"Montalbano’s bailiwick is Sicily," James wrote in 2007. "If mainland Italy is corrupt, Sicily is corrupter, and Montalbano has some plenty-mean streets to walk down. He does so at a brisk pace, and it is because Camilleri knows his background too well to be impressed. He speaks the language. ... Camilleri can do a character’s whole backstory in half a paragraph ... "I like that because it recognizes that setting, such a big part of the attraction of crime novels from outside the reader's home country, is human as well as physical. Two gorgeous bits of setting, one of each kind, from Voice of the Violin (English translation 2003), the fourth of Camilleri's novels about Inspector Salvo Montalbano, reminded me of this.
One bit describes a road from Vigàta to Calapiano,
"a sort of mule track that received its first and last coat of asphalt fifty years ago in the early days of regional autonomy, and finally reached Calapiano via a provincial road that clearly refused to be known as such, its true aspiration being to resume the outward appearance of the earthquake-ravaged country trail it had once been."And this:
"`Are you cops?'Where does the human stop, and the geographic and historical begin? In Camilleri, nowhere. For him, the three are mutually inextricable.
"The inspector laughed. How many centuries of police tyranny had it taken to hone this Sicilian woman's ability to detect law-enforcement officers at a moment's glance?"
And now a question perhaps harder than the usual questions for readers. Who else does what Camilleri does? In what other crime writers are the characters inseparable from their setting and its history?
© Peter Rozovsky 2009