Saturday, April 10, 2010


Regular visitors to Crime Scraps [there surely must be a few] will know that I am addicted to the Salvo Montalbano books written by the Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri. Last year thanks to the good offices of Maxine of Petrona I was asked to produce a piece for Picador which can be found here entitled "Appreciating Camilleri".

If I had started the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme at "A" instead of joining in at "C" I would certainly have used A for Andrea. Andrea Camilleri.

The Wings of the Sphinx is the eleventh Montalbano mystery to be translated into English by the American poet Stephen Sartarelli. Sartarelli's translations always do a good job differentiating the various voices and brilliantly capture the charm of Sicily's Mrs Malaprop, Catarella, one of the great comic characters in modern crime fiction. Also Sartarelli's superb notes at the end of the books make both informative and interesting reading.

It is usually extremely difficult to maintain a uniformly high standard in a long running crime fiction series. But although they naturally vary a bit along the way all the Montalbano books are good, mainly because they do not rely on the plots, but much more on the wonderful characters, clever humour, descriptions of fishy meals and the Sicilian atmosphere. The Wings of the Sphinx is in my opinion one of the best of the series.

Montalbano's faltering long distance relationship with Livia is in crisis. The detective now fifty six is feeling his age and regretting his lost opportunities. In Wings of the Sphinx he has to deal with two cases, one serious; a young woman found dead with her face half shot off and the only hint to her identity a tattoo of a sphinx moth; and one possibly less so as the kidnapping of the fifty-year-old wholesaler in wood, Arturo Picarella, might have something to do with a stewardess he met flying back from Sweden, especially as he happened to have his passport on him when seized.

The tattoo links the murdered girl to several other similarly marked girls from the same town in Russia, and a 'benevolent' Catholic charity.
The police investigation involves piecing together a complex trail that is possibly easier to unravel than Montalbano's chaotic personal problems.

The Wings of the Sphinx is a short book but contains all the idiosyncratic characters that make the books such a success Montalbano, Catarella, Fazio, Mimi Augello, Livia, Dr Pasquano and the Swedish beauty Ingrid all have a part to play. Once again Andrea Camilleri proves he can in a mere 200 plus pages produce a gem of a story.

...Francesco Di Noto. Decked out in Armani, top-of-the -line loafers worn without socks, Rolex, shirt open to a golden crucifix suffocating in a forest of unkempt, rampant black hair.
He was surely the idiot tooling around in the Ferrari. But the inspector wanted confirmation.
"My compliments on your beautiful car."
"Thanks. It's a 360 Modena. I've also got a Porsche Carrera."
Double cretin with fireworks.

If you have not read this series yet you are in for a rare treat, and luckily for us Camilleri fanatics those magic words 'not yet translated from the Italian' refer to at least four more Montalbano books.

The sea wasn't calm yet, but neither was it so rough as to prevent the fishing boats from going out. He felt comforted by the thought that he could finally eat fresh fish at Enzo's.
So comforted that he went back to bed and slept for three more hours to make up for the sleep he'd lost.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman - Thanks for this fine review. I am not as well-versed in Camilleri as you are, of course, but he is extremely talented, and Salvo Montalbano is becoming a friend of mine, too : ). This one certainly seems like a terrific addition to the series.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot. The only problem with the Salvo Montalbano novels is that I whiz through one so quickly and then have to wait a year for the next one to find out how his relationship with Livia is progressing. :o(

I chose to title the post Old Friends because I have just found a new author to me [tomorrow's post New Friend ?........leg permitting] who I think will become a reading friend.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

I liked the one I read last year, but I donĀ“t remember it as extraordinary so I can see I will have to try some more to find out what it is you and Maxine enjoy so much :D

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, that's fun, too, Norman, isn't it? That's the beauty of interacting with other crime fiction fans; I frequently "meet" new (to me) authors, and often I'm glad I did.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Lovely stuff, Norman -- well done you. Your appreciative writings have done much for Camilleri. He has been among the crime novelists (Vargas, Alvtegen, Leon, Hill, O'Connell, et a very few al.) whose works I await most avidly since I first encountered him -- having read them all, I am now re-reading them in a loop.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

yes, you have hit the nail on the head, Norman - "old friends" indeed is a good way to think of these lovely books. And Cartarelli as Sicily's mrs Malaprop - great allusion!

I loved this book and, like you, am already looking forward to the next.

I don't know if this is the book you mean by a "new friend", but if not, I've just finished Inspector Cataldo's Criminal Summer by Luigi Guicciardi, and enjoyed it very much. Cataldo is from Sicily, but not very like Salvo. I'd love to know what you make of it!

12:35 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thank you Philip. I usually pass books on to deserving causes. But the Camilleris I have kept and while I haven't started to re-read them, too many more books, I do open them up when I am low in order to get a good laugh or an appetite for fish.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Maxine. The Inspector Cataldo sounds tempting but I am following up with "New Friend' Deon Meyer because I enjoyed his exciting Blood Safari and the character of Lemmer so much although perhaps it could have been 50 pages shorter.

2:35 PM  

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