Like a runner who starts off slowly but builds up to a competent speed along the way and finally makes that dash to break the ribbon and win the race, Rounding the Mark is one of those mysteries that starts off leaving you wondering just where it is heading, but soon firmly entwines you in its grasp.
Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series has an ardent following in Italy, the country of its origin. In fact, Rounding the Mark is translated from the original Italian, and though translator Stephen Sartarelli does take some time, just as the plot does, to work his way into the thick of the language, toward the middle of the book it is very easy to enjoy the sometimes sarcastic yet entertaining dialogue that Inspector Montalbano mouths and that you soon recognize is his trademark. (“Come in, Cat.” He said it with the exact same intonation as the De Rege brothers’ “Come in, cretin.”)
Set in the imaginary town of Vigata in Sicily, Inspector Montalbano is a detective with a penchant for solving difficult cases. This earns him both fans and critics, as do most successful people. As we are introduced to Montalbano in this novel, he is determined to hand in his resignation, disillusioned with the state of affairs in his department. One day, during what is supposed to be a relaxing swim in the sea, he chances upon a decomposed body floating along the coast. His inner curiosity starts him on a quest to find the dead man’s identity, albeit without the go-ahead of his superiors. To them, after a few preliminary questions reveal the body to be that of a man who was an illegal immigrant from a nearby village, the case is closed. But not so for Inspector Montalbano, the detective with the nose of a police dog.
A few days later, our protagonist is on the scene when some illegal immigrants dock nearby, and he unwittingly shepherds a young runaway boy back to his family – and to his death. His conscience clouds every activity of his until his instinct somehow leads him to start connecting the dots between the two seemingly unrelated incidents. What follows is a dramatic pick-up in the pace of the book as the Inspector, with a couple of his trusted colleagues in the climax, finally cracks the case.
The issue of illegal immigration attracts a lot of attention the world over, and the inspiration for this book came from local newspaper articles that the author came across in 2002. Similarly, one of the plot twists also came to Andrea Camilleri from local media. An intriguing way of marrying the political and the literary, Rounding the Mark will make a good read for fans of the mystery genre.