on 6 August 2007
Inspector Montalbano is mightily cheesed off. His dislike of the current government has been heightened by the revelation that they ordered that evidence be fabricated against a group of political protesters in order to justify their detention. The fact that the high-ups in the police went along with it is the last straw. Montalbano has decided he's going to quit the police.
However, while having a swim in the sea to mull things over and relax a little, Montalbano accidentally bumps into another body. After apologising and receiving no reply, he discovers much to his horror that the body is a corpse. The death of the unidentified man is later put down to accidental drowning.
To cap off his week, he is called out when yet another boatload of illegal immigrants lands on Sicily's shores. While reluctantly assisting in the rounding up of the newly arrived immigrants, Montalbano notices that a little African boy has broken away from his family and has run off. He gives chase and finds the boy cowering, terrified behind some barrels. He takes the boy by the hand and leads him back to his mother. But later on, after reflection something about the boy's demeanour and his apparent terror seems to be out of proportion to the situation.
When the boy's body is found a few days later, the victim of what seems to be a hit and run accident, Montalbano feels guilty that perhaps his actions in returning the boy have somehow contributed to his death. The fact that the boy has been found in the same isolated area as the drowned man strikes Montalbano as being more than an unhappy coincidence and he takes it upon himself to investigate.
ROUNDING THE MARK is Andrea Camilleri's seventh Inspector Montalbano novel and not for nothing is he currently Italy's most successful author. The fact that Camilleri was in his seventies before creating the irascible inspector is even more remarkable.
ROUNDING THE MARK is my first encounter with Inspector Montalbano and associates. I loved the sly, slightly macabre humour injected into the story. (The description of the inspector swimming into the body and how he goes about towing it to the shore had me giggling to myself).
By no stretch of the imagination could you call Salvo Montalbano a loveable character, but his grouchiness and his quirks do have an endearing quality to them. You can't help but like him. His work colleagues too have their own individual personalities. Fazio, who is almost as grumpy and outspoken as Montalbano, the loyal Mimi Augello and of course where would they be without Catarella? Catarella is incapable of opening a door without slamming it into a wall. He can never remember names and he always gets phone messages wrong. And finally there is the unseen Toretta who always seems to have what's needed: from a spare pair of spectacles to rubber hip-high wading boots. (In fact the Inspector remains to be convinced that Toretta hasn't set up an emporium in his office).
The success of a book written in a language other than English often hinges on the work of the translater. ROUNDING THE MARK has been translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli. One of the most challenging tasks for translaters must be how to convey to the reader a sense of a character by his accent or dialect. Sartarelli has managed this deftly by giving the character of Catarella an almost Brooklyn accent and has also avoided any hint of pomposity or long-windedness which often sneaks into translated books.
The end result is a nicely complex tale populated with three dimensional characters, each with their own individual personality traits. Andrea Camilleri is another author I shall definitely be reading again.
Camilleri is not afraid to let Inspector Montalbano age and in this book he really is showing it. The story opens with Montalbano making an appointment to hand in his resignation, which luckily for us, never comes to fruition.
This theme of endings and exits is a continual undercurrent throughout the narrative however. Montalbano's relationship with Livia is in peril, his favourite cafe is closing. The world is changing around him and not for the better.
He comes up against illegal traffic in immigrant children and his inability to be on the ball costs him dearly more than once. The issue of his fitness for purpose is left open ended as the book closes leaving us to wonder if he will return and in what way.
One of the darker of the series but none the worse for that.
I came late to the joys of the writing of Andrea Camilleri and his flawed and ageing Inspector Salvo Montalbano. Which is a tragedy for me since I dislike going back to earlier stories when I already know how the characters have evolved.
Fortunately, I came across 'The Scent of the Night' whilst on holiday so ordered this book ready for my return. I'm glad I did. This is the seventh in the series; I've no idea how many more can be created by the author but both books I've read are simply full of warmth in the writing, seriousness in the characterisation and, on top of all that, there is the added bonus of a good few snippets of Sicilian food recipes.
Camilleri, ably aided by his excellent translator, creates a picture of Sicily which you cannot help but enjoy. In a way, that there are bodies to be found (sometimes in very unexpected situations), that a murderer (or murderers) need apprehending, that the Inspector does not get on too well (to say the least) with his superiors, all this is almost incidental to way you gradually sink into the life and times of the somewhat slow-moving and ponderous Italian police force. That his love life swings like a slow-motion pendulum just piles up the pleasure for the reader.
As a mixture of Columbo, Maigret and perhaps a dash of Marlowe, this detective inspector is an excellent recipe in his own right!
I just loved this book; I hope you do, too.
on 2 May 2016
Complex plot line as usual, Montalbano carries out an action which he thinks will help a child but it turns out to be fatal. He embarks on an investigation which leads him into personal danger but which he is determined to see through to the end. The story is very reflective of today's immigration crisis in Europe and Italy, in particular, it turns out to be a very topical subject and is therefore very believable.
on 29 October 2009
If you haven't read the Montalbano detective series start with number one and work towards this book and the others in the series. The atmosphere created is wonderful, you can almost smell the olives, the sea and the fish cooking in restaurants - the detective work is the backdrop to these wonderful descriptions of life in the South of Italy. Montalbano is a joy - grumpy, a maverick, a nightmare to work for but someone who creates great loyalty, loves his food and generally enjoys life. They are well worth investing in and you will go back and read them - I promise.
Rounding the Mark is a tragedy with lots of comedy to soften it. The darkness in this book comes from the pits of hell. Dante would have recognized the evil doers.
