I’ve never been big on mystery books. I’m more of a Hobbit-Narnia-Amy Tan-fantasy-chick lit kind of girl. Nick, on the other hand, reads non-fiction voraciously. But a couple of years ago, Klaus, our friend from Germany, introduced us to Andrea Camilleri and with the first novel that we read (The Terracotta Dog), we were completely hooked.
In Canada, the number of Canadian authors that can support themselves on the income from their books you could probably count on one and a half hands. Camilleri, however, has fame and success beyond most writers’ wildest dreams. Camilleri is the literary son of Sicily, and in terms of writers, this man is a rock god. Born in Porto Empedocle, a small coastal town in Agrigento in 1925, Camilleri worked as a stage manager and director and wrote his first novel in 1978. But, it was in 1994 that the real magic happened and Inspector Montalbano was born.
Inspector Montalbano is a complicated character – a unique and brilliant yet also flawed individual and is surrounded by equally interesting and flawed characters. Camilleri writes these novels in a mixture of Italian, Sicilian and Sicilianized-Italian. Even in translation, the flavour of the Sicilian characters comes through vividly and often with great humour. What makes Salvo Montalbano so compelling is that he is unpredictable, operating under his own set of rules according to what is convenient to him at the time, yet he is, at heart, an honest and decent man. Salvo Montalbano is so popular that Camilleri’s novels have been turned into a wildly popular television program.
The Inspector Montalbano novels are set in Vigata, a fictitious town that is closely based on Camilleri’s hometown, Porto Empedocle. In fact, it was so clear that Vigata was actually Porto Empedocle, and the town was so proud of their literary son, that the town changed its name officially to Porto Empedocle Vigata in 2003.
There are 22 Inspector Montalbano novels (21 in publication) and 4 collections of short stories. Most of the novels, 16 in fact, have been translated into English as well as 8 other languages. Camilleri has written the final Inspector Montalbano novel and it currently sits with the publisher without a publishing date in mind.
Some Camilleri trivia: One of the leading Italian detractors of the HBO series, The Sopranos, Camilleri said: “I will never do the mafia the favor of depicting them as sympathetic”.