Archive for the ‘Sicily’ Category

P1040587As part of my weight training program I lifted four books I intend to read over the next few weeks [ authored by Jo Nesbo, Leif G.W.Persson, Hakan Nesser and Robert Harris] in order to photograph them with a few older books authored by people who also sold a few books in their time. 

With the Man Booker Prize going to young Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries, a nineteenth century murder mystery, that weighs in at 832 pages I wonder if this is all part of a cunning plot to sell Kindles, and other electronic reading devices. Readers faced with such huge books will have no choice but to download an electronic version, or face permanent wrist and shoulder pain. 


I read four books in March:pickofthemonth2012

The Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri

Ratlines by Stuart Neville

Murder One by Robert Dugoni

and my pick of the month, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas.

I was impressed by Robert Dugoni’s Murder One as I find the American legal system endlessly fascinating. I spent too much time in my youth watching Perry Mason.

But the inventiveness of her plots and the brilliant quirkiness of her characters make every novel written by Fred Vargas a  joy to read. 

home1Veteran Italian crime writer Andrea Camilleri won the 2012 CWA International Dagger with his 13th book to be translated in English by Stephen Sartarelli, The 51AzBePwjbL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_Potter’s Field. His 14th book The Age of Doubt is another fine addition to this addictive series.

Only Camilleri could begin a novel with Salvo Montalbano dreaming he is dead and with the detective attending his own funeral. When Montalbano awakes he drives to Vigata in the pouring rain, but is held up by a line of traffic as the road has been swept away by the sea. He approaches the first car which is hanging over the chasm and encourages the young woman driver to leave her vehicle and come back to his house. The young woman introduces herself as Vanna Diguglio and says she was going to the harbour to meet her aunt Livia’s yacht named the Vanna. Montalbano learns that the Vanna is bringing in a corpse they have found floating in a dingy just outside the mouth of the harbour. The dead man’s face has been deliberately disfigured, and when Montalbano realises the glamourous yacht owner Livia Giovannini is very surprised to learn she has a niece he knows this case is going to test his abilities to the full.

This novel contains most of the ingredients that have made this series such a success. There is social commentary as the reader learns about Italy’s not so gentle treatment of immigrants; and we are invited to enjoy Catarella’s malapropisms, Montalbano’s appetite for food, Mimi Augello’s amorous talents, and Fazio’s solid police-work. The ageing Montalbano falls head over heels in love with the aptly named  Lieutenant Laura Belladonna, while discovering the identity of the disfigured corpse, and eventually the mysterious niece.

The lieutenant not only lived up to her surname, she exceeded it. She wasn’t just beautiful; she was knockout. For a brief moment, Montalbano was speechless. She was a good six inches taller than him, dark, with bright sparkling eyes, red lips in no need of lipstick, and above all, a very pleasant manner.

‘I’m entirely at your disposal,’ she said.

I wish! thought the inspector.

Why didn’t I enjoy this novel quite as much as some of the previous Montalbano books? I should say this is relative because this series is always a good read. Firstly I watched the TV version on BBC4 before I read the book, and therefore I knew the detail  of the plot. I do prefer to read a book first and then watch the TV or movie version. It should not make any real difference but I enjoy seeing if the film follows the book.

But also Montalbano’s attitude to his superiors is usually amusing, unfortunately in this book the lies he tells the well meaning Dr Lattes are in poor taste and frankly not worthy of the honest policeman we have grown to admire. That won’t stop me going on to read The Dance of the Seagull which sits expectantly on my book shelf. 

He started with a seafood  antipasto. Since the  nunnati were crispy as can be, he ordered a second side dish of them. He continued with a generous helping of spaghetti in squid ink. And he ended with a double portion of mullet and striped sea bream.  

best crime fiction 2012You can see my favourite Euro Crime books of 2012 here at Karen’s encyclopaedic resource. 41M+3apQq1L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_

My discovery of the year was the Norwegian crime writer Anne Holt, and I recently finished the second book  in her Hanne Wilhelmsen series Blessed Are Those Who Thirst and that must be a strong contender for the 2013 International Dagger [review soon]. All the five writers I enjoyed most in 2012 concentrated on their characters, and I think that is the key to any good writing. Brilliant plots and clever twists are all very well, but it is the ability to create interesting characters that are the  basis of a long running crime fiction series and a successful career as a writer.

