Camilleri and "mystery"
The book's approach to detection is a kind of hybrid. For about the first two thirds of the novel, the focus is very much more on atmosphere, character, characters, and incidental action, in the manner of Georges Simenon, whom Montalbano likes to read when he has time to relax (and is not worrying about his lover, Livia, or enjoying a large and delicious meal). Toward the end of the novel, though, Montalbano gathers two assistants to review the evidence and discuss theories about the disappearance of a crooked financier and his assistant. Sounds like a traditional police-procedural scene, yes? Not quite. Here's Montalbano opening the session:
"All right," said the inspector. "But let me preface this by saying that what I'm about to describe is a novel. In the sense that there isn't the slightest trace of proof for any of it. And, as in all novels, as the story gets written, events sometimes go their own way, leading to unforeseen conclusions."
There is no straightforward unfolding of the facts here. It's almost as if Camilleri grew exasperated first with the potential for observation to solve a crime, so he turned to traditional techniques but realized these, too, were insufficient. Hence, the motif of the investigator as a storyteller, hoping his story makes sense.
In his leisure time, too, Montalbano is attracted to the idea of solving a crime more through observation of character than through conventional techniques, but the approach never seems quite satisfactory. He never does get far in that Simenon novel he keeps trying to read throughout The Smell of the Night.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
Italian crime fiction