Ultimately, the lesson this story teaches is that we need to see ourselves more objectively and have a good laugh at what we see. That's a message that many won't be ready for as they consider the evil that men do to one another.
As the book opens, Inspector Salvo Montalbano is upset by instances of misbehavior by the police. The core of his self-worth is so affronted that he cannot bear to remain part of the police. Then, in a series of comedic turns, events conspire to delay his decision. This upset leads him to take a long swim . . . during which he has a most unusual surprise. That surprise immediately has burlesque consequences that will keep you laughing.
Next, a continuing gag line is established when Montalbano receives a call from Deputy Commissioner Riguccio who needs to borrow some glasses. While delivering the glasses, Montalbano unknowingly steps into moral quicksand . . . and lives to have nightmares about the consequences. From there, Montalbano finds that he can always count on his colleague, Torretta, to provide whatever is needed.
The affront to Montalbano's self-esteem is so severe that he pursues a one-man private investigation to right a wrong. In the course of that investigation, he learns a lot about his limits. Others, it turns out, are more aware and assist in unexpected ways.
In Rounding the Mark, Andrea Camilleri moves beyond the limits of the mystery and police procedural genres to movingly display the ambiguous position that the police play in serving the public while needing to address their own fears, prejudices, and feelings. For that purpose, the comedy in the book is too strong. Those interludes feel like clowns from the circus running across the stage in the middle of Macbeth.
But if you have enjoyed the earlier books in the series, you'll be moved by this one. It will strike you as a more serious and depressing book than most of the others. The contact with mortality is more visceral and personal here, and you'll feel it deeply.
This book is number 7 in the Montalbano series. 007 might be more apt, though. For the intrepid Inspector plays the all-action hero as well as the all-divining intelligence when bringing his crooks to justice.
Despite the leavening humour and some classic Catarella malapropism (his ability to murder language is described as 'Catarellese'), this particular story features a more embittered and sadistic Montalbano to the one we've got used to. He seems to feel the world's weight on his shoulders here, troubled as he is with human-trafficking, loan-sharking and, generally, the stinking underbelly of a sordid humanity: 'The world's become too evil', is the conclusion of an eye-witness that could equally be his own. For the most part, Salvo operates in defiance of his team and relations with his trusty deputy Mimì Augello have never been cooler.
Even Stephen Sarterelli's usually assured translation seems different: incomplete, even Catrellese in its English (Montalbano 'gives into rage' instead of giving in to - so much for phrase verbs!), while expressions like 'Avast!' do not have the usual annotation and leave me, for one, bemused.
So, rather too much James Bond and not enough vintage Camilleri for my liking, but Rounding the Mark is still, ultimately, Camilleri: never less than entertaining.
The latest English translation of the Montalbano series does not disappoint. This one concerns to plight of illegal immigrants swarming into Italy. The description of the sea food is as mouth watering as always. 'Nuff said. Just buy it.
In another strong episode in the ongoing story of Salvo Montalbano and friends, Camilleri demonstrates once again that no-one manages to combine outrageous farce, tragedy, cynical political commentary and angry swipes at social injustice like Camilleri. The scene where Montalbano appears unwillingly naked on TV had me laughing out loud but the tone shifts rapidly to encompass far deeper emotions.
The title is a good example of Camilleri’s trademark light touch but I’ll leave it to potential readers to explore for themselves. If you’ve read the other books in this series then don’t hesitate about this: if you haven’t, start at the beginning and enjoy this consistently wonderful series that is both sunny and very dark.
on 14 November 2011
Montalbano goes for a swim and bumps into a body which he tows back to shore. Later he witnesses the arrival of illegal immigrants. A small boy breaks away from his mother and Montalbano grabs his hand so his mother can retrieve him. Montalbano's unofficial investigation reveals the connection between the two incidents. But the plot is almost incidental. So what is it that makes this such an enjoyable read?
Firstly, it is the character of the eccentric Montalbano himself. The story is told entirely from his point of view. He is in every scene, yet he remains unpredictable; neither his thinking about the investigation nor his plans are revealed. We, like his men, are observers who can be surprised, perplexed and frustrated by what he does. We do, however, see more of his private thoughts, about his girlfriend, Livia, for example, or the glamorous and talented Ingrid who is called upon as a sort of assistant to his nefarious activities. His moods are revealed, too, partly through his thoughts and partly through the reactions of other people, particularly his men who find him bad-tempered and unpredictable. But, for all his weaknesses and irascibility he is respected and held in affection by those who know him, and by the reader, too. He is a gifted detective who follows his instincts rather than a logical analysis of clues. He has the sort of courage that means he puts himself in danger but overcomes his genuine fears. He has a strong moral code, which is unusual, possibly unique, in the highly corrupt society of Sicily - a corruption that is always near the surface and clearly articulated, though sometimes in a tongue-in-cheek style.
Secondly, it is the portrayal of the minor characters. Cataralla, for instance, lights up every scene with his blundering enthusiasm and comical mispronunciations. Or Montalbano's superior, Dr Lattes, who always asks about Montalbano's non-existent family, and Montalbano always replies as though he has one. There are many others, too.
Thirdly there is the style, described perfectly by The TLS as `cunning yet curiously gentle'. It is witty, economical and permeated with a sardonic view of life. If you haven't read the Montalbano stories, you must, and you would be better starting at the beginning of the series. But beware, once started you will be hooked, and there are plenty to go at. If you are already familiar with the detective, this novel will not disappoint.