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I discovered Andrea Camilleri and his Inspector Montalbano at a reading group last year and I have been trying to read all his novels in sequence. I was getting through them (and enjoying them thoroughly) until the middle of 'The Snack Thief' when I abruptly hit a wall and couldn't finish it. I tried twice after that but I always got stuck at the same point. I generally read three books simultaneously - one is kept in the loo, one at my bedside and one in my work bag to read on my commute to and from work. This one was my bedside read and I seemed to fall asleep everytime I thought about picking it up! Two days ago I put it in my work bag and hey presto - I devoured it in two days and for the life of me I don't know why I couldn't read it through the first few times.
Inspector Montalbano is an idiosyncratic police inspector of the fictional town of Vigata in Sicily. His main passions in life are solving the puzzles his work throws up and enjoying traditional Sicilian cuisine - and the latter wins by a long shot! He is generally rude, short tempered and often his brain works too fast for his tongue (or his poor staff) to keep up with. In this book, I have to admit, I couldn't keep up with him either and had to go back and reread bits when he gave his explanation of various events. This book begins with a Tunisian fisherman on a Sicilian boat being shot dead by a Tunisian patrol boat. Montalbano offloads this case to his deputy and focuses on the murder of a respected businessman in the lift of his apartment building. It turns out the businessman had a Tunisian mistress called Karima who has disappeared mysteriously, leaving behind her young son Francois. Francois is the snack thief of the title since he is surviving on his own by stealing food from the lunchboxes of local children. Montalbano rescues Francois and leaves him in the care of Livia, his girlfriend. Livia lives in Milan (I think) but is in town on a holiday - she takes Francois to heart leading to serious questions being raised regarding her and Montalbano's relationship. The inspector is brilliant in his work but has a hard time with facing hard decisions in his personal life. The situation is not made any easier by the news that his father is dying. Out of this complicated mess of events and emotions, Andrea Camilleri weaves an intriguing story of betrayal, greed and corruption.
I enjoyed the book though I think Terracotta Dog and Voice of the Violin were better. The mystery was puzzling and it was interesting seeing more of Montalbano as a person. I thought it missed a bit of zing though and the plot didn't tie up quite as neatly as I would have liked.
All the novels are translated from what I believe is Sicilian and this gives the prose a slightly disjointed feel. I have a suspicion this is actually a reflection of the original because the style fits in well with the Inspector's quicksilver moods and personality. There is a glossary of certain references at the back which clarify character's conversations but isn't really crucial to understand the story.
On the whole I enjoyed the book but not quite as much as I've enjoyed the previous novels. Perhaps I'm growing out of Andrea Camilleri. I would suggest that any new readers start with the first novel rather than this one.
Inspector Montalbano is once again trying to juggle his love life with his job....and his job is winning hands down. A respected businessman is found stabbed to death in the lift of his apartment block. Investigation into his private life reveals that he may not have been quite so respectable after all...his wife certainly suspects that he was having an affair with a Tunisian cleaner called Karima. But Karima has disappeared, apparently having fleed for her life, leaving behind her small son, Francois, who is forced to steal schoolchildren's snacks for food. Montalbano takes the child into his home as the investigation hots up, throwing international drug smuggling and government corruption into the pot. Can Montalbano prove who is behind the smuggling, find Karima, keep Francois safe and stop his girlfriend from leaving him all at the same time?
I have now read a number of books in the Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri, and I have to say that they are growing on me. It is rare these days that I find a new fictional detective anything other than okay. They tend to fall into categories - the miserable drunk with relationship problems and the bumbling idiot hiding a secret brilliance being the most common. Montalbano definitely falls into the latter category and in the past, I have found him annoying. However, he seems to be much less annoying in this book. He is rude to the point of being misunderstood at times, but it is all done in such a humorous way that I can't help but warm to him. His colleagues have become accustomed to him and so know that, even when he asks the unexpected of them without explaining why, they should just go ahead and follow his lead.
I also felt that, in this book, Montalbano's character reaches a new level because more of his private life is revealed. His relationships have always been mentioned in the books, but have very much stayed in the background, mainly because his girlfriend lives in another city. Here though, she is visiting at the time of the investigation, and plays much more a role in the story. All this gives us much more of an insight into Montalbano's life, including his phobia of commitment. I liked it. It made him much more human and added another strand to the book.
The book is well-written, although sometimes the strands of the story are a little difficult to follow. This is mainly because of Montalbano's ability to suddenly work something out mid-sentence, dropping what he is doing to rush off and do something else. This did leave me shaking my head in confusion at times, but then the book is a mystery, and being confused is part and parcel of a mystery. The main thing is it did all make sense in the end, although it did take a bit of re-reading to make sure that I had fully understood everything.
The main problem with the book is one that has been a long-standing problem with this series. I love the opportunity to read books set in different cultures, particularly when I can read them in their original language. I don't, unfortunately, understand Italian, and so have to rely on the translation here. And the translation is not the best. Apparently, there is a lot of Sicilian slang used in the book - so much so that even Italians have problems understanding the language - which may have made the translator struggle, I'm not sure. Whatever, there are times when the language used feels wooden and unnatural. It is never grammatically incorrect and it always makes sense, it just doesn't quite sound right, and this does ruin the flow of the novel a little. It doesn't put me off wanting to read more in the series, but I imagine it could be a real problem for some.
As always, Camilleri sprinkles local flavour into the book. Set in Sicily, food is something that is mentioned in quite a lot of detail - we are nearly always told what Montalbano is going to enjoy for his dinner - from black spaghetti in squid ink to seafood casserole. I enjoy reading about it, even if it isn't always that appetising; in fact, I tend to remember more about the food than I do about the plot - or at least that has been the case with other books in the series.
I really enjoyed this book, more than any of the others in the series that I have read. It is really easy reading - the chapters are snappy and short - perfect for dipping in and out of at will. I don't think that it is particularly necessary to read the books in order - if this is the first one you read, you won't have lost out on much. Recommended, despite the occasionally annoying translation, for fans of crime fiction and/or anyone who likes reading about different cultures.
The book is available from play.com for £5.99 (although I paid just 25p in a sale at The Works). Published by Pan Macmillan, it has 224 pages. ISBN: 9780330492973