Monday, 19 May 2014

The Treasure Hunt by Andrea Camilleri

the 16th Inspector Montalbano novel


published 2010 as La Caccia Al Tesoro; English Translation by Stephen Sartarelli, published 2013

from regular Guest Blogger Colm Redmond






[The police are searching a house after an armed siege. Inspector Salvo Montalbano’s colleagues bring an elderly woman towards him.]

Caterina looked as if she had just stepped out of a horror novel. She was quite short and wearing a filthy nightgown riddled with holes, had dishevelled, yellowish-white hair and big, wide-open eyes, and only one long, blood-curdling tooth in her drooling mouth.

‘I curse you!’ Caterina said, looking at Montalbano with wild eyes. ‘You shall burn alive in the fires of hell!’

‘We can talk about that later.’





[In Montalbano’s office – a member of the public has come to report his car stolen]

‘Good morning,’ the man said, coming forward with his hand extended.

Well dressed, about fifty, handkerchief in breast pocket, gold-rimmed glasses, salt-and-pepper hair cut extremely short, English shoes all curlicues, moustache with the ends waxed and curled up. He was so drenched in cologne that the room immediately filled with a sweet scent that turned the stomach. The mere sight of him aroused such antipathy in the inspector that he just let the man’s hand hang in the air, without shaking it. He decided to deal with the matter in his own way.

Comment allez-vous?’ he asked the man.

The other looked at him as if he’d been kidnapped by Barbary pirates.

‘Ah, you mean you’re not French? Really? Hmph…!’ said Montalbano.


observations: The United Nations recently reported with some confidence that there is “no realistic risk” that the world is ever going to run out of grumpy middle-aged male detectives. At least, fictional ones. It sometimes seems like there’s one born every minute.

The Montalbano books (procedurals rather than detective stories) are set in Sicily in the present day, but are in many senses very old-fashioned. Sometimes this is in good or neutral ways, such as the cosy feeling that good guys always win in the end, and that cops can have mutually-helpful relationships with not-terribly-petty criminals without that counting as corruption. But some of it is bad - there are some distinctly unreconstructed attitudes to women and womanisers, for example, and the Inspector even has a habit of sending his deputy to seduce women to get information from them.

There are also a remarkable number of gorgeous, often young women throwing themselves at our middle-aged hero, who doesn’t always resist them despite having a steady girlfriend (who conveniently lives far away.) This is par for the course in Italian crime shows, such as Inspector De Luca and indeed Young Montalbano, which is based on short stories by the same author. But those guys are much younger than the Montalbano of the main series, who is in his late 50s by the time of this book and gives hope to middle-aged gents everywhere…

Anyhow, the books are a quick easy read, suspenseful, quite funny in an unsubtle way, and very consistent. If you like one, you’ll probably like them all. And they’re full of mouthwatering lists of what Montalbano eats – very little that he does is so urgent that he can’t stop for lunch, and he does his best thinking while walking his huge meals off afterwards. The translator includes explanations of what the dishes contain, and sometimes why they’re called what they’re called.

The woman in her nightie is Martha O’Driscoll, in the 1945 film House Of Dracula, looking perhaps a little less scary than Caterina. The chap walking his pet anteater is Salvador Dali, a man with a sense of style and a very noticeable moustache.

For more from the Guest Blogger, click on his name below.

19 comments:

  1. Moira - Thanks as ever for hosting Colm.

    Colm - I'm glad you enjoy these books. This is a series I like very much, not least because of the sense of wit in it. Some of the novels are darker or lighter than others, but all of them convey the setting so well. I have to admit I'm a fan.

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    1. I agree the locale is important. I don't know if you've seen the tv version, it all rings very true as regards the sunbaked scenery. But Montalbano is bald, whereas it's clear the one in the books has hair and is quite vain about it, too. Nonetheless the actor looks and is just right.

      And yes, there is some variation in mood. I got to the end of one of the books and thought "Well, that wasn't much like the others!" and then read a note at the back - from the author, rather than the translator - saying the same thing. So I felt like quite the champion reader... [Sorry I can't remember which of the books.]

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  2. Nice post, Colm. I really thought the woman at the top was Rita Hayworth. Guess it is my bad eyes, or wishful thinking. It is a very nice picture none the less. I have read the Montalbano series like a lot of others... only the first book, but I have several more to read. If you and Moira would quit finding books for me to read, I might find time to get back to it.

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    1. As always, glad to be of service, weighing you down with book ideas... Yes the stills of Martha O'Driscoll - with whom I'm not familiar - are great, you can find at least one more online. I opted for this one because of the brilliant shadows.

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  3. I loved this series, have read the majority of books, and am eagerly awaiting the next few to be translated. I suppose when I finish all of them, I can start it all over again.

    Montalbano is a favorite curmudgeon. He thinks, he gives orders, he yells, he investigates. He always finds the culprit.

    He also is always eating, reminiscing about a meal or looking forward to the next one. The only problem here is that I (and probably most readers) want to tear out of my house to the nearest trattoria to have a meal of pesce and pasta. Oh, how disappointed I am when that doesn't happen!

