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Montalbano’s First Case and Other Stories

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Montalbano’s First Case and Other Stories (2008 (except where noted) / 2016) Andrea Camilleri translated by Stephen Sartarelli

Montalbanos First Case

Montalbano’s First Case
Fifty Pairs of Hobnailed Boots
Neck and Neck
Fellow Traveler
Dress Rehearsal
Amore
The Artist’s Touch (1998)
Montalbano’s Rice Fritters
As Alice Did
The Pact
Mortally Wounded
Catarella Solves a Case (1999)
Being Here . . .
Seven Mondays
Judicial Review
Pessoa Maintains
The Cat and the Goldfinch
Montalbano Says No
A Kidnapping
Montalbano Afraid (2002)
Better the Darkness

“Montalbano’s First Case” is just that–his first case in Vigàta. He comes to visit, and witnesses a crime and agrees (insists!) upon being a witness. It seems a small thing, but is his introduction to the city and the many characters with whom he will deal in the following years.

There was one man, a little older than Montalbano, whom the inspector immediately took a liking to, Sergeant Fazio.

But never fear…

“the father, Gerlando Monaco, son of Giacomo Gerlando and Elvira La Stella, was born in Vigàta on—”

“Excuse me, Fazio,” Montalbano interrupted him, “but why are you telling me these things?”

“What things?” Fazio asked, looking perplexed.

“The father, the mother, and all the rest . . . What the hell do I care about them? I asked you to see if Rosanna’s father had a criminal record and to find out what people said about him around town. Nothing more.”

“He’s got a clean record,” Fazio replied stiffly, putting the piece of paper back in his pocket.

And the food.

He couldn’t very well go the whole day without eating just because the problem of Rosanna was gnawing at him. At the Trattoria San Calogero, he scarfed down some fifteen different seafood antipasti for starters, but they were so light and delicate that they seemed to enter his mouth without notice. How could he resist, especially considering he hadn’t eaten anything at midday?

“Fifty Pairs of Hobnailed Boots” is story set earlier in Montalbano’s career, and I quite enjoyed it.

This story is far more about the peasant than about Montalbano, although it is also a lesson to Montalbano about the people and the area to which he is assigned.

“And then there’s the matter of the hobnailed boots. Like the ones you’re wearing right now.” Gaetano looked at his boots as if he were seeing them for the first time. “I’ve been wearing these for the past five years,” he said. “They’re solid shoes, good shoes. They say the ones the army gave our soldiers in Russia during the last war had soles made of cardboard. Well, these have leather soles, no doubt about it. In the years my father had remaining after he took them from the warehouse, he wore out only one pair. He was wearing them when he died in the field, turning the soil. And when I dressed him for the funeral, I gave him a new pair. That left me with forty-eight.”

“Neck and Neck” brings in Dr. Pasquano.

“Did you know that three of them were from the same gang, and only one from the enemy gang?”

“No, I didn’t. And I should add that I absolutely do not give a shit. Political leanings, religious beliefs, professional affiliations are not yet considered things to look for during an autopsy.”

The story is about the two area Mafia families, and the crimes and murderers that were common at the time.

Dress Rehearsal is a very interesting story, and although short, one of my favorites in this collection.

Amore perhaps shows why Montalbano has such a jaded view of love. Even parental love.

A month after Saverio Moscato’s return, Michela’s mother came in to see Inspector Salvo Montalbano of Vigàta Police. But it wasn’t maternal concerns that had brought her there.

“My daughter Michela missed the monthly payment she usually gives me.”

“The Artist’s Touch” (1998) is possibly the best mystery of the collection. A wheelchair bound artist is found dead in his home, in what looks like an elaborate suicide attempt, and although it’s not Montalbano’s case, he knew the artist and so takes an interest in the strange case.

“Montalbano’s Rice Fritters” is as much about Adelina and her family as about Montalbano’s love of food. It was not a favorite.

