The case under investigation by Inspector Salvo Montalbano in his sixth outing, THE SCENT OF THE NIGHT, is that of a financial advisor who has disappeared with vast quantities of everyone's money. Tempers are characteristically running high, so at the outset Montalbano has to exercise his trademark combination of psychological insight with impulsive action to avert a nasty hostage situation. Even so, the police are left with several puzzling facts about the disappearance, and are struggling to make any headway.
In previous books, we've seen the commissioner, Montalbano's boss, retire and the corporate types move in, all too ready to appear on TV and blame the Mafia for everything, without bothering to look into the facts. After being even more incensed than usual by the new commissioner's insinuations about Montalbano's ethics over the case of the boy Francois (who appears in some of the previous books), Montalbano goes his own way without any reference to his superiors and their theory that the Mafia have killed the financier. The investigation that follows is a lot more satisfying in this book than has been the case in some previous outings, where atmosphere, absorbing though it is, has taken precedence over detection and credibility.
There are some delightful characters along the way: I was particularly fond of Michela, the attractive secretary of the vanished man, mistress of the non verbal communication and sexual blackmail – or is she? She meets her equal in Montalbano in a couple of funny scenes, and the pair end up combining their witty resources to arrive, almost, at an answer. But it isn't until Montalbano realises a connection with Clementine, the old lady who first featured in THE VOICE OF THE VIOLIN, that the complete answer becomes clear. I had worked out the solution a few chapters previously, but it didn't matter, the reader's enjoyment is not impaired by rather too many clues being provided.
The strength of this book is the sense of place: the love that Montalbano has for his environment, his history and his way of life – and in this book, he is even showing signs of maturing in his relationship with long-term but permanently (it seems) absent girlfriend Livia, despite some unfortunate incidents with a sweater. He is enraged by progress, when progress is defined as covering the land with concrete, then abandoning it. There are beautiful little snapshots of this vanishing culture, for example when Montalbano discovers a remote shack where he eats a meal which he won't forget in a hurry. The police in Montalbano's team feature strongly in this outing also: Mimi's wedding traumas; Fazio's understanding and loyalty even when his boss has quite clearly strayed over the line of what is legal; and of course my favourite, the verbally challenged, overenthusiastic Caterella.