This prequel to the Inspector Montalbano film series opens in the early 90s when Salvatore Montalbano, a talented young policeman, is promoted to the post of commissioner and transferred to Vigata. There he finds himself supervising a group of agents that include Carmine Fazio, many years his senior, and quirky Sicilian, Catarella.
Young detective Salvo Montalbano is posted to a remote village in the Sicilian mountains, where he struggles to adapt to the somewhat unwelcoming climate, but a promotion and transfer bring him to the more agreeable seaside town of Vigata. Here he finds himself supervising a team of local policemen, including veteran Carmine Fazio and affable but bumbling agent Catarella. Montalbano's first case in Vigata involves investigating an attempted murder at the hands of a vulnerable young woman whose motives appear unfathomable.
It’s New Year’s Eve and Montalbano is still settling into his new post in Vigata when he is called to investigate the death of a hotel guest who has been shot through the window of his room by an anonymous gunman. The plot thickens when he learns that the rooms were switched just before the shooting. Meanwhile, our young police chief finally gets the opportunity to rent the house of his dreams, but his new housekeeper happens to be the mother of a criminal he's put away.
Just as he's starting to settle into his new job, Montalbano is surprised, and somewhat irked, by the unexpected arrival of the new deputy inspector, Mimi' Augello. The two soon find that their personalities are as alike as chalk and cheese. Together, they investigate the kidnapping of a young child and make the acquaintance of a beautiful Genoese architect, Livia Burlando. A rivalry immediately ensues for the girl's attentions.
Some unusual posters appear around Vigata in which the moral status of one of its female inhabitants is questioned. This soon becomes the talk of the town and Montalbano finds himself attempting to navigate the local gossip and resulting squabbles. But a murder forces more serious events onto the agenda, as Montalbano investigates the private and business life of the victim, uncovering a string of unsavoury facts in the process. Fazio returns to Vigata police station asking to be reinstated in his job following a bout of serious ill health. Salvo's father makes the acquaintance of new girlfriend Livia.
Montalbano receives an anonymous note predicting the death of a local construction worker, only to realise that the note has been delivered too late. Meanwhile, the public notice board announcing the town's forthcoming weddings is stolen. What at first appears to be an innocent prank gradually turns out to have more sinister overtones. Carmine Fazio's young son Giuseppe joins the investigating team following his father's retirement, but there are minor clashes between the enthusiastic new recruit and his boss.
As Livia and Salvo prepare to go on their first holiday together, Vigata is shaken by the murder of a rich old man. Meanwhile, a series of strange occurrences takes place involving the shooting of a number of animals at the hands of an elusive gunman. With little evidence to go on, Montalbano and his team struggle to understand the logic behind the animal killings and fear that the worst may be yet to come.