Thursday, February 17, 2011


Some long running series exhaust their own resources for plots, and lose their freshness and vitality; but Camilleri avoids this by blending contemporary issues, such as illegal immigration, with his Sicilian setting, producing each time a mystery that engages both Montalbano and the reader.

Also a strongly drawn cast of major and minor characters are a sustaining strength of the series. Take for example the women in Salvo Montalbano's life: his girlfriend Livia, who lives in Genoa and is either too far away, or too close for comfort, depending on the situation; Ingrid Sjostrom, the blonde Swedish former racing driver, who Salvo thinks smells of apricots; and Adelina, his housekeeper, who rewards or punishes him with the dishes she leaves for him to eat.

The language that Camilleri uses is an integral part of the humour and entertainment that the books offer to the reader. The character of Catarella, who answers the phone at the police station desk, who mishears everything and mangles his words has become one of the great comic creations in crime fiction. He speaks in his own strange dialect and is the Sicilian equivalent of Mrs Malaprop. Translator Stephen Sartarelli does a fine job with Catarella's dialect, giving it a recognisable pattern of accident, and accent, that is both universal to verbal twits everywhere and somehow uniquely Sicilian as well.

At root though, it is the charm and wit of Salvo Montalbano, the liccu cannaratu [gourmand and glutton] that are the enduring reasons for reading these books. He exhibits an intense irritation with Italy's bureaucratic imbecility and has no patience with either stupid superiors or the new breed of sycophantic policemen.

Montalbano stands in contrast to his world so that the reader can identify with his honesty and his concern for other people. When he is not enjoying his time with Livia, reading, eating gorgeous meals, or enjoying precious solitude and thinking time, he is trying to bring law and order to the mean streets of Sicily.

In the next few weeks I will dive into The Track of Sand, the twelfth Montalbano novel to be translated in English which sits very temptingly on my TBR shelf.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman - Thanks for sharing this other half of your tribute to Camilleri. I completely agree with you that part of the charm of this series is the cast of characters; I like Adelina very much and of course there's Caterella, among many others. It's a wonderful series, and I am glad you've highlighted it. Looking forward to your review of The Track of Sand.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

I could not agree more, Norman!

1:23 AM  
Blogger Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Norman - I very much appreciate your taking the time to re-print here your article on Camilleri. Thanks.

1:57 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot, Maxine and Jose Ignacio.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I confess that while in the middle of "The Terra-Cotta Dog," which I found to be a bit tedious (gasp!), I switched to Sjowall/Wahloo's "The Fire Engine That Disappeared," for awhile. It's very well-written, and so I'm satisfied.

Will go back to Montalbano soon. This one is longer and not so quick a read--330 pages. I will return, but needed another type of book for awhile.

Also, Montalbano's meals make me hungry!

6:22 PM  

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