August Heat by Andrea Camilleri Among the foreign language detective stories populating the BBC4 airwaves at the moment is the Inspector Montalbano series. A number of our Book Club members have watched and enjoyed some of these episodes, so there was a gasp of recognition when the copies of August Heat tumbled out of the basket. Not that anybody had seen this particular story on TV, but they were familiar with the police and character set-up.
For those of us who had not seen the television series it meant we knew that nothing terribly untoward was likely to happen to the leading characters. Yet this book begins with a series of fascinating incidents where some friends of the detective rent a coastal holiday home and suddenly seem immersed in a (literal) plague of problems due to the property they have taken on, culminating in the apparent disappearance of their young child. These fast paced and bizarre happenings turn out not to be directly relevant to the main plot, although the ‘victim’ is discovered as a consequence. The Inspector’s friends now take their leave of the book and we turn to the primary story. This is set at the height of the tourist summer in Sicily and we are treated (??) in some detail to innumerable little stories as to how sweaty our inspector becomes, and the several remedies he takes to deal with this, including such exciting solutions as a swim in the sea, a shower and even a battery operated fan.
To my eyes, the intrigue and tension set up by the opening chapters is gradually dissipated at the same rate as the Inspector’s enthusiasm wanes, although he seems to brighten up with the appearance and behaviour of the victim’s relative – naturally a strikingly attractive young woman.
With some eye-opening deceptions and deviations, and the cheerful use of a bit of brutality on a likely witness, Inspector Montalbano and his sidekick Fazio press on with solving the case, relying rather more on guesswork and hunches than good old Miss Marple deduction. The book concludes, quite suddenly, with an inevitable twist at the end, but this felt sheepish and half-hearted, suitably deflated by the heat.
The fans of the television programme seemed much happier with the book than the rest of us. They quickly adapted to the idiom and the characters and found it easier to imagine and picture the context and events. Those less familiar with the characters tended to support my experience –they were woken up by some of the early chapters but soon got tired of the coincidences and diversions, finding the basic plot fairly thin and not particularly credible.
Nevertheless, we had nearly all read the book by the time of the club meeting, and enjoyed the easy read and short book after some recent titles. As one person put it: there is not a lot to discuss because it was just a light read and no amount of analysis will turn it into good literature.
This was exactly as it turned out – the discussion and debate was brief and fairly muted – and we soon moved on to discussion about the future of the club and how we should source our titles in future, without any firm conclusions at this stage. We all like the idea of being confronted by books that we would not have selected ourselves, but feel the quality needs to be more consistent.
When it came to scoring August Heat it came out lower than one might have expected, given the positive comments that people had enjoyed the lighter read. Every single person scored it either at or below the midpoint and so this title is quite near the bottom of the list of all the titles we have read so far.
Next Month: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey