Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dreaming of George Smiley

From reading his books and from reading/listening to interviews with him, it is very clear Andrea Camilleri loves crime fiction.  In his third Inspector Montalbano novel, The Snack Thief, a nocturnal encounter with John le Carre and George Smiley helps Montalbano to crack a case:

Apparently, in his sleep, one part of his brain had kept working on the Lapecora case.  Around four o'clock in the morning, in fact, a memory came back to him, and he got up and started searching frantically among his books.  Suddenly he remembered that he'd lent the book he was looking for to Augello, after his deputy had seen the film made from it on television.  He'd now had it for six months and still hadn't given it back.  Montalbano got upset.
     "Hello, Mimi?  Montalbano here."
     "Ohmygod!  What's going on here? What happened?"
     "Do you still have that novel by Le Carre entitled Call for the Dead?  I'm sure I lent it to you."
     "What the fuck?!  It's four in the morning."
     "So what?  I want it back."
     "Salvo, I'm telling you this as a loving brother: why don't you have yourself committed?"
     "I want it back immediately."
     "But I was asleep!  Calm down.  I'll bring it back to the office in the morning.  Otherwise I would have to put on my underwear, start looking, get dressed-"
     "I don't give a shit.  You're going to look for it, find it, get in your car, even in your underwear, and bring it to me."
     He dragged himself about the house for half an hour, doing pointless things like trying to understand the phone bill or reading the label on a bottle of mineral water.  Then he heard a car screech to a halt, a dull thud against the door, and the car leaving.  He opened the door:  the book was on the ground, the light's of Augello's car already far away.  He had a mind to make an anonymous phone call to the carabinieri.
     Hello, this is a concerned citizen.  There's some madman driving around in his underwear...
     He let it drop.  He started leafing through the novel.
     The story went exactly as he'd remembered it.  Page 8:

     "Smiley, Marston speaking.  You interviewed Samuel Arthur Fennan at the Foreign Office on Monday, am I right?"
     "Yes . . . yes I did."
     "What was the case?"
     "Anonymous letter alleging Party membership at Oxford . . ."

     And there, on page 139, was the beginning of the conclusion that Smiley would arrive at in his report:

     "It was, however, possible that he had lost his heart for his work, and that his luncheon invitation to me was a first step to confession.  With this in mind he might also have written the anonymous letter which could have been designed to put him in touch with the Department."

     Following Smiley's logic, it was therefore possible that Lapecora himself had written the anonymous letters exposing him.  But if he was their author, why hadn't he sent them to the police or the carabinieri under some other pretext?

. . .

     Thanks to Smiley, it all made sense.  He went back to sleep.

This reminds me that I still have a lot of John le Carre to tackle, including Call for the Dead.  But for now, back to Camilleri.

Nine Years Late, I Discover Andrea Camilleri

I finally started reading Andrea Camilleri after years of buying his books and I am kicking myself for having waited so long to read him.  A friend who I always listen to when it comes to fiction told me back in 2005 that she had just discovered a newly translated Sicilian crime writer and that I should keep my eye on him.  I half listened to her advice and bought Camilleri's first book (I should say his first crime novel - which he wrote at the age of 70 - after years of writing historical fiction, directing in the theater, and producing television) The Shape of Water.

I can't believe how good these books are.  In the past few weeks, I've devoured The Shape of Water, The Terra Cotta Dog, The Snack Thief, and Voice of the Violin.  I started the fifth Inspector Montalbano novel, Excursion to Tindari, last night.

I love reading police procedurals and technically, Camilleri's books follow Inspector Montalbano and the officers under him as they solve crimes in a coastal town in Sicily.  But the focus isn't so much the ins and outs of police work but a survey of modern day Italy.  The writing is often heavy on dialogue (sometimes very earthy), the pace is often brisk, and not everything is spelled out for the reader.  Reading a Montalbano story always makes me hungry - he's constantly eating good food.  So why are these books so good?  Camilleri is old and wise, bitter and funny.  Italy and Sicily provide rich source material.  And Camilleri is very clearly a fan of crime fiction and it feels as his life's work magically lead him to lay golden eggs.

I love the covers and even love the way to spines look. (None of the above pictures are mine.)

My goal is to make sure I have finished reading all of the published books this summer and be ready for the next installment in the series when it is published in September.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Voice of the Violin

"It was well known he drove like a dog on drugs."

- From Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri