Book 7: Rounding the Mark, Andrea Camilleri

If ever I wanted a character from a book to be real and whisk me away to their world, then Inspector Salvo Montalbano is the one for me. roundingI want to swoon into his arms and have him carry me to Sicily and we will live in his villa by the ocean and eat broccoli pasta and freshly caught squid (lightly grilled, with lemon), slurp espresso after a morning swim and catch the evening breeze on the verandah while sipping the very best whiskey as he tells me of his day policing an island which is endearing, terrifying and somewhat nutty all at once. Ah, Salvo, the times we would have…

I first came across Montalbano in my insomniac days when I would wathc the Italian telemovies on SBS late at night. They are fantastic and wonderful renditions of the novels, the characters are spot on, the humour just right, the attention to food, dress, literature, architecture, human relationships and foibles and all the things that make up Salvo and his compatriots is spot on and no one, no one aside from Luca Zingaretti could play Montalbano (and I freely admit to the Italian actor being a significant part of the reason I am in love with Salvo). And of course there is a liberal sprinkling of exclamations to the virgin mary, swearing against mothers, head slapping and cheek kissing that make any one who likes to like Italia tingle with joy. And there is the food, oh the food… and that romantic almost-decay of the buildings and people of Sicily…

The Montalbano novels are exquisite. I’m not sure what version of the crime oeuvre we should put them under. They’re more than cosies but never venture into the forensic or gruesome, they’re not procedurals because the over-bureaucracy of the Sicilian police force is often ignored by Salvo and his crew. They are just good – let’s say that. Any one who enjoys a classic British detective tale (or telly show – think Morse, think Frost, think Poirot) will like them. Camilleri is a master – his ability to portray life, to portray how humans and relationships areis a delight. The translator, Stephen Sartarelli, does a marvellous job – you wouldn’t know they were originally written in Italian.  They are funny (Catarella – the most perfect clown-simpleton character you will find), intelligent, whimsical, sad, beautiful – a joy to read (and also easy to read – how nice!).

I love these novels because they reflect a great love for life, for the things that make life a joy. Montalbano is a Good man, who often finds the modern world saddening, who fights for what is right, who is respected by his men, and also by most of the mafioso who tend to sit at the back of a lot of the crimes he investigates. He can be gruff and moody (especially if he is hungry), insubordinate, and the occasional insensitive bastard (oh poor Livia his long-term but far away girlfriend) but he is full of so much passion for all those joyous things: food, literature, sex, love, theatre, nature, children, humanity, his homeland, the good in people. Like many detective-protagonists he is often trying to retire (he’s said to be a little over 50 – and no, that doesn’t stop me wanting to run away with him) or be on holiday but the case will draw him in, usually because of some kind of injustice, the tragedy of the victim’s life, the inhumanity of the crime, the insanity or insensitivity or inability of the top brass. Oh and he doesn’t like guns and drives really, really badly.

Rounding the Mark is the seventh Montalbano tale to be published in English. It is a fine addition to a glorious series of novels (this one focuses on some nasty folk trading illegal immigrant children). They simply bring joy and happiness to my life and I’m sure if you read them they will to yours too.

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