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la vampa d'agosto

13 october 2010

Andrea Camilleri's Vampa d'agosto is one of those detective novels more interested in weird coincidences, doublings, redoublings, parallels, doppelgängers, and twice-ringing postmen than it is in police procedure or the deductions of sleuths. An unsolvable cold case becomes a screen where our hero Salvo Montalbano projects his worst anxieties and his most insistent desires.

Montalbano's imperious girlfriend Livia demands that he find a vacation house that her friends can rent. The one he finds comes complete with vermin, clandestine extra rooms – and a long-dead corpse in one of those rooms. The corpse becomes the last straw for Livia, who to all appearances leaves Salvo for good.

As always more concerned with the dead than the living, Montalbano follows the corpse instead of Livia. It's the body of a girl who'd been very beautiful when she disappeared six years before at the age of 16. Montalbano and his sidekick Fazio don't want to have to tell the girl's family that she's dead. So Montalbano tells the lecherous prosecutor Tommaseo that the girl has a twin sister even more beautiful than she was, and Tommaseo goes off to deliver the bad news, licking his chops.

Except that Caterina actually does have a twin sister, Adriana, even more beautiful than she was. I won't spoil the plot, but the case becomes yet another type of Laura, except now with the detective in love with the victim's double instead of the victim herself. It's as if Montalbano has given voice to his fantasies, and then been cursed with their coming to life.

The noirish plot of La vampa d'agosto takes place in the brightest light of the Sicilian summer. As in so many novels by Simenon (one of Camilleri's great acknowledged precursors), the season is as much a character as any of the people. There is probably more perspiration in La vampa d'agosto per page than in any other work of Western literature.

Camilleri, Andrea. La vampa d'agosto. Palermo: Sellerio, 2006.