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un covo di vipere
26 april 2014
Un covo di vipere is the last but one of Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano novels, at least if things go according to plan. The story is that he's finished a final one but has withheld it till he dies or is advanced in Alzheimer's. Like Una voce di notte (2012), Un covo di vipere is published out of sequence; it was written in the mid-2000s but itself withheld because of the exigencies of series publication – and, Camilleri says in an afterword, because of the difficulties he had dealing with its main theme. (Spoilers follow).
I "spoiled" Un covo di vipere for myself by reading the afterword first. The theme is incest. The Barletta family is a nest of vipers. They've driven a mother to suicide, and now their father sits dead in his kitchen – killed twice, much like a small-scale victim on the Orient Express. (Ooops, spoiled that one too.)
Incest doesn't come up till most of the way through the novel, though. Everybody wanted to kill noxious patriarch Cosimo Barletta, but everybody also has an alibi, except for his two children. Suspicion falls on the writer of a long series of terribly fraught love letters to Barletta – but she is anonymous and undiscoverable. That's because she's hiding in plain sight: she's Barletta's daughter Giovanna.
Giovanna Barletta is another in a long series of women who seduce and are seduced by Salvo Montalbano, but something about her suggests that she's poison, and our hero exchanges kisses with her but stops short of taking her to bed. I mean, she's literally poison: she's killed her own father with some sort of fast-acting traceless drug that exists only in mystery novels. But before the poison has a chance to evaporate, or sublimate, or otherwise escape the notice of "Tox," a second assassin shoots Barletta from behind, and he slumps over, knocking down his poisoned coffee cup.
Subplots involve the eternal war between Salvo and his girlfriend Livia, and a dignified derelict who recalls some of the drifter characters in Camilleri's short-story collection Un mese con Montalbano. It's a funny and fast-paced novel, despite the appalling nature of its main motif.
Camilleri, Andrea. Un covo di vipere. Palermo: Sellerio, 2013.