I ventured to Sicily many years ago. I visited Palermo, Corleone (the town depicted in “The Godfather”) and the seaside resort of Mondello. I loved the weather, the Mediterranean Sea, the people, the food and the sense of history. Reading Andrea Camilleri’s great crime stories about Sicilian Inspector Salvo Montalbano always evokes my fond memories of Sicily.
Although I don’t subscribe to his leftist worldview, I’ve enjoyed the irony, humor and suspense in his crime novels over the years.
After working in Italian theater and television, Andrea Camilleri wrote his first novel at age 66, but it was his first Inspector Montalbano crime novel, written at age 70, that propelled the Sicilian-born writer to international fame. The Montalbano series has been translated in 32 languages and there was a popular Italian TV series based on the novels. He died this past July at age 93.
That first crime novel in the series, “The Shape of Water,” published in 1994, featured Inspector Montalbano, an intelligent, honest, unconventional and somewhat dour detective with a dry wit who solved crimes in the fictitious Sicilian town of Vigata.
“The Other End of the Line,” translated by Stephen Sartarelli, like his previous novels in the series, offers a good murder mystery, a strong sense of atmosphere, and vivid descriptions of interesting characters, places and Sicilian food. The novel also offers abundant humor.
The book opens with Inspector Montalbano’s girlfriend, Livia, insisting that he be fitted for a new suit for an upcoming social event.
“They’d argued about this for at least two hours a day during Livia’s short stay in Vigata. When she first got there, Livia, the moment she was off the plane, before even embracing Montalbano, had wanted to give him some good news,” Mr. Camilleri writes. “Did you know Giovanna is getting remarried in a few days?” Montalbano opened his eyes wide.”
Giovanna? Which Giovanna? Your friend? Who’s she marrying? What about the kids?” Livia started laughing and gestured to him to go get the car. “I’ll tell you the whole story on the drive home. As soon as he’d put the car in gear, Montalbano asked his first question. “What about Stefano? How did Stefano take the news?”
Livia replied, “How do you expect? He was delighted. They’ve been married for over twenty years.” Montalbano sank into complete incomprehension. “But how can a man who’s been married for over twenty years and has two kids be delighted that his wife is marrying another man?” Livia broke into a laughing fit so extreme that, through her tears, she’d had to undo her safety belt to hold her stomach. “What on earth are you imagining? Where do you get these ideas? Giovanna’s getting married to Stefano.”
Why, did they get divorced? You never said anything to me about it”
Livia explained that the couple did not get divorced and they were going to renew their vows.
“Renewal? You mean like renewing a lease on a car? Or renewing your membership in a club?”
Salvo Montalbano did not want to attend the ceremony and he certainly did not want to visit a tailor to be fitted for a suit.
Inspector Montalbano later received a telephone call from his assistant, Fazio. Fazio told him that a patrol boat that was packed with 130 migrants from North Africa, including three pregnant women and four corpses — two of whom were children — came into port. The problem was a 15-year-boy was missing. Fazio added that the commissioner, the inspector’s superior, was angry and demanded that the boy be found.
After Fazio hung up, the inspector received another call. Inspector Montalbano pretended not to recognize the commissioner’s voice and asked who was calling. The commissioner, infuriated, said the missing boy was a terrorist, while Montalbano replied that he thought the kid was only a poor migrant. The boy later showed up dead, washed ashore on the beach.
Adding to the inspector’s woes was the rape of one of the migrant women on the boat, followed by the murder of a beautiful and vivacious blonde tailor named Elena. The inspector had been captivated by her when he met her only days before for a fitting for his new suit. She had been stabbed multiple times with a pair of her own tailoring scissors.
Inspector Montalbano discovers the seamstress lived a mysterious and private life. The initial suspects in her murder are a love-sick assistant and a pair of former lovers. The inspector digs into her private life to learn more about her and her past to discover who brutally murdered her.
I enjoyed “The Other End of the Line” and regret the passing of a fine crime writer.
• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.
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THE OTHER END OF THE LINE
By Andrea Camilleri
Penguin Books, $16, 304 pages