Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Sicilian Offense

“I would definitely write mysteries,” says Inspector Salvo Montalbano to a young colleague who suggests a career writing novels when the older man retires. “‘But it’s not worth the trouble… certain critics and professors, or would-be critics and professors, consider mystery novels a minor genre. And, in fact, in histories of literature they’re never even mentioned.”

That’s from Excursion to Tindari, a Montalbano novel by Andrea Camilleri about a tough, devious and brilliantly resourceful cop in a small Sicilian city named Vigata. When he’s not solving crimes -– this one concerns the death of a flashy young man and the disappearance of a dour elderly couple who live in the apartment below him – Montalbano likes to swim in the ocean outside his house, and eat spectacular food in his favorite trattoria as well as the splendid dishes left for him by his housekeeper.

Camilleri is probably the best mystery novelist that you’ve never heard of since Donna Leon, who has a kind word for him on the cover of Excursion to Tindari. His books, bestsellers in Europe and the basis of a popular Italian TV series, are published as paperback originals in the U.S. by Penguin, who make a serious effort with their artistic and evocative cover paintings. Also of great importance is the work of award-winning translator and poet Stephen Sartarelli.

If you haven’t crossed Inspector Montalbano’s exciting and often very funny path as yet, here’s where to start:

The Patience of the Spider

Rounding the Mark

The Smell of the Night

And when you’re done with those, there’s a new one, The Paper Moon, coming next year.

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