapons in hand. To Pino Catalano and Saro Montaperto-young land surveyors naturally without employment as land surveyors, but hired by Splendor as temporary "ecological agents" thanks to the generous string-pulling of Chamber Deputy Cusumano, in whose electoral campaign the two had fought body and soul (and in that order, with the body doing far more than the soul felt like doing)-the foreman assigned the jobs vacated by Peppe and Caluzzo, that is, the sector that went by the name of "the Pasture," because in a time now beyond memory a goatherd had apparently let his goats roam there. It was a broad tract of Mediterranean brush on the outskirts of town that stretched almost as far as the shore. Behind it lay the ruins of a large chemical works inaugurated by the ubiquitous Deputy Cusumano when it seemed the magnificent winds of progress were blowing strong. Soon, however, that breeze changed into the flimsiest of puffs before dropping altogether, but in that brief time it had managed to do more damage than a tornado, leaving a shambles of compensation benefits and unemployment in its wake. To prevent the crowds of black and not-so-black Senegalese, Algerians, Tunisians, and Libyans wandering about the city from nesting in that factory, a high wall had been built all around it, above which the old structures still soared, corroded by weather, neglect, and sea salt, looking more and more like architectures designed by Gaudì under the influence of hallucinogens.

Until recently the Pasture had represented, for those who at the time still went under the undignified name of garbage collectors, a cakewalk of a job: amid the scraps of paper, plastic bags, cans of beer and Coca-Cola, and shit piles barely covered up or left out in the open air, now and then a used condom would appear, and it would set one thinking, provided one had the desire and imagination to do so, about the details of that encounter. For a good year now, however, the occasional condom had turned into an ocean, a carpet of condoms, ever since a certain minister with a dark, taciturn face worthy of a Lombroso diagram had fished deep into his mind, which was even darker and more mysterious than his face, and come up with an idea he thought would solve all the South's law-and-order problems. He had managed to sell this idea to a colleague of his who dealt with the army and who, for his part, looked as if he had walked right out of a Pinocchio illustration, and together the two had decided to send a number of detachments to Sicily for the purpose of "controlling the territory," to lighten the load of the carabinieri, local police, intelligence services, special operations teams, coast guard, the highway police, railway police and port police, the anti-Mafia, anti-terrorism, anti-drug, anti-theft and anti-kidnapping commissions, and others-here omitted for the sake of brevity-quite busy with other business. Thanks to the brilliant idea of these two eminent statesmen, all the Piedmontese mama's boys and beardless Friulian conscripts who just the night before had enjoyed the crisp, fresh air of their mountains suddenly found themselves painfully short of breath, huffing in their temporary lodgings, in towns that stood barely a yard above sea level, among people who spoke an incomprehensible dialect consisting not so much of words as of silences, indecipherable movements of the eyebrows, imperceptible puckerings of the facial wrinkles. They adapted as best they could, thanks to their young age, and were given a helping hand by the residents of Vig&aagrave;ta themselves, who were moved to pity by the foreign boys' lost, bewildered looks. The one who saw to lessening the hardship of their exile was a certain Geg Gullotta, a fast thinker who until that moment had been forced to suppress his natural gifts as a pimp by dealing in light drugs. Having learned through channels both underhanded and ministerial of the soldiers' imminent arrival, Geg had had a flash of genius, and to put said flash to work for him he had promptly appealed to the beneficence of those in charge of such matters in order to obtain all the countless convoluted authorizations indispensable to his plan-those in charge being, that is, those who truly controlled the area and would never have dreamt of issuing officially stamped permits. Geg, in short, succeeded in opening a specialized market of fresh meat and many and sundry drugs, all light, at the Pasture. Most of the meat came from the former Eastern Bloc countries, now free at last of the Communist yoke which, as everyone knows, had denied all personal, human dignity; now, between the Pasture's bushes and sandy shore, come nightfall, that reconquered dignity shone again in all its magnificence. But there was also no lack of Third World women, transvestites, transsexuals, Neapolitan faggots, Brazilian viados-something for every taste, a feast, an embarrassment of riches. And business flourished, to the great satisfaction of the soldiers, Geg, and those who, for a proper cut of the proceeds, had granted Geg permission to operate. Pino and Saro headed toward their assigned work sector, each pushing his own cart. To get to the Pasture it took half an hour, if one was slow of foot as they were. The first fifteen minutes they spent without speaking, already sweaty and sticky. It was Saro who broke the silence.

"That Pecorilla is a bastard," he announced.

"A fucking bastard," clarified Pino.

Pecorilla was the foreman in charge of assigning the areas to be cleaned, and he nurtured an undisguised hatred for anyone with an education, having himself managed to finish middle school, at age forty, only thanks to Cusumano, who had a man-to-man talk with the teacher. Thus he manipulated things so that the hardest, most demeaning work always fell to the three university graduates in his charge. That same morning, in fact, he had assigned to Ciccu Loreto the stretch of wharf from which the mail boat sailed for the island of Lampedusa. Which meant that Ciccu, with his accounting degree, would be forced to account for the piles of trash that noisy mobs of tourists, many-tongued yet all sharing the same utter disregard for personal and public cleanliness, had left behind on Saturday and Sunday while waiting to embark. And no doubt Pino and Saro, after the soldiers' two days off duty, would find the Pasture one big glory hole.

