I originally found the commisario through television. When I was an estate manager, the owner had a very good cable package which included the MHz network, a Washington D.C. based independent station which was all international programming. I could watch news and cultural programs from all over the world and they had a very special segment on international mysteries. The Commisario Montalbano series became (and still is) my favorite show.
As fine as the show is, I knew there was much that probably didn’t make it to the screen. Fortunately, not long after my discovery of the show, Stephen Sartarelli began to translate the books into English. The translations started only after five novels had already been published in Italian and gained popularity among the Italian-speaking public. For non-Italians Sartarelli has has added notes at the end of each of the novels, which give short explanations regarding many of the peculiarities of Sicilian and Italian society depicted in the novels. I have never gotten my hands on a copy of any of the books in the original Italian but the translations are highly readable books. I think that long lag time is at least in part do to careful work on the part of the translator. Camilleri writes in a mixture of Italian and Sicilian dialect, with a lot of colloquialisms, not to mention Catarella’s uniquely mangled conversational style. As translator, Sartarelli is particularly good with the dialogue, which given the type of characters and scenarios that occur can be coarse, but definitely comes across as authentic. The humor in the book is subtle and Sartarelli does a great job, particularly where word-play is concerned as this is always difficult to translate well.
Although the series of novels is staged in the Sicilian context, Camilleri confronts many contemporary political and social problems of Italy as whole and which in fact confront much of the world.
I re-read this one for distraction during the heat wave and it’s one I really like. A grueling, relentless sun beats down through this story. It’s August, this hottest summer month in Sicily and Montalbano’s deputy Mimì Augello has left him for vacation, Forced to remain at Vigata, taking care of police business, he has his girlfriend Livia join him, She, not wanting to be alone with Montalbano’s always working, brings along a friend, along with her husband and baby, and asks Salvo to rent a beach house for them. One day the couple’s little boy disappears. Montalbano rushes into the garden to help in the search and discovers a tunnel that will reveal sensational surprises, including a trunk with the body of a missing girl who disappeared six years before. Nothing is ever simple in Camilleri’s Sicily. While not as literally as in this story, all the novels take you down the metaphoric rabbit hole into convoluted tales that really engage you.
The name Montalbano is a homage to the Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán; the similarities between Montalbán’s Pepe Carvalho and Camilleri’s fictional detective are remarkable. Commisario Montalbano lives and works in the fictional town of “Vigàta”, in the similarly fictional district of “Montelusa”. Camilleri based Vigàta on his home town of Porto Empedocle, on Sicily’s south-west coast, while Montelusa, the district headquarters, is based on the real town of Agrigento.In 2009, a statue of the inspector was placed in the centrally located Via Roma, in Porto Empedocle, commissioned by the mayor at the time to Italian artist Giuseppe Agnello. If you have not read the books you will wonder what is going on. It does not resemble the Montalbano of the television at all, picturing him with his hand on a lamppost, wrinkles and a full head of hair, just like described in Camilleri’s books.
There are currently 23 books in the series as well as a volume of short stories. Sadly, we lost Camilleri in July 19th of this year. The only consolation is that fearing Alzheimer’s he wrote the final volume of Montalbano’s adventures well in advance and left it with his publisher, so that we will have closure. And although Camilleri had written before we are very lucky to have as many of these wonderful books as we do, because he was already 69 when his first Montalbano mystery appeared. Two dozen of them will give you plenty of great reading and if you are still unsatisfied, the television show truly is excellent. Having read and watched interviews with those involved, I can say they truly loved Camilleri’s work and did their best to put it’s best qualities on screen and he enjoyed and appreciatedthe care they gave his iconic characters