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il gioco degli specchi

21 july 2012

Il gioco degli specchi – "the game of mirrors" – takes its title from the famous scene in Orson Welles's Lady from Shanghai, where Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane face off murderously in a hall of mirrors. Salvo Montalbano uses the metaphor of the mirror scene to describe the crimes he's investigating, which at first seem both minor and pointless: a bomb that's gone off harmlessly outside an empty shop, and the sabotaged car that belongs to his luscious next-door neighbor Liliana Lombardo.

Il gioco degli specchi is now the next-to-last Montalbano mystery by Andrea Camilleri. The great Sicilian writer continues to produce one Montalbano per year in his mid-eighties, and I've got the most recent one (Una lama di luce) on my bookshelf too, but I've been reading them slowly, as treats to myself, and frankly fearing that each one will be the last.

Montalbano himself might have my attitude – he's full of worries about everything, especially growing old. But on the other hand, when Montalbano finds something he enjoys, he is usually able to stop worrying about whether it will last. This is particularly true of the food at Enzo's trattoria, but it can extend to love and wine and music and walks on the beach. I should just read my favorite books as they arrive, not store them up against calamity.

In Il gioco degli specchi, the two crimes that open the novel turn out to be two aspects of a single crime, escalating in scale from vandalism to murder, involving the mafia, drug trafficking, double-crossing, and vendettas. Liliana, caught in this web, befriends Montalbano and makes sure that people observe what good friends – possibly lovers? – they've become. Montalbano should know by now that his apparent magnetism to women usually can be explained by their need for his protection or complicity, but his vanity momentarily gets the better of him. Liliana turns out to be a good sort, and Montalbano likes her: but she knows too much about the cocaine trade in Sicily, and various awful things happen.

After much detection,

La giustizia si era mittuta 'n moto. Ma Montalbano non era convinciuto che la giustizia alla fini avrebbe fatto giustizia.

[Justice was set in motion. But Montalbano was not convinced that justice always did justice in the end.] (234)
The eternal theme of the detective novel: there's one solution that becomes public via the courts, and another that the detective, whose knowledge of the situation is more intimate and holistic, establishes for himself, and acts on accordingly.

Camilleri, Andrea. Il gioco degli specchi. Palermo: Sellerio, 2011.