Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Comic noir collaboration: Camilleri and Lucarelli
Acqua in Bocca is a short novel published in 2010 (by minimum fax, a publisher in Rome) in an almost epistolary style: an exchange between characters created by Andrea Camilleri and Carlo Lucarelli (Salvo Montalbano and Grazia Negro, respectively) in the process of an investigation of a murder in Bologna. The book actually resulted from a correspondence between the two authors, instigated by the publisher almost on a whim and then executed over time (the process is explained ina postscript). The book is unfortunately only available in Italian.
The story is fairly simple: a body is discovered on the floor of an apartment, a plastic bag over the victim's head and the corpses of a couple of "beta splendens" (Siamese Fighting Fish) nearby. Later, another fish is discovered in the corpse's windpipe, a contributing cause to the death. Ispettore Grazia Negro is assigned the case, but certain aspects of the case cause her to be circumspect with her superiors about what she is doing.
The witness who discovered the body then disappears, traced to a train station in Sicily, near Vigata, where Montalbano is the Commissario. Grazia, persistent in spite of being warned, contacts Salvo, asking him to be discreet. The exchange that follows is frequenty very funny, with Salvo taking different positions in his open and secret communications and messages passing back and forth concealed in cannoli (dispatched from Sicily) and tortellini (dispatched from Bologna).
Gradually, many of the characters in other books by the two authors appear in supporting roles (sometimes not directly "seen" but in the background of the story), including Mimi and Catarella from Sicily and Cogliandro from Bologna. Camilleri's contributions are frequently funny, particularly for anyone familiar with the Montalbano series, but Lucarelli's are also full of puns (including some characters' names), as well as other comic complications.
The book is short and (by the nature of the project) episodic, with documents and photographs interspersed in the text (Montalbano and Negro represented, obviously enough, from the TV series based on him and the movie based on her).
When the action shifts from Bologna to Milano Marittima, where Grazia has fled from those threatened by her investigation, the story takes a dark, but still comic, turn that it only partly explained by the final missive from Montalbano: we must choose to believe whether a violent act is intentional or coincidental.
Acqua in Bocca is light entertainment in a noir/comic mode. I read it a couple of times, as I've been studying Italian, with increasing comprehension--the language is fairly straightforward, if occasionally frustratingly idiomatic (Google Translate was sometimes more help than a dictionary). It was a lot of fun to practice Italian with, leading me onward to at least somewhat more literary texts (including several by Lucarelli and some I've just begun to tackle by Loriano Machiavelli (also quite comic in a particular way). My Italian teacher says she learned English by listening to pop music from England and America, because she was motivated to understand the lyrics, so I suppose my version of that is reading Italian noir, a rich vein of international crime fiction.