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la piramide di fango

8 january 2016

Like Georges Simenon's Maigret novels, Andrea Camilleri's Montalbanos often take the weather as their theme. A case will happen in a given season or spell of weather, and the elements permeate the crime and its solution. In La piramide di fango, the title pyramid of mud is the result of a relentless downpour that seems to intensify every time Salvo Montalbano steps out of his home or car. The mud becomes clue, symbol, and Zeitgeist.

La piramide di fango offers a tortuously complicated economic/political organized-crime murder mystery for Montalbano to untangle. Things start out simple enough, with a dead body on a construction site. Though this one is a bit odd, because he's in his underwear, and he's arrived by bicycle despite being shot in the back.

You might imagine that the Mafia are involved, but it's shadier and less expected even than that. You might also suppose that at some point Montalbano will get involved with a delectable younger woman, but in this novel the woman in question, Inge Schneider, is delectable enough but has disappeared, complicating the mystery. We only get to see her irresistibility at second hand, and we don't get to see if Salvo's charms will work on her.

The novel is profound at times. At one point, Catarella, the sidekick who famously speaks no known language, refers to the omnipresent mud as "fangue." Montalbano points out that the Italian word for "mud" is "fango." But Catarella asks, logically enough, why the Sicilian word for "blood," "sangu," should become "sangue" in Italian, but "fangu" become "fango." Montalbano explains

pirchí il fango, essenno fango, è sempri fango in tutte le lingue del munno.

[Because mud, being mud, is always "mud" in every language in the world.] (15)

Fazio is here, and Mimí Augello, and Catarella has a new GPS device, which unfortunately only works if you can spell where you're looking to go. Livia appears only over the phone, and is depressed till she gets a puppy. Salvo is greatly relieved when they start fighting again.

The puppy is also the occasion for a phrase that closes the novel but that took me a while to figure out: "un castoro di peluche que quanno viniva stringiuto friscava" (259). A highly useful phrase should you happen to travel to Sicily, I reckon: "a plush beaver that whistles when you squeeze it."

Camilleri, Andrea. La piramide di fango. Palermo: Sellerio, 2014.