A Beam of Light is part of Andrea Camilleri’s popular mystery series featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano, set in Sicily, in the fictional town of Vigàta. The book begins, as Camilleri’s novels sometimes do, with a prophetic dream: Montalbano dreams about a coffin in a field, where the body inside turns out to be the Commissioner of Police, a character with whom Montalbano has frequent clashes. Meanwhile, in the dream, Montalbano’s colleague Catarella, one of Camilleri’s most delightful characters, whose dialogue includes many malapropisms and mispronunciations, starts speaking Latin. To tell how the dream proves to be prophetic would be spoiling things, but it certainly will be significant later on.
In this book, Montalbano investigates two cases. The young wife of a much-older merchant is robbed and sexually assaulted while depositing money in a bank. The attacker takes her money, but not her jewelry. Montalbano suspects the woman’s ex-lover, but realizes the friend she visited just before the attack is somehow involved. In the second case, a farmer comes to Montalbano and says a door has been placed on an abandoned building where there had never been a door before. When Montalbano and his team arrive, the door is gone, but Montalbano soon discovers the building had been used to store weapons. Two Tunisians working on the farm are the most likely suspects, and Montalbano believes they’re hiding weapons to support a revolution in Tunisia. But, just when he is going to question them, they disappear. Montalbano thinks they have an accomplice, who recognized him when he was standing in a beam of light in the building that was used to hide the weapons.
Montalbano is a wonderful character, honest and principled where others are corrupt, and fond of fine food and wine. Camilleri’s descriptions of the meals Montalbano eats at his friend Enzo’s trattoria will make you hungry for Sicilian food. Montalbano is grumpy at times and probably going through a midlife crisis. In this book, he is torn between two women. His relationship with his long-time girlfriend Livia has soured over the years. Livia now lives in Genoa, and at one point in the book they don’t even recognize each other’s voices over the phone. One of the reasons they never got married was that, in one of the earliest books in the series, Livia had wanted to adopt a Tunisian orphan, but Montalbano did not. At that point, he didn’t want the responsibility. Now he has regrets over that decision. He has had many brief affairs since Livia moved away, but now he finds himself strongly attracted to another woman, a beautiful art gallery owner named Marian. She shares his powerful attraction, but then she is called away to Milan, where Montalbano believes she may be the victim of shady art dealers. Will Montalbano break things off with Livia to pursue his new love interest? We will find out, as the novel reaches its poignant conclusion.
Andrea Camilleri died recently, at the age of 93. He was a theater and television director for much of his life, and did not publish his first novel until he was in his 60s. He was the author of historical novels as well his mysteries, but he is best known for the Montalbano series. The Montalbano books have also been made into a popular Italian television series.
A Beam of Light is available from the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.