Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Detectives I have met – I

Is there a profession that literature has done more to romanticize than that of the detective? Why, if we were to take the writers word for it, the police departments of the world from Rio de Janeiro to Stockholm should be positively crawling with book-loving, witty, ethical, charming and quite unbelievably intelligent men and women – well…


One of the best things about learning Italian is reading these babies in their original version. Sicily-italian is just…Sicilian, I guess, and so much of Andrea Camilleri’s series is inextricably tied to that fascinating hell-hole in the middle of the Mediterranean, that the experience is considerably heightened by reading them in the original (I haven’t read any of the translations but they are supposed to be very good).

So, what is Salvo Montalbano like? I’ve reached installment nº 8 and he’s changed a little… he’s getting on in years and ethics are becoming a big consideration, and seeing as he practices in Sicily we can’t blame him if he’s getting a bit morose.

Women and other animals

True to detective form he has complicated personal relationships – an estranged father, a long distance girlfriend (she lives in the north of Italy, so there’s also a not irrelevant culture clash between their worldviews) with whom he is chronically on the verge of getting married or breaking up.

Table manners

He doesn’t just love to eat – his whole mood and faith in himself and the world at large can be dramatically altered through the almost mystical power of a good (or bad) meal.

Mood ring

Towards the melancholic - and he’s a brooder – even has a couple of favorite places to go all out pensive. His house overlooks the beach and in the middle of difficult cases he’s been known to go out for a midnight swim in the icy water as well as the customary morning one.

Cardiac condition

Not good. I think he smoked more in the first books but he still kicks back a lot of whisky (with Ingrid the Swedish F1 driver – not the most believable character in the series but a long standing one that has come in handy (no smirks, now) many a time – and what do I know? She’s probably based on a real life acquaintance of Camilleri’s. On “The pacience of the spider” he nearly collapsed and was still recovering from a gunshot wound from “Rounding the mark”.


Montalbano cannot be around the dying elderly or chronically ill – it’s his kriptonite. I don’t know if any of the following books in the series has him solving crimes from a hospital bed, but I don’t think he would flourish in that environment – the food for one…

For real

Between political (and police) corruption, illegal immigration, smuggling of young women and children, illegal immigration and subsequent destruction of the countryside and coastline, there are a lot of ills of Sicilian society for Camilleri to explore without having to dip too often in the mafia pot – in fact the honoured society makes few appearances.

The verdict

Highly addictive – I’m glad I have at least six more to read, not counting the short-stories.

La forma dell’acqua – The shape of water
Il cane di terracotta – The terracotta dog
Il ladro di merendine – The snack thief
La voce del violino – The voice of the violin
La gita a Tindari – Excursion to Tindari
L’odore della notte – The scent of the night
Il giro di boa – Rounding the mark
La pazienza del ragno – The pacience of the spider

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