And of course being able to empathise with your readers, especially if they are retired dentists.

He had been newly qualified as a dentist, at a time when the previously lucrative profession had become less profitable after twenty years of social democratic public dental services. Anne Holt-Blessed Are Those Who Thirst 

There were 13 books shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger and the Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction awards, and I had read nine of them. Luckily or perhaps by good judgement among those nine were both winners, and I could not disagree much with the choice the judges.

I did think that the International Dagger shortlisted novel Trackers by Deon Meyer was a great thriller, but as I have been singing the praises of Andrea Camilleri since I began blogging in 2006, the 86 year old was due to win. The Potter’s Field was as usual brilliantly translated by Stephen Sartarelli whose end notes add so much to the reader’s knowledge and enjoyment. I sometimes think those end notes would make a great reference book by themselves.


In a recent post considering that short list I wrote:

The Potter’s Field is the best and funniest offering from Andrea Camilleri in the Montalbano series for some time, and perhaps a good outside bet.

Nice that the judges agreed and the thirteenth translated book in the Salvo Montalbano series was a winner. Read my full review of The Potter’s Field here. 


The seven book Ellis Peters Historical Award shortlist had fewer outstanding books, but I hope I was fairly clear with my assessment.

My choice would be between the very clever and hard hitting Prague Fatale, and the atmospheric spy story Icelight. 

When I reviewed Aly Monroe’s Icelight I wrote:

I sometimes get irritated by silly blurbs but those on Icelight mention Graham Greene and John Le Carre and in this case I think they are justified.  The Peter Cotton series is getting better and better, and in Icelight the internecine squabbling of the security services is a prequel to the real life problems during the Cold War.

You can read my full review of Icelight here and a post about the superbly evocative book cover here. 


Congratulations to Aly Monroe and Andrea Camilleri, and the judges. 😉

Some years I have already read most of the CWA International Dagger shortlist before the announcement is made. This year it will be announced at Crimefest on 25 May in Bristol, and unfortunately my limited reading numbers, and the absence of any Liza Marklund’s books on the eligibility list, may mean that I won’t get round to reading all six. But never mind here is my unofficial shortlist from the books I have read, it may be totally out of kilter with the official choices, but at least has a nice geographic spread, with contenders from Argentina, Iceland, South Africa, Denmark, Sweden and Italy .

Sweet Money: Ernesto Mallo translator Katherine Silver

Outrage: Arnaldur Indridason translator Anna Yates

Trackers: Deon Meyer translator K.L.Seegers

The Boy in the Suitcase: Lene Kaaberbol [also translator] & Agnete Friis 

Another Time, Another Life: Leif G.W. Persson translator Paul Norlen

The Potter’s Field: Andrea Camilleri translator Stephen Sartarelli

The cover photo might give you a clue as to which one would be my winner. 


Is it possible for a woman who cannot relate in an adult manner to other human beings to be involved in law enforcement? But enough about British Home Secretary Theresa May.

I watched my recordings of the new Saturday night foreign TV crime series import, The Bridge, last night and I have avoided reading other reviews so I may be in a very small minority with my opinion. 

Firstly I will definitely miss Montalbano which I found watching to be as pleasurable an experience as reading the books. The scripts seemed true to the books, the casting was spot on, the setting beautiful, and the television captured the essence of Andrea Camilleri’s writing which is all about the wonderful characters and less about clever plots. I do hope we get more Montalbanos on TV in the future. 

Mark Lawson recently wrote in The Guardian an article with the suggestion that we accept flawed foreign TV imports, and they receive gushing praise which would not be forthcoming if they were British. This theory has been touted for some time with regard to books by Mike Ripley at Shots magazine. I can envisage the scene in a dimly lit Copenhagen restaurant.

Sven Svensson [a Swedish TV executive] searching for minute portions of  food on his well designed plate: Thank you for buying me lunch Merethe.

Merethe Knibling [a Danish TV excutive] having eaten her main course in one delicate mouthful: We have a problem Sven that last series we made is no good. We have tried everything detectives in wooly jumpers, detectives in satiny tops, detectives doing the murders, detectives getting killed, detectives sleeping with serial killers, and even forensic psychologists getting blown up, but your latest idea was a flop.

