A Nest of Vipers

Andrea Camilleri (The Brewer of Preston) continues his evocative Inspector Montalbano mystery series with A Nest of Vipers, the 21st entry. The bright covers and Camilleri's descriptions of beautiful scenery and delicious Sicilian food contrast sharply with the underlying corruption and crime that Montalbano must fight at every turn.

As A Nest of Vipers begins, Montalbano makes the unlikely acquaintance of a homeless man who lives in a cave, before being abruptly called to the scene of a murder. Cosimo Barletti, an accountant, was found dead at his breakfast table. As Montalbano and his team investigate Barletti's life, they discover that he was essentially a loan shark, charging his clients usurious rates of interest. Furthermore, he blackmailed several young women into having sex with him.

The more they dig into Barletti's past, the more people they find who would have been willing to shoot him, and Montalbano cannot help but contrast Barletti's scheming existence with the simple life of the cave-dwelling man.

Sad, fascinating and occasionally funny, A Nest of Vipers is an interesting glimpse into quotidian life in Sicily, and into the nasty underside of apparently respectable people's lives. Anyone who loves a good mystery set in a faraway locale is sure to enjoy this Camilleri mystery, which can easily be read out of context, if readers are short on time. Afterward, though, they may want to catch up on the first 20 entries. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans

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