Inspector Montalbano: The Age of Doubt – review

51e-hadPLLL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_I’d never been able to get into Inspector Montalbano, but seeing as a new mini-series is imminent, I thought I would read one of the original novels by Andrea Camilleri and then see the film based on it. The Age of Doubt was written in 2008 and Stephen Sartarelli’s translation brought the tale to English speakers in 2012.

Perhaps if the plot had been available to the Harbour Lights team then the much-unloved Nick Berry vehicle would still be with us. A yacht has arrived at Vigàta having just picked up a corpse. There’s clearly foul play at work and Montalbano’s curiosity is heightened by a weird encounter in the opening moments. A real mystery unfolds with bluff and counter-bluff between the protagonists and the story ends with an explosive final act.

What I really liked about the novel is that it straddles the line of being light in tone (for a thriller) yet still full of exposition. (The metaphors are relatively straightforward though I loved this one: His mood was so black that squid ink seemed grey by comparison.) Montalbano is a fairly complex character: thoughtful, brooding, logical yet rash, seemingly unaffected by his terrible sleep patterns and prone to unbelievable tall tales about why he can’t attend meetings. The novel really opens up his thought processes including those about his fiancée Livia (and other women) and this gives the reader the feeling that they are a kind of confidant. Despite seemingly spending little time reading, he is incredibly well-read and this helps him crack a major part of the case.

I’m told that Montalbano’s moral core is a key part of the series, but to be honest I am not sure that this comes through in this particular novel. There are a few moments where it’s implied that Montalbano has a deep social conscience and perhaps that is explored more deeply elsewhere but in The Age of Doubt the remarks seem a little half-hearted (Montalbano thinks that people trafficking is appalling and that people should be safe in the workplace).

There are several bits where Camilleri gives us a sort of summary of what’s taken place which reminds me of computer mystery games like Hotel Dusk that have a quick quiz at the end of each ‘chapter’ so the game player can keep up. That sounds as though it could be quite irritating but in the main it’s lightly done. By the way, there are a couple of pages of very enlightening notes by Sartarelli at the end of the Picador edition. Speaking of irritating, though, Caterella is even more annoying when portrayed in print, and some of the police hierarchy aren’t portrayed any more sympathetically. Every procedural needs tension between the pen-pushing commissioner and the mercurial detective but these guys seem like idiots.

By the end, though, I’m keen to have another outing with the inspector and his crew. They offer a police procedural where the quality of life is as important as the complexity of the plot. Good stuff.

The TV adaptation was first screened in Italy in April 2011 and came to BBC FOUR eighteen months later as part of series 2. Much of the series’ charm is based on its otherness, I think: the lush countryside, the summer sun and sleepy surroundings, together with the slightly old-fashioned way of doing things (a number of things are dependent on Montalbano’s phone being pulled out of the plug). I keep up fine, but I do find myself missing the detail that the novel provides about why Montalbano deduces what he deduces. On the other hand, the romantic distractions of the plot don’t lose anything in translation, and the final showdown is particularly well directed.

I’m glad that I’ve come to Sicily, if rather late.

You can get The Age of Doubt here.

One comment

  1. I’ve been ‘collecting’ the digital Montalbano books for some time, but as yet haven’t got around to reading them, concentrating instead on the Skandi Noir detective books. I love Italy so it’s only a matter of time. I loved this very clear review that confirmed I’ve got some enjoyable reading ahead. I’ll make sure I’ve got this title.

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