“The Pact” is a short story where the cause of the murder is deep in the past. It’s an interesting look at the foolishness of vendettas and the way family hatreds went forward into the future.

“Mortally Wounded” is another story I didn’t like. I disliked how the female character was portrayed, and that tainted the whole story for me.

“Catarella Solves a Case” (1999)

Ah, Catarella.

“Hullo, Chief? Izzatchoo poissonally in poisson?”

“Yeah, Cat.”

“What wuz ya doin’, Chief, sleepin’?”

“Until a moment ago, yes, I was sleeping.”

“An’ now y’ain’t sleepin’ no mores?”

“No, I’m not sleeping anymore, Cat.”

“Ah, good.”

“Why is that good, Cat?”

“Cuzzit means I dint wake yiz up, Chief.”

Either shoot him in the face at the first opportunity, or pretend it’s nothing.

But Cat really does solve the case.

“Being Here . . .” is a very sad story, and another of my favorites.

All things considered, this is where I spent the best years of my life— the best, yes, only because I wasn’t yet acquainted with grief. Which is saying a lot.

“Seven Mondays” is another story I didn’t particularly like, because although the criminal part didn’t seem unreasonable, Montalbano’s actions towards the end of the story seemed–highly unlikely.

Which is too bad, because I liked the mentions of Isaac Luria.

“Judicial Review” I swear I read this story before. This is another of my favorite stories. I shan’t say anything else, since the story really needs to be read without any preconceptions.

“Pessoa Maintains” is another depressing story, although good one.

It made Montalbano angry whenever television reporters used the word execute to mean murder. And he also got upset with his men when they did the same. But this time he let it slide. If Fazio had let it slip out, it was because he’d been shaken by that single shot to the base of the skull, coldly fired point-blank.

I like that Montalbano is so imperative about the distinction between execution and murder.

“Montalbano Says No” I actually wonder whether this story unfolded this way as it was, or whether he got the idea about the end and built it up from there. I kinda hope it was the former.

“A Kidnapping” was an interesting story, and I’m still not sure how I feel about the premise. I’m a big fan of redemption, but I’m not sure whether there was truly redemption here.

But, there was Catarella.

“Catarella, I want you to do me a special, important favor.”

“Chief, when y’ax me poissonally in poisson to do yiz a favor poissonally in poisson, yer doin’ me a favor jess by axin’.”

The baroque courtesies of Catarella.

“Montalbano Afraid” (2002) is another I didn’t especially like, but that’s mostly because I don’t like Montalbano and Livia’s relationship.

The whole way there, for all those hours, Livia refused to let Montalbano drive. She wouldn’t listen to reason.

“Come on, let me drive. Why do you want to tire yourself out?”

“You said I wanted to drag you off to the mountains. Well, now let yourself be dragged and shut up.”

“Better the Darkness” is a story about the past, jealousy, and the lengths to which hatreds can drive people.

There were of course translator notes at the end of the book, but sadly they aren’t linked so you can jump to them while reading the story. But they’re still lovely.

“Ibis redibis non morieris in bello”: This was traditionally said to be the phrase uttered by the oracle to the soldier about to go off to war in ancient Rome. The sentence’s syntax is so conceived as to create a perfect ambiguity between opposite meanings. Depending on where one inserts commas— or pauses, since Latin had no commas— the statement changes meaning. If you read it “Ibis, redibis, non morieris in bello,” it means “You’ll go, you’ll come back, you’ll not die in war”; if you read it as “Ibis, redibis non, morieris in bello,” it means “You’ll go, you’ll not come back, you’ll die in war.”

I quite enjoyed this collection. I am not certain that these stories would be as enjoyable to someone who hasn’t read the books, but as someone who has, I very much enjoyed seeing these glimpses of Montalbano through time.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Penguin Books

Categories: 8/10, Anthology, Mystery, Police, Translated     Comments (0)    



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