Tuesday, October 30, 2018

34. The Salamander by Morris West

Another find from the hospital used book store, The Salamander has the look of the classic 70s bestseller.  It even has a quote from Cosmpolitan on the cover, so I guess they felt it would attract both men and women readers.

It's an odd mix of genres.  It starts out as a detective story and then morphs into a much larger-scale political thriller about halfway through without adding any new characters.  I guess one might say that the biggest character in the story is Italy herself.  Throughout the narrative, all the characters and the protagonist are constantly talking about the history of Italy, the political culture of Italy, the Italian character, how Italians are just so different from everybody else.  This is not an original refrain and I suspect there is some truth to it, but it is really hammered home here and I'm not sure how authentic any of it is.

The story starts with Inspector Matucci of the internal intelligence agency the SID, responding to the death of a very powerful general who was in line to possibly be the next leader of Italy, possibly through extra-legal means.  He finds a clue leading to The Salamander.  The first half of the book is this investigation.  It's fairly cool.  There's lots of rich locations and interesting methodology of a secret police inspector who is relatively morally good.  As the investigation broadens, it becomes less about what actually happened to the general but rather what conspiracy of a fascist takeover is brewing.  We do meet The Salamander and he turns out to be a good guy, working inside the world of power to prevent this coup d'etat.

The Salamander takes Matucci under his wing and the second half of the book concentrates on their relationshipo and Matucci's makeover from disgraced inspector to slick political spy, also playing the game at the highest levels.

It was entertaining and had some nice relationships.  I enjoyed the machinations of the various agencies and bureaucracies as well as the intermingling of society, money and military powers. It was all, I suspect, a bit unrealistic and simple and ultimately lacked a true edge that would have distinguished it from a mainstream bestseller of its time.

No comments: