Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long
I discovered the Inspector Montalbano books by Camilleri some six or seven years ago and at first wasn’t sure I liked them or their hero. I now simply love them and cannot understand my initial reaction. And if I did not care for them why did I continue reading when I was not keen? Because I am a sucker for a series of books, the knowledge that there were several of them for me to find and would keep me going – simple as that. I read them in a haphazard kind of way, totally out of order and then after half a dozen found I was hooked and that Montalbano had a dry wit and a caustic sense of humour that appealed to me and I found I was enjoying them
First thing to note when getting to know Montalbano is that he adores food. His housekeeper, a cook of great skill and taste, leaves meals for him in the fridge. He never knows what he is going to get and is always thrilled and delighted to see what is there. He is also a well-known figure in all the local restaurants and trattorias and seems to take incredibly long lunch breaks and then has to fight off sleep all afternoon.
Back in the house he opened his refrigerator. Adelina must have come down with an acute form of vegetarianism. Caponata and a sublime pasticcio of articholes and spinach. He set the table on the veranda and wolfed the caponata as the pasticcio heated up.
and later he receives a gift of food from a friend:
He opened it and realised it was insulated. Inside there were five round, transparent plastic containers in which he could see large fillets of pickled herring swimming in multi-coloured sauces, there was also a whole smoked salmon……..first thing he did when he got home was attack the salmon. A hefty slice dressed with fresh lemon juice and a special olive oil given him by the person who had made it ..the virginity of this olive oil has been certified by a gynaecologist said the little ticket that had come with it.
I trust you are drooling by now.
Since then I have read all of the Camilleri books and am addicted. I don’t think it is my imagination when I say that reading them all one after the other and in order, I note that they have become better plotted, more intricate and the characterization of Montalbano, his girlfriend Livia and the other members of the police station where he is based, have become deeper and the humour funnier.
Angelica’s Smile has just been published and when it dropped through my letterbox I abandoned the Test Match and Wimbledon in order to settle down and read it, and it did not disappoint. Salvo is now feeling older and more introspective and during the investigation of a series of burglaries he meets Angelica whose flat has been ransacked while she was spending time with her lover at a house near the beach.
The door opened and three things happened to the Inspector in the following order:
First, his vision clouded over slightly; second, his legs began to give way and third, he was suddenly quite out of breath.
Because not only was Miss Cosulich a stunningly natural beauty of about thirty, without a hint of makeup…… but was it real or was it his imagination? She was the spitting image of the figure of Angelica in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso or at least the way he had imagined her and pined for her since he was sixteen.
This knight, who now approached, at first glance
Had recognised, though from afar, the one
Who with angelic beauty unsurpassed
In amorous enchantment held him fast.
He is mesmerised, he is in thrall, he is in danger and he knows it. Livia, his long-time love, has just been with him and he is appalled at his behaviour but he cannot help himself.
Throughout the investigation into the series of burglaries, Salvo wrestles with his conscience and with a series of taunting anonymous letter from the perpetrator of the crimes. He is so distracted that his usual flashes of brilliance and investigative skills all desert him and it is some time before he realises that all these burglaries are a cover up for something else, they are a distraction so that the police do not realise their true intent.
Lovers of these books will need no encouragement from a review of mine to lay their hands on this book immediately, by now we are all in love with the marvellous inhabitants of the Vigata police station. Salvo, a warm, lovable man despite his many failings; Augello the female chasing assistant who seems to do very little work; Fazio who seems to do most of it and Catarella. Ah, what can one say about Catarella who mangles every message he takes on the phone, who can never open the door to Montalbano’s office without it crashing through his fingers, Catarella who adores Salvo and would die for him? He is simply perfect.
Many books that come my way for reading and review are passed on to new homes but the Camilleri books are kept. I now have a full shelf of them all in my bookcase and there they stay and are often re-read when I am feeling a bit low or just want to brighten my day with warmth, sunshine and the spirit of Italy.
I simply adore them and, if you are unfamiliar with them, may I urge you to get hold of them as soon as you can and start reading.
You know it makes sense……
Elaine Simpson-Long blogs at Random Jottings
Andrea Camellieri, Angelica’s Smile, trans Stephen Sartarelli (Mantle: London, 2014). 978-1447249115, 288 pp., hardback.