This is an article I wrote for the Picador website a couple of years ago. They have revamped the website and the article has been archived so I thought I would revive it here.
Andrea Camilleri was born in 1925 in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, and came to writing late in life. He has been a TV producer, drama teacher and theatre director. A committed Marxist, he was a great friend of another superb crime writer, Leonardo Sciascia, and he follows Sciascia's example of packing plenty of hard hitting content into a very few pages. Clive James once commented in The New Yorker that Camilleri could do a character's entire back-story in half a paragraph.
Now living in Rome, Camilleri sets his Montalbano novels in the fictional Sicilian town of Vigata. Since his success, his home town of Porto Empedocle has added Vigata to its name.
Sicily is the island where, as Sciascia said, 'the left hand does not trust the right hand even when they belong to the same man.' The Montalbano books communicate a real sense of place and through reading them we learn about the fabric of Sicilian society, Sicilian food, and also wider Italian history and politics.
Delicious meals and recipes are a major part of the entertainment in the Montalbano books and a cookery website in Illinois, Champaign Taste
was inspired to start an event based on recipes from the novels
Hardly surprising when Camilleri writes a sentence like this:
The pasta with crab was a graceful as a first-rate ballerina, but the stuffed bass in saffron sauce left him breathless, almost frightened. [The Snack Thief]
Salvo Montalbano, unlike his Northern European counterparts, is only really depressed when his housekeeper Adelina has left him nothing in the fridge and the Trattoria San Calagero is closed.
An erudite writer, Camilleri pepers his novels with references to authors such as Leonardo Sciascia, Luigi Pirandello, Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and William Faulkner; as well as philologist NicoloTommaseo, composers Giacomo Puccini and Guissepe Verdi, and to hefty chunks of Italian history. It is important to read translator Stephen Sartarelli's excellent notes to be able to better appreciate and enjoy the texture of the stories as they are woven onto the Sicilian canvas.
[to be continued]