(Review of the Inspector Montalbano mystery series, by Andrea Camilleri)
Salvo Montalbano is the world-weary but always upstanding Chief Inspector for the police force of Vigata, a smallish (and imaginary) town in Sicily. He’s a sensitive, ethical guy who struggles with the endemic Sicilian political corruption, superiors who can’t be bothered and subordinates who are eager but sometimes inept. Also problematic are the many attractive women who find him molto interessante – causing no end of conflict with Livia, his volatile out-of-town girlfriend.
This sounds like a standard backdrop for a police procedural mystery, international or otherwise. But this series, and Montalbano, rise above the standard. For starters, this is one well-read cop, given to Italian literary and historical references. He’s also a passionate gourmet: a steaming plate of pasta ‘ncasciata will always take precedence over police business.
Montalbano introspects fiercely, and the reader gets to spend quality time inside his head, getting to know this often melancholy and obsessive, but ultimately likable, character. In fact, all of Camilleri’s characters are worth knowing, from Ingrid Sjostrom, the beautiful six-foot-tall Swedish race-car driver (and Montalbano’s greatest temptation) to the creepy, sex-obsessed Judge Tommaseo. Add some dark Sicilian atmosphere and consistently elegant plotting, and you have a series that is just plain delizioso.
(Important disclaimer: The first book, “The Shape of Water,” begins with a single, nearly incomprehensible paragraph that goes on for a full five pages. It was so obtuse that I almost gave up. Fortunately I didn’t, because after page five things got much clearer and a whole lot more interesting – and stayed that way for 15 more books.)
For an appetizer, here are the first four books of the Inspector Montalbano series at DBRL:
- “The Shape of Water” (2002)
- “The Terra-cotta Dog” (2002)
- “The Snack Thief” (2003)
- “Voice of the Violin” (2004)
For the complete list of 16 titles, see our book list in the library’s online catalog.