Andrea Camilleri’s latest Montalbano novel is disappointing on many levels. Not until you read the afterword do you learn that, although it was published in the US in August 2017, that Camilleri wrote A Nest of Vipers back in 2008. Camilleri notes that it was held back as the theme was too similar to his 2004 novel, The Paper Moon. The so-called similarity is not the most disappointing aspect, at least to me. Rather, with Montalbano aging (ever so slightly) with each novel, I had looked forward to reading more about the ramifications from the two previous novels, A Beam of Light and A Voice in the Night. With 20 plus novels sketching Montalbano’s life, each one takes us little further, and A Nest of Vipers fails in that regard.
A greater disappointment, however, is that I solved the mystery less than five chapters into the novel. Usually with Camileri’s novels he’s far more careful: sowing seeds of doubt, planting false leads, tying in strange coincidences and sub-plots. An early sub-plot lasts no more than a few paragraphs, and other characters play minor roles. Even the title gives away too much.
A Nest of Vipers had one thing going for it: the murder victim. Father of two adult siblings, he was a ruthless business-man, philander, and blackmailer. Everyone, it seems, had a motive for killing him. Yet Camilleri ticks off one wronged person after another almost as fast as we’re introduced to them and their motives.
The entire supporting cast in the fictional town of Vigàta is in place, playing their familiar roles. Montalbano’s long-distance girl-friend makes a brief appearances. Enzo the chef prepares vast meals just for the Inspector. Fazio and Augello remain steadfast lieutenants, and Catarella mangles the language as brutally and comically as ever. Even the good forensics coroner Pasquano manages to insult Montalbano about “busting his balls” several times. While the supporting cast rarely veers from the set path, the various people Montalbano meets during his vacation draw little interest, at least this time. While the supporting cast has grown stale over the years, Camilleri usually draws other interesting characters, from young, beautiful students with dark pasts, to businessmen with various scruples, and the odd Mafia member in the background. Not so much this time, as only two main characters get much time in the novel, and then fades into the background. One character hovers in the background, then acts as a deus ex machina to explain a crucial bit of evidence right at the end.
A Nest of Vipers lacks much of the humanity in other Montalbano novels, and were it not originally written so many years ago I would call it a step back in the series. Had it been published in the right sequence maybe I would have walked away with a different impression. In the meantime, while I wait for the next novel, maybe it’s time to re-read The Age of Doubt or The Dance of the Seagull. In the meantime, titles of untranslated works continue to tease at least two more novels in the series.