Death in (Malta)

book coverby Rosanne Dingli

Courtesy of a special order from Auntie’s Bookstore

Fact: Malta is the only island to receive a medal for its service to the Allies in WWII. (Prior to the war, 250,000 people lived there.) It is one of only 2 collective awards of the St. George Cross (the other went to North Ireland’s Ulster Constabulary for its long battle against the IRA.)

I learned quite a bit about Malta while reading this book. Despite its proximity to Italy, there is a native language on the island–Maltese. This language had many similarities to Arabic, I thought, which isn’t surprising given that Malta has been occupied by Phoenicians, Carthagenians, Persians, Italians, Moors, Spaniards, etc. during its long history.

Lemons, Swordfish,
and Funny Little Cheeses

Malta sceneryThis mystery novel deals with events of only 20 years prior to the present day. When an Australian writer rents a house on the main island, wanting peace and quiet, he discovers a mystery and sets about fictionalizing it as he tries to solve it. The villagers are friendly to him at first, but turn against him when he is suspected of involvement in a village tragedy toward the end of the novel.

The mystery he is trying to solve: 20 years before, a boy went missing and was never found. The boy who lived in the house the writer is renting, in fact. There is suspicion in the village that the mother may have killed the kid, because she was abusive. She later had a complete breakdown and had to be put in an asylum.

Malta mapThis was an easy read, and a quick one. Mostly pleasant in the sunshine. I enjoyed the writer’s explorations of Maltese village life; his growing friendship with the alcoholic old doctor, and the irksome superiority of the formerly fascist priest. Also the incursions of the cleaning girl, who keeps wanting to tidy up his writing room.

Caveats:

  • Gregory Worthington is in some sense a stereotypical chauvinistic Australian male who falls in love with a young Maltese woman (young enough to be his daughter) because she doesn’t remind him of his ex-wife. The ex always made him feel inadequate, but the young one is sweet, supportive, and non-challenging. (Ugh.) I felt  in some sense he was a weak man who needed a woman to prop him (and his writing) up, and this was a bit annoying.
  • I found it a little strange that the Mifsud’s family’s first child was called Cinsenu, but the other two are called Charlie and Rosy.
  • I did not buy Worthington’s theory at the end that sometimes it is better not to know (what happened to the missing boy). That just isn’t true. Anyone who has ever watched crime TV knows that the victim’s family ALWAYS wants closure. Speaking from personal experience, not knowing is worse because there are so many awful scenarios running through your mind. When you find out what happened, there is only one. If there was no foul play, even more comforting. So I found his decision unsatisfying and a bit disappointing.

All told, it was an enjoyable book, if a little queer. I would have enjoyed having a bit more Maltese history thrown in, but did like what was there. And it was interesting to read how homesick he was for Perth, a city my high-school friend who was an exchange student there found too American and pretty boring. I got a whole different rendering of the WA city, as opposed to Melbourne, where the ex lived.

Rating: Three Maltese olives.

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