When they reached the corner of Via Lincoln and Viale Kennedy (in Vig&aagrave;ta there was even a Cortile Eisenhower and a Vicolo Roosevelt), Saro stopped.

"I'm going to run upstairs and see how the little guy's doing," he said to his friend. "Wait here. I'll only be a minute."

Without waiting for Pino's answer, he slipped into one of those midget high-rises that were not more than twelve stories high, having been built around the same time as the chemical works and having just as quickly fallen into ruin, when not abandoned altogether. For someone approaching from the sea, Vig&aagrave;ta rose up like a parody of Manhattan, on a reduced scale. And this explained, perhaps, the names of some of its streets.

Nen, the little guy, was awake; he slept on and off some two hours a night, spending the rest of the time with eyes wide open, without ever crying. Who had ever seen a baby that didn't cry? Day after day he was consumed by an illness of unknown cause and cure. The doctors of Vig&aagrave;ta couldn't figure it out; his parents would have to take him somewhere else, to some big-shot specialist, but they didn't have the money. Nen grew sullen as soon as his eyes met his father's, a wrinkle forming across his forehead. He couldn't talk, but had expressed himself quite clearly with that silent reproach of the person who had put him in these straits.

"He's doing a little better, the fever's going down," said Tana, Saro's wife, just to make him happy.

The clouds had scattered, and now the sun was blazing hot enough to shatter rocks. Saro had already emptied his cart a dozen times in the garbage bin that had appeared, thanks to private initiative, where the rear exit of the factory used to be, and his back felt broken. When he was a few steps from the path that ran along the enclosure wall and led to the provincial road, he saw something sparkle violently on the ground. He bent down to have a better look. It was a heart-shaped pendant, enormous, studded with little diamonds all around and with one great big diamond in the middle. The solid-gold chain was still attached, though broken in one spot. Saro's right hand shot out, grabbed the necklace, and stuffed it in his pocket. The hand seemed to have acted on its own, before his brain, still flabbergasted by the discovery, could tell it anything. Standing up again, drenched in sweat, he looked around but didn't see a living soul.

Pino, who had chosen to work the stretch of the Pasture nearest the beach, at one point spotted the nose of a car about twenty yards away, sticking out of some bushes a bit denser than the rest. Unsure, he stopped; it wasn't possible someone could still be around here at this hour, seven in the morning, screwing a whore. He began to approach cautiously, one step at a time, almost bent over, and when he'd reached the taillights he quickly stood straight up. Nothing happened, nobody shouted to fuck off, the car seemed vacant. Coming nearer, he finally made out the indistinct shape of a man, motionless, in the passenger seat, head thrown back. He seemed to be in a deep sleep. But by the look and the smell of it, Pino realized something was fishy. He turned around and called to Saro, who came running, out of breath, eyes bulging.

"What is it? What the hell do you want?"

Pino thought his friend's questions a bit aggressive but blamed it on the fact that he had run all that way.

"Get a load of this," he said.

Plucking up his courage, Pino went up to the driver's side and tried to open the door but couldn't: it was locked. With the help of Saro, who seemed to have calmed down, he tried to reach the other door, against which the man's body was partially leaning, but the car, a large green BMW, was too close to the shrub to allow anyone to approach from that side. Leaning forward, however, and getting scratched by the brambles, they managed to get a better look at the man's face. He was not sleeping; his eyes were wide open and motionless. The moment they realized that the man was dead, Pino and Saro froze in terror-not at the sight of death but because they recognized him.

"I feel like I'm taking a sauna," said Saro as he ran along the provincial road toward a telephone booth. "A blast of cold one minute, a blast of heat the next."

They had agreed on one thing since overcoming their paralysis upon recognizing the deceased: before alerting the police, they had to make another phone call. They knew Deputy Cusumano's number by heart, and Saro dialed it. But Pino didn't let the phone ring even once.

"Hang up, quick!" he said.

Saro obeyed automatically.

"You don't want to tell him?"

"Let's just think for a minute, let's think hard. This is very important. You know as well as I do that Cusumano is a puppet."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"He's a puppet of Luparello, who is everything-or was everything. With Luparello dead, Cusumano's a nobody, a doormat."


"So nothing."

They turned back toward Vig&aagrave;ta, but after a few steps Pino stopped Saro.

"Rizzo, the lawyer," he said.

"I'm not going to call that guy. He gives me the creeps. I don't even know him."

"I don't either, but I'm going to call him anyway."

Pino got the number from the operator. Though it was still only seven forty-five, Rizzo answered after the first ring.

"Mr. Rizzo?"


"Excuse me for bothering you at this hour, Mr. Rizzo, but . . . we found Mr. Luparello, you see, and . . . well, he looks dead."

There was a pause. Then Rizzo spoke.

"So why are you telling me this?"

Pino was stunned. He was ready for anything, except that bizarre response.

"But . . . aren't you his best friend? We thought it was only right-"

"I appreciate it. But you must do your duty first. Good day."

