Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Excursion to Tindari by Andrea Camilleri

Title: Excursion to Tindari
Author: Andrea Camilleri
Translated & With Notes by: Stephen Sartarelli
ISBN: 9780143034605, Penguin Books, 2005
Genre: Police Procedural, #5 Inspector Montalbano mystery
Rating: A

First Line: He realized he was awake, as his mind was functioning logically and not following the absurd labyrinths of dream.

When I was first introduced to Sicilian police inspector Salvo Montalbano in The Shape of Water, I wasn't all that impressed. Montalbano came across as a grouch with few or no redeeming features. For some mysterious reason I chose to read the second book in the series, and I'm glad I did. Don't tell my husband, but I'm having a literary love affair with this Sicilian curmudgeon.

If someone telephones and wakes him up, Montalbano refuses to say the customary "hello" because he's not ready. If an hysterical woman is present at a crime scene, he has no compunction in telling one of his officers to get rid of her, even if she is the victim's mother. This grump makes me smile, and for the duration of our "affair", I'll also never have to cook because Montalbano knows all the best restaurants. (This inspector knows that a successfully concluded investigation goes hand in hand with good food and proper digestion.)

In this book, a young man has been shot and killed in front of his apartment building, and an elderly couple has disappeared. Although the mystery is secondary to the characters, it's not a remote second for Camilleri is quite sly. There's an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing. Montalbano is told that he and his group are incompetent and will not be assigned top cases, but he's given the aforementioned murder and disappearance anyway when all the "competent" policemen seem to be ill or on holiday. His lieutenant falls in love with a woman in a faraway town, and it's a delight to watch the inspector quietly sabotage the affair. Montalbano is having woman troubles of his own. There are visits to a very scary Mafia don, and of course the necessary stops for excellent food and wine... but suddenly in the midst of all this, you realize that the cases are being solved. Interviews have been done. Leads have been followed. The bad guys are being tracked down.

I may be reading this series because of the characters, but the mysteries are interesting-- especially since they're served up with a large helping of Sicilian life and customs. Stephen Sartarelli does an excellent job of translating Camilleri's books, which contain quite a bit of slang. If anything needs to be explained, Sartarelli has included notes in the back of the book.

In Excursion to Tindari Camilleri even has a word or two to say about the mystery writing profession:

"When you retire you could start writing novels."

"I would definitely write mysteries. But it's not worth the trouble."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because 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."

It's a rather sad commentary, isn't it, when a master of the genre admits that he'll never make it into the history books? Fortunately none of Camilleri's readers have to pay attention to those incomplete guidebooks. For brilliant characterization, for mysteries solved on the sly, for the occasional touch of the Keystone Kops, and for the sights, smells and customs of Sicily, we know we can rely on Andrea Camilleri and his Inspector Montalbano.


  1. I love character rich books and, since you admitted you have a new paramour in these pages, I think I need to take a look. Visiting Sicily and a mystery is also a plus.

  2. The grump sounds like a great character!

  3. Long live good crime fiction!

    I have only read one Camilleri, but also enjoyed the characters more than the plot. But cozy it was. It makes you rather hungry, though.

  4. I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoyed a couple of these earlier this year. I will have to read another before my trip to Sicily next month. Thanks for the great review.

  5. The first sentence of that book was interesting, and I like the cover, usually those two things are enough to make me want to read a book. Actually, usually the cover enough it alone, but a good first sentence helps too. Thanks for the review.

  6. Margot--So far Denis hasn't said a word, so maybe I got away with my "admission"! ;)

    Kathy--He is!

    Dorte--That's the one bad thing about the good Italian mysteries...I always wind up with a rumbling tummy and the urge to cook!

    Tina--You're going to Sicily? How wonderful!

    Angie--You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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