Sven: You mean a detective without a brain, and with the social skills of a rhinoceros.

Merethe: Yes, we have had it rejected by Montenegrin and Moldovan television. But I have been monitoring the BBC website and according to them  Mike Wallace one of the original hosts of 60 minutes, when it began in 1968, went on to interview John F Kennedy. And as the BBC also thought Vidkun Quisling was Swedish, perhaps we can sell this eccentric detective to them. 

Sven: Simples.

There have been some brilliant crime series imports on British TV.

The Wire [USA] was a quasi-Dickensian saga covering various aspects of the problems of inner city Baltimore, a series which had great acting and intelligent story lines. 

Spiral [France] for the first two series had a Gallic flair, some neat plot twists, as well as attractive actors to keep the viewers interest. Braquo [France] was superb television, and showed what a difficult task is faced by an elite task force whose enemies include both criminals, and their own colleagues. 

The Killing [series one] [Denmark] was of course outstanding, and although Sofie Grabol [Sarah Lund] and her jumpers became the big star, it was the superb acting of the supporting cast especially Anna Leonora Jorgensen and Bjarne Henriksen as the distraught parents of the victim that made that series. The blending of three plot strands, a police investigation, the family reaction, and a political intrigue  was something new for British television.

When The Killing was televised I can see the BBC and other television companies thinking all this foreign stuff is great. But this reaction is like reading Sjowall and Wahloo, Karin Fossum, or Arnaldur Indridason and expecting every Nordic book to be of similar quality.

The Danish series, Those Who Kill, was standard stuff with rather predictable plots. But the last program in that series did at least raise the question about whether those countries that let murderers out of prison after six years are in fact more civilized than those who sentence murderers to life without parole.

Viewers who think foreign TV crime series are superior may well have stumbled across the ludicrous, and probably very expensive to make Kidnap and Ransom with Trevor Eve stunned into actually dropping his three mobile phones by the death of his colleague. But there is at least one shining example of a good solid well acted British TV crime series on at the moment; Scott and Bailey, a gritty police procedural set in Manchester. This features Suranne Jones as Rachel Bailey, and Lesley Sharp as Janet Scott; but Amelia Bullimore [2012’s Head of Sustainability] as their boss DCI Gill Murray is the star for me. 

I have digressed so back on to The Bridge-Bron-Broen I wondered how long would Saga Noren, the strange Swedish woman detective, last if working for our DCI Gill “Godzilla” Murray? Not  long I suspect.

Saga goes way beyond the pill popping, bed hopping Carrie in Homeland, and is totally unable to relate to colleagues, victims and the general public in a normal way. She has the social graces of a spoilt child, and appears completely bonkers. Luckily her boss Hans also seems to be on another planet. Her Danish colleague, Martin Rohde seems fairly normal, but has a son who stays up all night playing computer games, but then this might be normal nowadays.

There are three strands to the plot, rather like The Killing, with a police investigation of a brutal murder, a rich woman attempting to get a heart transplant for her elderly husband, and a battered mother with her children being sheltered by a social worker from her abusive drug addict husband. Throw in to the mixture some kind of campaign to show the obvious fact that we are not all equal under the law, and that rich people have a better life than the homeless. Toss in a revolting journalist and make Stefan, the social worker, look like something out the 1970s, and perhaps viewers will stick around to see how it all comes together. 

To stick with a crime fiction series on television or in a book you have to like the characters. Sarah Lund, Salvo Montalbano, Gill Murray, Morse, Foyle, Andy Dalziel are all very varied characters but in their different ways they are likeable. Saga Noren is very weird, and despite some clever touches in the plot I doubt whether when the dust has settled The Bridge will repeat the success of The Killing. But then there is always a novelization.  

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. 

I discovered this meme at Bernadette’s Reactions to Reading and have decided to expand it a little as choosing just one book is tricky in some categories. 

1] Best Book of 2011 originally written in English

The difficulty in choosing a best book even when you read only 19 originally written in English is remembering the impact a book you read in January or February had on you in comparison with one you read two weeks ago. But I would vote for:

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin 

2] Best Books of 2011 translated into English

I read some brilliant translated fiction this year.We are so lucky to have at this time a group of superb translators able to bring these books to an English readership.  

