Translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli
Picador, 2003 (1997)
The Voice of the Violin follows Inspector Salvo Montalbano as he investigates the murder of a beautiful woman found dead in her partially renovated home in Sicily. There are a number of different threads in the book - from Mafia involvement to corrupt police chiefs to Montalbano's rather messy personal life - but most of the action focuses on trying to figure out how Michela Licalzi met her end.
The book started out promisingly enough - the Italian setting was (for me) a novelty, and Montalbano retains all those standard hallmarks of a fictional detective: he chafes against authority, he's a bit of a maverick, he always goes the extra mile for a case, and his home life is in a bit of a state. (In this case, he is dealing with a wife who resides elsewhere - I wasn't sure why, although it's probably explained in the earlier books - and the prospect of a failed adoption.)
The first few chapters, in which Montalbano finds the body completely by chance, after hitting the victim's parked car and finding the note he leaves is never taken from the car's windscreen, were pretty interesting. The mystery was set up nicely, but I rapidly lost interest in the entire case. Most of the book is in dialogue form - there is very little description, just lots and lots of conversation, which didn't really appeal to me. It was sometimes difficult to figure out which character was speaking, and the characterisation (aside from Montalbano) was quite light, so I found I wasn't really bothered about any of the other characters. Given that there were a lot of different policeman in the story (at least half them with very similar "G" names, it seemed), it was an effort to keep track when none of them seemed to have very well-defined personalities.
The Mafia elements were interesting but largely peripheral, and the corrupt policemen storyline added some depth, but overall it wasn't enough to hold my interest. I felt like I was just watching things unfold, rather than getting involved in the story, and the ending seemed rather convenient - suddenly a character who is barely mentioned in the book comes forward and the mystery is revealed in time for a showdown between murderer and Montalbano at the end.
A pretty inoffensive crime mystery with an appealing Italian setting, but not enough action to keep me interested - I was skimming by the time I was 2/3 of the way through.
Overall rating: 4/10
Book source: Borrowed from the library.
The Voice of the Violin counts towards my 2013 Translation Challenge.