Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Bitter and the Sweet

I like Italian mysteries for the same reasons I enjoy Italian coffee: they're dark, hot and bitter. That's why CRIMINI, a new short story collection from that brilliant band of European crime specialists called Bitter Lemon Press, is such a pleasure. Edited by Giancarlo De Cataldo, who also contributes a strong story about a Christmas Eve kidnapping that goes bad, and translated by Andrew Brown, these nine stories are eye-openers into a world which the casual visitor rarely gets to see.

My favorite story is A Series of Misunderstandings by Andrea Camilleri, about whom I've written glowingly in recent months. 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, about a Sicilian police detective called Montalbano, are bestsellers in Europe and the basis of a popular Italian TV series. They 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.

Camilleri's story in CRIMINI isn't about Inspector Montalbano but deals instead with Bruno, a smart, sexy, friendly telephone repairman who has a fling with one of his customers. A dumb joke by Bruno results in her death by some very nasty gangsters, who think she knows something she shouldn't. It's a tender tale, totally Italian and completely absorbing.

For more from Camilleri, check out his new Montalbano book, due out in April.

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