I fell in love with Italian mysteries last year, and whenever I asked around for references the name of Camilleri kept coming up.
I didn’t feel like getting to meet his famous Inspector Montalbano just yet, so I approached him sideways, first with a novella, La Rizzagliata, and now with Renoir, a mystery about paintings, another novella.
The origin of the book is quite simple: has Renoir really visited Sicily in the 1880s and if so, why hasn’t he painted anything there? In his memoir, his son states that his father had stayed in Agrigente, but no painting of Renoir shows any landscape of Sicily. Apparently Camilleri spent some time researching the question, and he presented his own answer in a whimsical way.
Around this simple question, Camilleri weaves a simple but entertaining plot with an ageing Sicilian notary, Michele Riotta, who might have seen Renoir as a kid and who starts a mail exchange with a woman interested in Renoir paintings. Very soon this stern old man fall head over heels for the mysterious woman. The first part of the book presents Riotta’s increasingly passionate letters (we never get the woman’s letters, for reasons that the rest of the book will progressively explain), while the rest of the book is told by Riotta’s nephew, who struggles to understand what has taken hold of his uncle.
It was fun and easy to read, and the least I can say is that it makes you want either to visit Sicily, or to see Renoir paintings!