The twenty-third book in this Penguin series provides a pleasant reading experience equal in every respect to the preceding twenty-two. One might expect some diminution in energy or appeal from such a prolific writer, but the faithful reader will not be disappointed. Old, blind and addicted to cigarettes, Camilleri is nonetheless on his game and in fine form. It is worth noting that he has other, non-mystery books to his credit, and they are, in my experience, just as worthy if not more so. Check them out, too.

The Other End of the Line by Andrea Camilleri
Penguin Books

Once again, the mercurial, opinionated, volatile Salvo Montalbano is vaulted from one emotionally distressing situation to another and he reacts as always with his trademark irascibility. At times vindictive, often tender-hearted and always rigidly dedicated to seeing justice done, he is a joy to behold in action. Loving the author’s books is as much about loving Montalbano as the stories themselves. The alternating humor and pathos of his dealings with criminals, refugees, superiors, peers and long-standing lover Livia provide spice to the dialogue and plotting.

For those unfamiliar with these books, the characters are themselves worth reading about. Catarella, the bumbling, clumsy, ill-spoken (his voice is translated in a sort of Brooklynese) but ultimately good-hearted and surprisingly adept uniformed officer barges in and out of the narrative lightening what could otherwise be some pretty dark stuff. Fazio, the super-efficient assistant whose very expertise enrages Montalbano when he supplies answers to questions almost before they’re asked is a stalwart support and sober foil to the loose cannon that is Salvo Montalbano. Mimi Augello, second in command at the station is an incorrigible woman-chaser who can nonetheless furnish acute insight into a case but just as likely be on the entirely wrong track. Salvo takes great delight in wickedly teasing each of these according to which buttons are most effectively pushed. Also, his relationship with his commissioner is peppered with prevarication, flattery and deception, all designed to ensure that he is left to his own decidedly eccentric methods. Out and out lying is one of his most effective weapons and he uses it with aplomb. Delightful.

In this tale, hundreds of refugees of African political strife are pouring into Sicily each night and must be safely disembarked, screened, transported to holding centers and have their medical needs attended to. Racism in the police establishment, mounting difficulties in managing the increasing numbers of the wretched victims of war and a grisly murder of a beautiful tailor working on a new suit for Montalbano compete for his time, added to by the prickly relationship with Livia, who lives and works on the mainland. A long-distance love affair, immigrant crises and a murder investigation that is too close to home are a lot to handle, but our hero manages it, just. For one who has witnessed every type of violence and cruelty, Montalbano remarkably retains a tender heart and real sympathy for all those negatively impacted by all this strife. Of course, he solves the crime, but in typical Camilleri fashion, the outcome is left only partially resolved. A confection for any whodunit lover.

Shelf Talker: 23 rd in the Salvo Montalbano series, this story delivers the expected humor, grisly crime and crazy procedural methods typical to the character as well as the distinctive flavor of the food, people and landscape of Sicily. A multimedia delight for lovers of mystery tales and Italian cuisine.