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on 2 July 2017
The Terracotta Dog is the second outing for the fractious Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his team based in Vigàta, Sicily and despite this being only my third read from the series I already feel that I am reaping the benefits of a growing familiarity with the characters and the ‘flexible’ justice system that Camilleri recounts. I certainly feel that already my understanding of Montalbano’s criminal network of contacts, his colleagues, his culinary persuasions and indeed his tempestuous relationship with fiery girlfriend, Livia, is all the more humorous with repeated outings. In all three of my experiences to date it is hard to sum up the plot in a straightforward manner as Camilleri throws in numerous diversions and follows an circuitous route to an eventual solution, but as I have now discovered the opening exchanges often give no indication of all that is to come and that is, in itself, a curious part of the enjoyment.

The Terracotta Dog begins with an ageing mafioso, Tano the (not so very) Greek, orchestrating an elaborate charade with Inspector Salvo Montslbano in an acceptance that his day has passed and the rapidly progressing crime racket is too much for an old man. But at the same time as Montalbano is involved in overseeing this operation of amateur dramatics, complete with a weapon he really isn’t keen on being in charge of, a major theft at a local supermarket is underway. As a prison transfer sees Tano the Greek gunned down and drawing his last breath, his last gasp tip off revealing the location of a cave within an abandoned construction site reveals a hidden cache of firearms, but just how this relates to the supermarket theft remains to be seen. When an abandoned truck involved in the theft is discovered with its contents untouched it forces Montalbano to go the extra mile and dig deep, set the local gossip grapevine in motion and thereby uncover a few more skeletons in his home town. For Montalbano, his continual need to know and inherent curiosity about his surroundings and Sicilian home mean that he mixes in a world where he is privy to some disclosures that wouldn’t otherwise begin to feature in a more routine police investigation. In The Terracotta Dog it is the discovery of a second hidden chamber deep inside the original cave with two embracing corpses, both dead for over fifty-years, that is the real substance of this wry police procedural, and the supermarket theft that is a mere diversion along the way. Montalbano’s fascination with the identity of the corpses and what appears as a particular burial rite surrounding their bodies that includes a life-sized terracotta dog, a bowl and a jug that so mystifies him. Opting to focus on this matter rather than the significantly less fascinating supermarket robbery, his second-in-command Mimi Augello doesn’t cover himself in glory with his handling of what should be a routine operation. Meanwhile Montalbano devotes himself to an energetic quest that may not show up in his annual crime statistics as another case solved, but means markedly more to the elder statesmen of the region. One of the delights of reading Camilleri is the absolutely outlandish solutions that he delivers and it is a pleasure to witness his creative solutions slowly building to fruition.

Whilst the central attraction in the novels is the eponymous Inspector Salvo Montalbano with his pragmatic approach to crime fighting and delivering justice that proves so compelling, the secondary characters are just as intrinsic to my enjoyment. Quick-witted, honest to a fault, and remarkably loyal, Montalbano is as involved with the underworld criminals as he is to adhering to procedure. Always keen to take command of an operation and instruct his subordinates, he is less keen on cooperating with second-in-command Mimi Augello, where a noticeable rivalry exists. The inept Agatino Catarella (Cat) operates the station telephone and bungles every message that is left for Montalbano, offering his own frankly curious interpretation of the Italian language. Each continuing character brings a unique element of humour to the story, from housekeeper Adelina’s culinary prowess, to colleague Galluzzo’s newsman brother-in-law and Montalbano’s red haired friend and journalist with very red ideas, the radical Nicolò Zito and his timely broadcasting.

Whilst I could not read a continual diet of Camilleri and his energetic brand of high comedy, every once in a while an interlude in the company of Montalbano really does the trick. This second outing is exceptionally well-plotted and keeps the readers brain working overtime to stay with the sometimes less than transparent workings in Sicily. Camilleri’s understanding of the Italian culture and the remarkably blurred boundaries between the good and bad guys allows him to draw every bit of humour out of the culture and workings of the system. I do feel that any review of an Inspector Montalbano novel distils a large part of the charm and as such, readers are best to dip a toe in the water to understand just was an absolute riot these gems are! I defy any review to even compare to the brilliance of actually witnessing Camilleri’s tales playing out. Thankfully the fluid translation courtesy of Stephen Sartarelli makes these delights so easily accessible to an English speaking audience.

Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel)
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I like Camilleri's mercurial Sicilian detective Salvo Montalbano as he pragmatically solves crime between sumptuous meals, fighting off women and the incompetence of most of the heirarchy of the police and judiciary. In this story there are several disparate strands that begin to come together as more information about each of them comes to light; the capture (surrender) of a mafia enforcer, the robbery of a supermarket, the finding of a cache of arms in an abandoned cave and the subsequent discovery of a fifty year old mystery, all of which are revealed to have a common link that wasn't initially obvious.