    Montalbano has elevated the status of seafood; that's for sure.

    The TV episodes are great and hilarious, too, including Catarella's character's malapropisms and mispronunciations. The episodes of the younger Montalbano, with Michele Riondino, are also wonderful.

    And the scenery: wonderful.

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    1. Curmudgeon is a word we don't hear anything like often enough in life, thank you Kathy. I love the food descriptions in the text and then the detail in the translator's notes that would never *quite* enable you to recreate the recipe. The notes about food, real-life Italy, politics and so on get much less copious as time goes by - I feel as Stephen Sartarelli may have a wildly over-optimistic notion of how much I can be expected to remember from one book to the next.

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  4. I don't think I've found any Italian crime fiction that doesn't have an unreconstructed view of women but at least the Montalbano books have some humour. I find the TV adaptations harder to take because the lack of women-as-anything-other-than-dead-bodies-or-sex-objects is far more obvious (all those scenes where the entire force is searching for something or someone and there's not a woman in sight)...plus you miss the humour of the translator's notes :)

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    1. Are you basing this just on the books being translated into English Bernadette? There's not a lot of them ...

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  5. The phrase je ne sais quoi was made for a man walking an anteater.

    I regret that I do not see the connection between the opening photo of a lovely woman to the text of a woman whose appearance would frighten anyone.

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    1. I agree, Bill. Dali is often said to have had a pet aardvark. However, I am a great expert on exotic animals - or else I did some checking before using this photo in a blog post, you decide - and this is deffo an anteater. You can tell them apart by the tips of their noses.

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  6. I've not yet read enough of Camilerri to decide whether I like the series or not.

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    1. I like the books a trifle better than the tv show, but I love them both. And Young Montalbano, too.

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  7. Great photo of Dali Moira! This is certainly a fairly unreconstructed world that is being depicted - and one does lose a lot in not reading Montalbano in Italian unfortunately as the heavy use of dialect is crucial in setting what is, by any standard, a very old-fashioned mindset (though the attacks on the horror of Berlusconi are always welcome and significant at a time when not a lot of people were sticking their necks out.)

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    1. It's odd how Camilleri says in interviews that he's never overtly political, and never explicitly deals with the Mafia despite the books being set in Sicily. I'd say you can always tell which characters' views Camilleri shares, on political issues. And although he may not use the words Mafia or Cosa Nostra you're never in any doubt when they're involved.

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  8. I meant to say that I love Sarterelli's end notes, which often make me laugh as much as Montalbano's or Catarella's comments.

    On the writing about women, yes, that has its limitations and stereotypes. And the older Montalbano gets, the more he makes mistakes in his personal life. I try not to get aggravated, and remember this is fiction.

    Camilleri is in his late eighties. I'd say he's a product of his society and culture, and hasn't moved ahead on certain issues. On others, he's good, and a reader can see how he thinks on various questions and issues.

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    1. I'd say a lot of Camilleri's female characters who are meant to be seen as bold and capable figures are in fact "strong female characters" of a particular type derided nowadays among feminist commentators. The things that make them "strong" and supposedly-admirable are traditionally mannish qualities, and not always terribly nice ones.

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  9. I'm not sure what you mean that "feminist commentators" deride a particular type of women who are strong. I've never seen that type of criticism.

    Women readers and reviewers usually want to see women as strong and capable, not objectified or victims of abuse or stereotyped as helpless or unintelligent or uncertain in a crisis.

    Livia is a strong, intelligent woman but Montalbano doesn't treat her respectfully, especially as the series goes on.

    There aren't women in the police department or journalists or in local government in these books, roles which women today inhabit all over the world, and in Italy, too.

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    1. Kathy, I didn't refer to a certain kind of woman, but to a certain kind of female fictional character. There's a perception that some female characters who are supposedly strong and capable, and all such good things, are created in a masculine image by a male-dominated media, their supposedly-good traits being things that men think are good for men to have. If you could change someone's name from Mary to Mark and have her played by Sylvester Stallone, with only minor cosmetic changes to the script, then arguably that's just a character, not really a female character. This might be even worse than having women in books and films and tv shows who are two-dimensional stereotypes.

      I think it's pretty obvious that Camilleri admires and expects us to admire Montalbano's friend Ingrid. But she's a good example, I think, of the phenomenon I was trying to describe. The things she's so marvellously good at - apart from looking hot - are: eating; drinking; driving dangerously fast; driving dangerously fast after prodigious drinking; and using the opposite sex somewhat ruthlessly for her own pleasure. These are things Montalbano, and many men in his milieu, may see as admirable in a man, and he certainly admires them in her. Whereas you or I may not admire some or all of them in anyone.

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  10. Oh, Ingrid. But she's smart, too, and reliable at times that Montalbano needs her help. She's there for him.

    And Livia is strong, too, and has had her fill of Montalbano's shenanigans at times and lets him know it. He just takes her for granted in the later books.

    I'd like to see women in the police station, among the journalists and perhaps as a judge or other government official. I assume Italy now includes women this way.

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