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Sicilian Gumshoe

An unlikely setting for police procedurals

Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By JON L. BREEN
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Are these three unrelated cases or will they be connected somehow? Not surprisingly, the treasure hunt proves more sinister and less playful than it first appears, and the ghastly Grand Guignol solution is well prepared for, with a murderer who may be guessable but can also be figured out by some fairly laid clues. 

So far, only one of Camilleri’s non-Montalbano novels has been translated into English. First published in Italy in 1992, Hunting Season, a historical novel set in 1880s Sicily, antedates the first Montalbano by a couple of years. It is set in the same town, Vigàta, where the son of a medicinal gardener murdered many years before returns to open a pharmacy, setting the tongues of a varied and colorful group of locals wagging. A series of mysterious deaths follow. The only thing harder than writing a pure comic murder novel must be translating one, but Sartarelli is up to the job. This very short book is funny, bawdy, sexually explicit, and as carefully and elaborately plotted as a Montalbano case.

A few Inspector Montalbano cases that stand out (apart from those I’ve already mentioned) include The Paper Moon (2008), The Wings of the Sphinx (2009), and The Potter’s Field (2011). The long-running television series, with Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano, is available on DVD and recommended to subtitle readers, though it can’t duplicate the effect of the novels. Impressive for its acting, production values, and faithfulness to the original stories, it’s more like a typical police series, downplaying the comedy and unable to capture Montalbano’s interior life, which gives the novels much of their uniqueness. 

Whatever the medium, this series proves that the best contemporary mystery writer and the most engaging fictional cop from the continent of Europe may not come from Scandinavia.

Jon L. Breen is the author, most recently, of Probable Claus.

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