Originally published in Italy by Sellerio in 1994 with the title La forma dell’acqua and translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli as The Shape of Water, this is the first book in Andrea Camilleri‘s Commisario Montalbano series. It was published by Picador in 2002.
Synopsis: Silvio Lupanello, a big-shot in Vigàta, is found dead in his car with his pants around his knees. The car happens to be parked in a part of town used by prostitutes and drug dealers, and as the news of his death spreads, the rumors begin. Enter Inspector Salvo Montalbano, Vigàta’s most respected detective. With his characteristic mix of humor, cynicism, compassion, and love of good food, Montalbano battles against the powerful and corrupt who are determined to block his path to the real killer.
The Shape of Water is a witty and entertaining police procedural set in the fictional Sicilian town of Vigata. The body of an up-and-coming political figure named Silvio Luparello is found in the little town’s notorious Red Light district — an area of land known euphemistically as The Pasture — and the victim’s body is discovered in a compromising position in his car with his pants down. The situation is further complicated when the cause of death is determined to be natural causes.
Inspector Salvo Montalbano of the Vigata police is the detective assigned to the case. He’s a local in a case that reverberates though the island’s complicated political landscape. As Montalbano’s investigation gets going, Luparello’s lawyer, who was considered by many to be the architect of his rise in politics immediately announces his partnership with Luparello’s political rival and soon after Montalbano starts feeling pressure to solve the case quickly without digging too deep.
As is the case in most good police procedurals, the crime is just the beginning. It sets the stage for an investigation that introduces us to a rich cast of characters in a cascade of action. If there is one factor that distinguishes the good from the mediocre in this type of story is the quality of the investigator. And Salvo Montalbano does not disappoint. He is witty, he is independent, and he is fully Sicilian. Through him, we meet the locals, we learn of the politics and we observe not only the details of the case, as Montalbano does, but we gain from his lifetime in the community.
In the end, The Shape of Water is so much more than just the investigation that holds the plot together. It is a fabulous introduction to a community of characters. As a stand-alone read this book is fantastic, but as the first in a series, it introduces you to a world you will take great pleasure in getting to know better.
Hypercrime recommends The Shape of Water with 5/5, and encouraged readers progress through all the Montalbano books. Reading in the order of publication is best, but not absolutely required.