You might think that the characteristic small towns, the sun and the sea of Italy have nothing to do with the stereotype of a crime’s scene. However, as many thriller authors show, a sprawling metropolis and a body lying in thick fog are not essential to create an engaging detective story. Like many other great Italian and foreign thriller writers (Michael Dibdin, Donna Leon, Thomas Harris, Carlo Lucarelli, Marcello Fois, Massimo Carlotto etc…), Andrea Camilleri chose Italy, and Sicily specifically, as the setting for his successful crime fiction. Thanks to inspector Salvo Montalbano, his main character, he has had more than 10 million copies published since 1992 and his books have been translated into 36 languages.
Andrea Camilleri was born in 1925 in Porto Empedocle, a lively small town in the province of Agrigento (Sicily) and since he was a child he developed a strong creativity that suggests he was always a natural writer. Because of his father’s enthusiasm about detective stories, which he collected, the young Camilleri grew up reading the adventure of the French police inspector Jules Maigret (written by George Simenon between 1931 and 1972). Camilleri started writing in the early ‘40s, and he improved his artistic skills studying and working for more than thirty years as a stage director and screenwriter for several Dramatic Art Academies and RAI (Italian Radiotelevision, Italy’s national public broadcasting company). He chose writing as his main activity in late ‘70s and he published some historical novels and essays located in Sicily. However, he did not reach popularity until he was 73 years old. In fact, it was only thanks to the publication of the Inspector Montalbano’s series of novels that Andrea Camilleri became an internationally acclaimed author. The shape of water (1994) was the first of a long series and some time later, in 1998, a TV series was based on the Inspector’s adventures. Camilleri’s fictional detective further increased his author’s popularity to such a point that he has added to the collection of stories consistently over the years and in 2016 he is going to reach a record of 100 stories published.
Inspector Montalbano works in the police station of Vigàta (a fictional small town situated between Porto Empedocle and Agrigento, on Sicily’s south-west coast). The Police Commissioner, Mimì Augello, the chief Inspector, Giuseppe Fazio, and the officer Catarella always liaise with him during investigations. The Inspector’s irritable but charming personality, as well as his ability to face the local crime and solve town’s mysteries, certainly contribute to make him a much loved character. One of the strengths of Camilleri’s novels is the way mysterious events are combined with the description of aspects of the Mediterranean culture and Southern Italian traditions. As a true Sicilian, Inspector Montalbano would never solve a crime without eating a big portion of pasta with sardines or an arancino (typical Sicilian appetizer: stuffed rice balls, which are coated with breadcrumbs, and fried) before.
Another salient tool that characterizes the Montalbano’s saga is the constant switch of the characters’ language between standard Italian and Sicilian south-western dialects. This “bilingualism” represents the realistic linguistic conditions of Italy and contributes to legitimate non-standard language varieties in the contemporary literature scene.
In this topic we will look at some characteristic aspects of the Inspector Salvo Montalbano’s stories, and do some Italian language practice. Work your way through the next activities.