Archive for January 22, 2012

The Potter’s Field is the thirteenth book in Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano Mystery series that has been translated into English by the American poet Stephen Sartarelli.

I have read all of them and have the sort of easy relationship with the books that resembles a long faithful marriage.  I know I will be charmed by Camilleri’s cleverness and with his characters even if his plots might be a little thin.

In The Potter’s Field we get some of the ingredients of a typical Montalbano story; an introspective detective, Dolores Alfano, a beautiful Colombian woman causing conflict among the local men, a slew of biblical references with a body chopped into thirty pieces, as well as Mafia involvement. Italy, and especially Sicily, has had four great influences on its development, Catholicism, Communism, Fascism and Mafia; and you can’t help feeling sorry for a people that have suffered both Mussolini and Berlusconi over the past ninety years. 

Montalbano gets assistance from the solid reliable Fazio, Catarella is once again a Sicilian Mrs Malaprop, and even Ingrid does a stakeout for Salvo; but Mimi Augello is constantly in a foul mood. Montalbano faced by Mimi’s hostility writes himself letters as he muses about the reasons for this, and puzzles over the identity of the dismembered corpse and the location of Giovanni Alfano, the husband of Dolores who apparently boarded his ship but has since disappeared. As I said the plot and the solution might be fairly transparent but the novel is full of cleverness, moulded around the theme of betrayal. Montalbano might be able to solve the case, but he has to manipulate that solution to reaffirm a friendship. 

Salvo Montalbano is frequently the master of  insubordination, but surpasses himself in this passage.

” Ah, so you, Mr Commissioner actually believed such a groundless accusation? Ah, I feel so insulted and humiliated! You’re accusing me of an act-no, indeed, a crime that, if true, would warrant severe punishment! As if I were a common idiot or gambler! That journalist must be possessed to think such a thing!”

End of climax. The inspector inwardly congratulated himself. He had managed to utter a statement using only the titles of novels by Dostoevsky. Had the commissioner noticed? Of course not! The man was as ignorant as a goat.

The biblical references abound with Montalbano reading a book by Andrea Camilleri- a popular version of the Passion of Christ. And even the references to the important subject of food have a biblical slant.

“Hello, Inspector. For antipasto today we’ve got fritters of nunnatu.”

“I want ’em.”

He committed a massacre of nunnati-newborns, that is. Herod had nothing on him. [nunnatu- a tiny newborn fish-whitebait]

Salvo Montalbano and Andrea Camilleri are growing comfortably old together and although there are never going to be many great surprises in these books they remain an enjoyable, educational, amusing and entertaining read. Roll on number fourteen. 

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