I was addicted to the Sicilian detective before I ever went to Italy. What’s not to like? The scenery, the food, the characters, the complex plots - a detective torn always between the love of an unattainable woman and his own independence. Salvo Montalbano would like to be a faithful partner to the forceful Livia, who lives at the opposite end of the country, but he is an Italian man, an obsessive and morally driven policeman, both a cynic by experience and a romantic by nature (which probably sums up the entire national character of Italy).
And then I love the covers - particularly the Italian ones with their matt black format. I’m OCD enough to long for a whole matching shelf of them! But for practicality I have them on my Kindle.
I recently watched the documentary about their author Andrea Camilleri (literary royalty in Italy) with great interest. He’s now 88 and has already written the last Montalbano book “just in case I get Alzheimers” and locked it in the vault. It was his grandmother who taught him to love stories, apparently, but he didn’t write his first novel until late, to keep a promise he made to his father just before he died. Montalbano's complicated relationship with his father in the novels, is rooted in Camilleri's relationship with his own father.
Camilleri was originally an actor, then a theatre director, then a lecturer in drama. All good training in the art of scene setting, creating dramatic tension and storytelling. His book shelves are lined with the greats of Italian drama, including a lot of Pirandello. Salvo Montalbano, Camilleri’s main character, is named after another great contemporary writer, Spanish poet, gastronome and detective author Vazquez Montalban, who died in 2003.
The TV adaptation of the novels (made by RAI in Italy) has been so successful because they have faithfully recreated the Sicilian world in which Montalbano operates, where crime solving is a case of the Art of the Possible, and ordinary people have to live beyond the law to survive. It is powerful families who control their communities and you have to be artful and cunning just to get by.
Luca Zingaretti, who plays Montalbano was a student of Camilleri’s and was coached by him when he auditioned for the role. Perfect casting for this particular reader. As is Fazio and the comic character Cattarella. I’ve always thought the screen character of Augello was a bit over-played, though he’s true to many Italian men I’ve met.
The Montalbano novels are a very happy addiction for me - they take me to a special place and into a world I love. Sicily, on a scorching summer day, the smell of dust, a whiff of goats, the dazzle of the Mediterranean, anchovies grilled in Parmesan, a glass of chilled white wine ....... Or, watching the sun go down and the lights begin to come on in one of those hill towns that seem hardly real.
Instead, on a cool February day in the Lake District, fuelled by English tea, I’ve been trying to reconstruct my flood-wrecked garden before the spring growth begins. Every shrub has been shrouded in debris from the river - dead leaves, fibrous material, string from hay bales, pieces of cloth, plastic. . . It feels good to be freeing them from their cauls. The fences have been torn down, so every shrub, every rose bush has to be pruned down almost to the ground so that they can be re-established once the fences have been rebuilt. The days are beginning to lighten, the sun is stronger when it shines. I can smell spring!
I've just had good news from Italy - 2 more 'mini-films' of Montalbano are planned by RAI!