There are moments of comedic excellence throughout the story as the workings of the Italian Police beaurocracy (Sicilian style) is played out in the characature of it's officers and their dysfunctional relationships. I like the clunky translation at times as I think it adds to the style and rhythm of the book and the explanatory notes at the end are really useful. Camilleri doesn't do graphic violence, violence is alluded to but no overstated blood guts and gore in these novels and I like them for that because it means Camilleri is concentrating on the development of the story and the characters. Nor does the book paint a disturbing picture of Sicilian - and 'Talian society, this is alluded to but again in such a way as it doesn't interfere with the flow of the story. I have got The Snack Thief (An Inspector Montalbano Mystery) and I'm looking forward to passing a few hours with another entertaining mystery.
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on 22 February 2016
Reading the afore said book at the moment and have also seen the Terracotta Dog on the TV highly recommend it, really have enjoyed the TV programs of Montalbano so I am sure I will enjoy the books. I should have read the books first but never mind.
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on 18 July 2017
Good book
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on 10 March 2017
Enjoyed book but not one of his best
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on 17 March 2013
Even though I'd seen the Montalbano films I found the book very interesting and enjoyable. Worth reading and seeing as they complement each other.
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This is one of the best of the excellent Salvo Montalbano series by Camilleri. As usual, at the outset there are odd goings on but not necessarily crimes - a characterful old man dies in a road accident (or it seems to be an accident), there is a bizarre theft from a supermarket (it does not make sense, and Montalbano is very quick to spot that) and the terrifying Tana the Greek confides in the Inspector. But it the remarkable discovery of the secret, blocked cave, the two dead, naked lovers (are they lovers?) and the terracota dog that really set things buzzing. Throw in a defrocked priest who drinks milk out of a baby's bottle, a charming old headmaster and his wife, a hospital bedside scene in which Montalbano is anxiously guarded by his three women, Livia, Anna and Ingrid, and the usual frustrations he faces in his dealings with bureaucrats and less capable officers. As usual, there is considerable atmosphere, frequent enjoyable excursions into the world of Sicilian cooking and, this time, an intriguing link between past and present, all of which combine to make this an excellent book of its kind and great fun to read.
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The Terra-Cotta Dog is an extremely rewarding police procedural with deep cultural and historical roots that provide a delightful complexity for the reader. I would award this book six stars if I could.
If you have not yet read any of the Inspector Montalbano books, I suggest that you take the time to read The Shape of Water first. That book helps set up the context of the characters and makes The Terra-Cotta Dog far more interesting.
This book has Inspector Montalbano solving several mysteries before he is done. In a fascinating way, each mystery leads unexpectedly into the next one. And so on. It's like opening the Russian nesting dolls to find another treasure inside. I can rarely recall such fine plotting and seamless connections between disparate story elements in one police procedural.
As the book opens, Montalbano has been invited to meet secretly with a dangerous killer. Is it a trap? Why would the killer want to meet with a police inspector? The answer leads to a merry-go-round of public relations activities to cover up the real motive. Then, the charade collapses and Montalbano finds out about an unknown crime. More public relations follow . . . and from them Montalbano gets a clue to other hidden crimes. The rest of the novel reminded me of an archeologist's work in uncovering earlier civilizations that built on the same site.
The main contexts for these mysteries are the Sicilian Mafia, the Fascist era, the American invasion of Sicily during World War II, and the Christian and Moslem religions. How's that for an unusual combination?
Montalbano emerges as an even more interesting character in this book than in The Shape of Water, especially as his relationship with his girl friend Livia develops. As before, the food references are a delight and add a warm human touch to offset the evil that coils throughout the story.
As I finished the story, I was reminded how important it is to be dogged in chasing down details that don't seem to make sense. There's always an explanation for mysteries, but the explanation will never be revealed unless you follow the path to the answer wherever it takes you.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 January 2013
In this `episode', Montalbano engages with the Mafia, uncovers a sad story from the second world war, and deals with some very personal issues.

I'm really enjoying this series, and like that Salvo Montalbano is very different from the more usual morose detective. Here he does become a bit more maverick but he solves crimes by talking to his Sicilian network of friends and acquaintances and some old-fashioned hard work. Oh, and some rather intelligent reading (though he draws the line at Kristeva!)

His various women are still all a bit problematic - mildly hysterical Anna; the bland and ever-patient Livia; intriguing Ingrid - and there are short though shocking moments of violence.

I need a little break before moving on to the next one, but will be looking forward to Montalbano's company in the future.
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The Terra-Cotta Dog is an extremely rewarding police procedural with deep cultural and historical roots that provide a delightful complexity for the reader. I would award this book six stars if I could.
If you have not yet read any of the Inspector Montalbano books, I suggest that you take the time to read The Shape of Water first. That book helps set up the context of the characters and makes The Terra-Cotta Dog far more interesting.
This book has Inspector Montalbano solving several mysteries before he is done. In a fascinating way, each mystery leads unexpectedly into the next one. And so on. It's like opening the Russian nesting dolls to find another treasure inside. I can rarely recall such fine plotting and seamless connections between disparate story elements in one police procedural.
As the book opens, Montalbano has been invited to meet secretly with a dangerous killer. Is it a trap? Why would the killer want to meet with a police inspector? The answer leads to a merry-go-round of public relations activities to cover up the real motive. Then, the charade collapses and Montalbano finds out about an unknown crime. More public relations follow . . . and from them Montalbano gets a clue to other hidden crimes. The rest of the novel reminded me of an archeologist's work in uncovering earlier civilizations that built on the same site.
The main contexts for these mysteries are the Sicilian Mafia, the Fascist era, the American invasion of Sicily during World War II, and the Christian and Moslem religions. How's that for an unusual combination?
Montalbano emerges as an even more interesting character in this book than in The Shape of Water, especially as his relationship with his girl friend Livia develops. As before, the food references are a delight and add a warm human touch to offset the evil that coils throughout the story.
As I finished the story, I was reminded how important it is to be dogged in chasing down details that don't seem to make sense. There's always an explanation for mysteries, but the explanation will never be revealed unless you follow the path to the answer wherever it takes you.
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