Saro had been listening to the conversation, his cheek pressed against Pino's. They looked at each other, nonplussed. Rizzo acted as if they'd told him they'd just found some nameless cadaver.

"Shit! He was his friend, wasn't he?" Saro burst out.

"What do we know? Maybe they had a fight," said Pino to reassure him.

"So what do we do now?"

"We go and do our duty, like the lawyer said," concluded Pino.

They headed toward town, to police headquarters. The thought of going to the carabinieri didn't even cross their minds, since they were under the command of a Milanese lieutenant. The Vigˆta police inspector, on the other hand, was from Catania, a certain Salvo Montalbano, who, when he wanted to get to the bottom of something, he did.

Meet the Author

Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano mystery series, bestsellers in Italy and Germany, has been adapted for Italian television and translated into German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Japanese, Dutch, and Swedish. He lives in Rome.
Stephen Sartarelli lives in upstate New York.

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The Shape of Water (Inspector Montalbano Series #1) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Lynnfieldwoods More than 1 year ago
I'm probably unfairly comparing Camilleri's Inspector Salvo Montalbano with Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti in that I'm still trying to get a sense of character but I imagine that with subsequent readings in the series, I will come to enjoy the quirks and style that is the Inspector's. Having said that, I enjoyed The Shape of Water as it was a fast read and I was able to see where Camilleri was going with the story. His portrait of Sicily is both good and bad - good in describing how life on the island ebbs and flows with daily life - bad in giving the reader a sense of the pervasiveness of the Mafia as a way of life and how the island's citizens must be on guard at all times to avoid being part of the deadly landscape. But through it all Montalbano is able to navigate his way through the landmines. I'm looking forward to reading his next book.
jsomethingk More than 1 year ago
The beauty of Andrea Camilieri's ongoing Inspector Montalbano series is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In this, the first outing for Montalbano, we're dropped into his story very much already in progress: a well-known Sicilian detective who's at once very scrupulous and completely disdainful in his work. The real, central character of Camilieri's books isn't exactly Montalbano, and it isn't exactly Sicily (which he knows so well), but the type of man that lives an honest life in Sicily, a type that Camilieri seems to mourn, honor, and mock all at the same time. The fun is in seeing that man react to what seems like everyday chaos. Here, it's a mystery of many twisting parts with a somewhat predictable ending: a major political player is murdered, and Montalbano is drawn in to figure out the hows and whys surrounding a case that looks, initially, to be open-and-shut. This being a mystery book, and Montalbano being Montalbano, it's of course more complex than that, and he continues his investigation even when being actively warned away. Camilieri manages to incorporate all the expected elements -- corruption, political intrigue, jealous lovers, and dramatic secrets -- without making any of them seem like gigantic leaps. Here, what's usually left as a scene-stopping action is instead a regular part of an experienced policeman's day. All of the real action happens in Montalbano's head, and that's the best thing about these books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I want more I wish I could read Italian so I could read them in their original form. I can't wait for the next one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When can we get more translations of the Montalbano series?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
obeythekitty More than 1 year ago
love this series, though it took me a while to get the humor. the detective is interesting as a person, and oh the Sicilian food sounds great.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Actually, I was quite surprised by this book. After the intensity of Jeffrey Deaver and Preston & Childs, etc., I was looking for a break. The Shape of Water was well written and I will, no doubt, be reading the rest of this series. This would be a great book for book club discussions!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed all the books in this series. Camilleri has a really great natural attitude to sex in the books and its refreshing. Him being Italian helps I am sure. Recommended
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Andea Camilleri¿s Silvio Montalbano series has been best seller material in Europe for years----just recently translated for the U.S. market. Camilleri¿s reserved and nimble writing style loses nothing in translation. Montalbano is a highly respected, cultivated Sicilian police inspector. In ¿The Shape of Water,¿ the body of a local, well-connected politico is discovered with his pants around his ankles in a rough area populated by hookers and drug dealers. Cause of death appears to be heart failure---the vic had a history of heart ailments. Montalbano¿s supervisors pressure him to do a swift signed, sealed and delivered natural causes ruling. Many little things bother the inspector---so he pursues the case. A generous amount of eccentric, off-center and droll characters abound----even the garbage men possess Ph.D.s. Montalbano is a heady, witty, subtle, cynical investigator; not the pistol packing, bare-knuckles type. It is an inventive, clever, smart police procedural with three follow-ups. I am glad I discovered them and look forward to the entire series.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Some men are said to think with their brains. Others with their genitals. But the hero of this book appears to be constantly ruled by his belly. He never seems to go for long without a meal. And when he does repast, it is described in salivating detail. For me, it seemed like a continual interruption of the plot. But on reflection, this aspect of the Inspector is an integral part of his humanity, and cannot be filtered from the narrative. Indeed, it is one of his enduring traits. This series is said to be widely popular in Europe. Perhaps in part because those readers have a fonder affection for the nuances of Italian (and specifically Sicilian) cooking, than Americans? Certainly few (none?) of the heros in American or British detective fiction seem as obsessed with food. This is a good book to read after dinner. It can make you hungry all over again. :)