My Rating –4.5/5
I do not remember where I read first about Inspector Montalbano. However, after reading good reviews about the books, I bought first two books of this series. This was also my first Italian series. I have now become an ardent fan of Inspector Montalbano. This is a fun series to read. Based in Vigata, a fictional town of Sicily, the books are full of dollops of humour. Camilleri uses his plots to comment on political and social events exposing the frauds, rampant corruption and double standards of the Italian society.
What leaps to eyes immediately is how similar Indian and Italian societies are. Same regional and cultural differences, same multi party political set up rampant with corruption where every party is as bad as next, same nexus between politics, business, mafia and civil servants. The family structure is also same – big patriarch families full of cousins where a man’s first and foremost loyalty is to his family. In Montalbano’s Sicily of 1990s, bureaucracy and red tape worked just as it did in India. One has to wait forever to get even small things like a gas or telephone connection unless you know someone who knows someone else whose second cousin works at the gas or telephone company.
Montalbano is special because Camilleri knows how to spice up his books. It is a delight to read the exploits of the motley crew of Vigata police force. Catarella, Mimi, Fazio, Gallu and Galluzo – all have their peculiar eccentricities but together with Montalbano they uncover some serious and intriguing mysteries. Fairer sex plays an important role in all Montalbano stories. There are always beautiful damsels in distress who test Montalbano’s fidelity. Women in Montalbano’s books come in all types – Smart, sassy, conniving, resourceful, independent, honest. (Some may view this portrayal as sexist, again another similarity between Indian and Italian culture).
Montalbano has his own style of working – though honest and diligent, he often takes uncharted path to his investigations driven by his instinct and tripping the authorities in the process. He is therefore considered as loose cannon, looked suspiciously at by his superiors. Even though highly respected by his team, they continuously squabble and their garrulous bickering creates hilarious moments. Montalbano is also a gourmand. He loves to eat well and then take long solitary walks. His books are full of mouth-watering Italian delicacies. Martin Walker’s Bruno and Tarquin Hall’s Vish Puri are similar to Montalbano in more than one aspect. They are also foodies like him. All have a peculiar sense of justice. Even though they work to uncover truth, once truth is known, they may let justice takes it own course rather than law taking its own course.
Camilleri’s books are like crunchy, lip-smacking chatpata chaat items, but they are equally rich in absorbing mysteries. Camilleri covers serious issues like war crimes, child labour and pedophilia, ponzi frauds and drugs. I highly recommend Camilleri’s books for mystery lovers.
The name Montalbano is homage to Camilleri’s favourite Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán whose fictional detective Pepe Carvalho is model for Salvo Montalbano. (Another series on my TBR pile).
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.