Lately, I have been enjoying a number of crime writers who write in languages other than English. We are fortunate to have in the library’s collection a wide range of mysteries in translation, from novelists in Italy, Spain, India, Austria, Russia, Japan, all of Scandinavia, and Brazil among other places. Like any novels originally published outside the U.S., these stories give the reader a fascinating look into other worlds.
Many of the best international crime novels are police procedurals, and they increasingly offer a somewhat grim, or at least bleak, view of human nature. Among my recent favorites here are Andrea Camilleri‘s Inspector Montalbano stories, starting with The Shape of Water. Montalbano is a police inspector in the fictional town of Vigata in Sicily, Camilleri’s home. Honest, profane, and completely dedicated to his work, Montalbano struggles against corruption that seems to have infected all levels of Italian society.
There is a certain amount of cynicism here. Montalbano’s eyes are clearly open to the challenges he faces enforcing the law in a corrupt world. But he carries on nonetheless. The dark edge of the stories is leavened somewhat by humor, and by the affection that is evident among Montalbano and his officers and policemen. There is also a lot of eating in these stories, and the descriptions of food and food preparation can leave you hungry for more than just another story in the series. Another intriguing piece in Camilleri’s series is the development of the relationship between Montalbano and his companion Livia. This relationship adds depth to the inspector’s character.
It is best to read the series more or less in order, so start with The Shape of Water. Here, Montalbano looks into the death of a powerful Vigata engineer. The man was found in his car in an unseemly state in a sordid location, and the authorities are anxious to put the case behind them. Something does not feel right to Montalbano though, and he persists in his investigations. Did the man die of natural causes or not? Camilleri’s stories are not always pleasant, and the language and situations can be a bit rough at times, but Inspector Montalbano will appeal to readers who have enjoyed Donna Leon’s Commissioner Brunetti mysteries or Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series.
Check the WRL catalog for The Shape of Water