The Inspector Montalbano TV series has become popular in the UK and around the world, but it differs greatly from the unique and pioneering series of books on which it is based.
Originally published in Italian, and now translated into many languages and popular around the world, Andrea Camilleri’s series about a police inspector with a unique combination of underworld connections and moral compass, is intriguing and unrivalled.
The series is still going to this very day, with the books spanning nearly 20 years, from the early 90s to the 2020s. As well as the nearly 30 full-length Inspector Montalbano novels, the author also wrote a selection of short stories, compiled into many collections.
Set in a fictional town on the Italian coast, called Vigata, the stories are famed for being violent and featuring some of the worst of human behaviour. From prostitutes to gangsters, thieves to kidnappers and beyond, almost every character in this series is up to no good in some form or another.
Montalbano’s world is one of vice and deception, but the man himself has an unwavering, if unusual, moral compass. He lives by his own code and has a set of rules that keep him grounded as he navigates the murky world underground world of crime in his beloved city.
Known for their dark humour and raw depiction of human life, the Inspector Montalbano novels paint a unique picture of life in Italy and the serious crimes committed in this beautiful and diverse country.
So, if you’re looking to explore the sleazy and devious world of Inspector Montalbano, then here are five books you should definitely check out.
5.The Sicilian Method: One of the newer books in the series, The Sicilian Method features two dead bodies that are considered to be connected. One is a body found by an absconding lover fleeing from his girlfriend’s husband when he spies a corpse in the flat below. The other is a vicious and cruel theatre director, who’s harsh methods of training actors could hold the key to his death. The Inspector finds numerous notebooks in the dead director’s home, including lists of everyone he’s ever worked with, his past plays and some strange notes featuring numbers, dates and names. Working back through a long list of wronged actors and trying to figure out what the notes mean leads the Inspector back to the theatre where the director worked, and where he is sure the truth behind his death lies.
4.The Other End Of The Line: Vigata is welcoming migrants to its shores in search of a better life, with Inspector Montalbano and his men working hard to support them and find the people traffickers responsible for the harsh conditions in which many of them had to travel. Then another crime occurs: this time, it’s the death of the town’s most revered dressmaker, who is brutally murdered with her own scissors. The Inspector and his mean are now dealing with organised crime on one hand and a seemingly unconnected and domestic murder on the other. As the title suggests, the Inspector comes to view each clue as part of a thread, but he soon comes to believe that they could be connected and that the person at the other end of the line is more powerful and dastardly than he ever expected.
3. The Treasure Hunt: After being reluctantly shoved into the spotlight by a pair of crazed lunatics wielding guns, Inspector Montalbano is targeted by an anonymous criminal who sends him on a treasure hunt with disastrous consequences. His obsession with uncovering who’s behind the scheme takes on toll on the Inspector’s personal and professional lives, and he finds himself faced with horrendous crimes that show that this more than a harmless game to the person who orchestrated it. From the personal nature of the hunt, it’s clear that the Inspector is in danger, but it soon becomes apparent just how much, and it quickly becomes clear that there’s more than his reputation as a detective at stake if he can’t uncover the mystery and find the culprit in time. This book features a twisted mystery and showcases the author’s mastery of the detective fiction format.
2. The Snack Thief: I’m not going to lie: I initially picked this novel up because of the title. I love a good snack, and I thought this would be a great read for me. I wasn’t wrong, although the novel is less about snacks than I would have liked. It features the death of a Tunisian sailor, the stabbing of a former merchant and the disappearance of a cleaning lady, who also happens to be from Tunisia. With so many crimes to deal with a suspects to handle, Montalbano and his men already have enough on their hands when they’re approached by a group of disgruntled mothers who are blaming the theft of snacks from their primary school aged kids on the new foreign boy, who happens to be Tunisian and linked to the disappeared cleaning lady. During all of this, the Inspector has to deal with a personal crisis which shows his emotional vulnerability. The novel is deeply human and speaks to a variety of emotions.
1. The Shape of Water: Yet again, I’ll recommend you start with the first book in the series. Not to be confused with the Guillermo del Toro film with the same name about a cleaner who becomes obsessed with a weird alien fish thing, this is a gripping thriller that sets the stage for this popular series. In the first book featuring the intrepid Italian sleuth, Andrea Camilleri’s police detective deals with the death of a semi-prominent member of the fictional town of Vigata. He dies during sex with his nephew and lover, who reaches out to a local attorney who was friends with his uncle. This man turns the tables and tries to use his knowledge of the death to his own political advantage. Using his connections in the murky underworld of the local sex trade, Inspector Montalbano uncovers the truth and plays God in this incredible, Golden-Age esq crime novel.