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.
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