Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Terra-Cotta Dog


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Andrea Camilleri's The Terra-Cotta Dog is what I'd call an old fashioned police procedural. The story reminded me of a Maigret story. Character is everything. Inspector Salvo Montalbano finally solves the mystery because of who Salvo Montalbano is.

It is not that Maigret and Montalbano are in any way alike. They are polar opposites. It is just that they are both unique, expressions of particular ways of thinking, people whom God created to do what they do.

Inspector Salvo Montalbano is the quintessential Sicilian.

There is a Sicilian personality--volatile, intelligent, inquiring, up -and-down.

My father was born of Sicilian parents. He had the personality (and I have a part of it). So Motalbano is familiar.

The story unfolds in a chain. It begins with gun running and continues when the authorities finding two bodies in a cave. Whoever placed the bodies there posed them in a unique way. Resting there with the bodies is the terra-cotta statue of a dog and a few other items.

Few people except Montalbano care who the two young lovers are or how they got there. Nothing huge rides on the solution of the mystery. That these two young lovers were murdered doesn't matter anymore. The murders happened fifty years ago. They have little effect on what is happening today.

But that doesn't stop Montalbano. He is so dedicated to the quest that he fights with his lover and almost wrecks his car. When you get Salvo Montalbano involved or upset, you never know exactly what will happen.

This story unfolds in a chain, gunrunning leading to the bodies. In the gunrunning story, Montalbano's persistence causes the Mafia to kill everyone who ties back to the crime

Then Montalbano works out the details of the older murders, too.

Montalbano is well-read, knows a lot about different cultures. This book is a literary mystery. Montalbano's knowledge of literature helps him solve the crime.

So, this book is not an action-packed thiriller. It is a fascinating character-based story filled with humor.

That's the last thing I would note. Humor is a touchstone of this story. You can't be a wild-eyed Sicilian, as Salvo Montalbano is, without getting yourself into some humorous situations.

Montalbano will go to any length, even the absurd, to solve a crime. That is reflected in the pictured cover of this book.

So I found this book to be a blast from the past, the kind of character-driven police procedural I read years ago, a wonderful book of a certain kind.

I will read more about Salvo Montalbano.

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