My choices are two very different but equally exceptional books: 

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen translated by Lisa Hartford aka Tiina Nunnaly 

Trackers by Deon Meyer translated by Laura Seegers 

3] Worst Book of 2011

Most authors regard their books like children, and get very upset at negative reviews. Therefore as part of my New Year resolution to be kinder to everyone, except useless politicians and biased journalists, I am not going to select a book in this category. 😉

4] Most disappointing books

There were a couple that fitted that category. 

The Troubled Man-Henning Mankell: which was very depressing to read if you were a man of a certain age facing some of the problems Wallander does in the book. Actually he is younger than me! Was Henning Mankell suffering a Conan Doyle moment with his popular protagonist? It seemed like it.

River of Shadows-Valerio Varesi: I expected a more appealing protagonist, Soneri was dull and the plot development was catatonic. 

5] Most surprising in a good way

Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was so hyped and had won the CWA Gold Dagger and also been nominated for an Edgar that I was very surprised when it was in fact very good. I rarely agree with prize judges, with the exception of two who weren’t involved in these awards, so it was indeed a pleasant surprise to enjoy this book so much.

6] Book you recommended to people most

The book I recommended to people during the year was Nemesis by Jo Nesbo translated by Don Bartlett. Several people I know had started with The Redbreast and found the WWII backstory  heavy going, and I encouraged them to continue with the series as Nemesis and The Devil’s Star are in my opinion still among the best Nordic crime fiction I have read. 

7] Best series you discovered

This is a difficult one because I think usually you need to read two or three books to discover a series which you are going to stick with through to the end. I have already “discovered” several great series in previous years, which of course I carried on reading this year. Hakan Nesser’s idiosyncratic Van Veeteren stories, Leighton Gage’s Mario Silva and the Brazilian Federal police investigations, Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel in pre-war Germany series, John Lawton’s social history of England Troy series, Donna Leon’s Brunettis, Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano mysteries, Ernesto Mallo’s Inspector Lascano’s struggles in Argentina, Fred Vargas and her Inspector Adamsberg, Asa Larsson and her Rebecka Martinssson cases, Jo Nesbo and Harry Hole, Martin Edwards and Hannah Scarlett, Aly Monroe’s Peter Cotton …….the list goes on and on. 

But this year I discovered Jussi Adler Olsen’s Department Q in Mercy and Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series in Misterioso.  Both books translated by the charming Tiina Nunnally.

I hope the publishers arrange for both these series to get translated  in a timely fashion, and the correct order, because they could prove the next big thing in Nordic crime fiction. 

[To be continued]


Posted: August 1, 2011 in Italy, Quiz, Sicily

I had several correct answers and therefore had to draw a winner and a runner-up.  The books [The Track of Sand and The Wings of the Sphinx]  will soon be making their way to the clever and lucky prize winners in Edinburgh and New York. Interestingly two cities with a lot of Italian connections. Well done!  

1] What happened on Via Fani in Rome on 16 March 1978?

Aldo Moro, a leader of the Christian Democracy, was kidnapped by the Red Brigades, and later killed.

2] Name the crime writer who wrote a book about the events of 16 March, and its aftermath, and who was born in Racalmuto, Sicily?

Leonardo Sciascia, who was born in Racalmuto, Sicily, wrote about events described in question no. 1.

3] Who was the Italian novelist, dramatist and Noble Prize winner for literature who was born in Agrigento, Sicily?

Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello was born in Agrigento, Sicily.

4] Many of the events on the Italian Front [1915-1918] in the Great War have almost been fogotten, but two of the most famous people of the twentieth century were involved in that Italian conflict.
One was an ambulance driver, and one a sergeant in the medical corp was a stretcher-bearer. Who were they?

On the Italian Front in the Great War:  Ambulance driver was Ernest Hemingway; Medical Corps sergeant and stretcher-bearer was Pope John Paul XXIII; his birth name was Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli.

5] Who was the poet, journalist, novelist, dramatist and self proclaimed superman whose followers seized the city of Fiume on 12 September 1919?

Gabriele d’Annunzio ‘s followers seized Flume on Sept. 12, 1919.