October 24, 2011

A Grumpy Sicilian Detective

Comparisons between Andrea Camilleri and Donna Leon are perhaps inevitable. Both have written a successful set of atmospheric mysteries starring introspective Italian detectives. But Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano is the antithesis of Leon's thoughtful and tidy Commissario Brunetti. Montalbano is gruff, abrupt, profane and haphazard. Worried about aging, he spends much of The Potter's Field talking to himself, trying to adjust to his reduced agility and delayed reactions.

Montalbano works in Sicily, where, when a dead body turns up, it's practically de rigueur to find links to the Mafia. Indeed, when body parts turn up in a field of clay, Montalbano sees references to Mafia traditions in the manner of dismemberment. He isn't particularly flustered by the case, assuming that it will take a while to identify the victim. What bothers him more is the strange behavior of Inspector Augello. For no explicable reason, Augello is angry and argumentative and is creating tension within the department.

Avoiding the touchy Augello, Montalbano and Officer Fazio work together to discover who the dead person is. Before they can make a positive identification, they are distracted by the arrival of a beautiful Colombian woman, worried that her husband has been lost at sea.

Camilleri adeptly weaves all these separate strands--Augello's anger, the mutilated body from the potter's field, the Colombian's missing husband--into an absorbing mystery that will take Montalbano to the Italian mainland and back in an attempt to find the truth.

I have to admit that I personally like Guido Brunetti better as a detective than Montalbano. It was interesting though to read a book starring Sicilian police officers, since in the Donna Leon books the Venetian officers are convinced that all southerners are corrupt.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Maybe. I didn't call Montalbano profane for nothin'.

 What part of Italy would you rather visit? I think Venice wins for me.


This review was originally written for Shelf Awareness and appeared in the October 21 issue. The post also includes Amazon affiliate links.