You may disagree, but I believe that the many sleuths, amateur and professional in English crime fiction are also largely the creations of English, or British, writers. In contrast, it also seems to me that the most famous sleuths in Italian crime writing have been created by non-Italians. Guido Brunetti, the urbane, philosophical inspector at the Venice questura, is the creation of Donna Leon, an American. The edgier, less settled character Aurelio Zen, also a Venetian, was created by the late English author, Michael Dibdin. The utterly captivating carabinieri Marshall Salvatore Guarnaccia, a Sicilian fish out of water posted to duty in Florence, was the creation of the late Magdalen Nabb, also English.
A few years ago when I discovered Andrea Camilleri, a Sicilian-born writer of exceptional talent, and his estimable protagonist, Salvatore Montalbano, I was ready for something different: an Italian detective created by an Italian. (Of course it is also true that many Italians, particularly in the north, do not consider Sicilians to be Italian at all but simply amalgams of human deviousness.)
Montalbano is a police inspector in the fictional Sicilian town of Vigata where crimes of every description seem to occur, often with colorful or vulgar flourishes. Although corruption is in the very air they breathe, Montalbano and his trustworthy staff serve a police commissioner of unassailable–if weary–integrity. Camilleri is both sly and droll, qualities that enable him to write about the corruption that is central to his stories without giving in to despair. In an author’s note to his first book, he writes that the story comes only from his imagination and not from crime news headlines. He goes on: “But since in recent years reality has seemed bent on surpassing the imagination, if not entirely abolishing it, there may be a few unpleasant coincidences of name or situation.” Read the rest of this entry »