"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Italians Are Coming!!

Didn't set out to read only Italian crime novels these past few weeks, but one led to another and before I knew it, I'd read four.  Reading the four, by four different authors, taking place in different parts of Italy, and each of the protagonists having a distinctly different personality (shaped by their age and environment), I feel as though I've just had a crash course in Italian geography, history and sociology.

The four:

The Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri, takes place in Sicily.  Camilleri's novels have been made into tv movies, occasionally seen here on PBS.  Because I have been to Sicily and all my grandparents were Sicilian, three born there, this series holds a particular fascination for me.  Inspector Salvo Montalvo captures the Sicilian character as I experience it.  With a dark sophistication, a heavy dose of cynicism, softened by a strain of humor, the series continues to fascinate me.

In this installment, Montalbano is increasingly preoccupied with aging, and coupled with his on/off again relationship with Livia, finds himself falling in love with a younger woman, a beautiful harbor official who he comes to know as a result of his investigation into two murders that take place in the harbor. 

I loved this novel, found the emphasis on the love story, the humor, the Sicilian angst to be particularly engaging.  Might be my favorite in the series.

The Golden Egg, by Donna Leon, is the most recent (just released this week) in this series that takes place in Venice.  The protagonist, Commissario Guido Brunetti, is a moral, intellectual man striving to stay afloat in an ocean of amorality and corruption.  What I most appreciate about this series is the consistency of plot development, the social commentary, and thoughtful exploration of the human condition.  Not only is Brunetti a multi-dimensional character, but his wife, Paola, continues to take on more depth and breadth.  The descriptions of Venice are charming and include a background into the city's cultural heritage.

In this episode Brunetti is asked to look into a minor shop-keeping violation committed by the mayor's future daughter-in-law, a case he would prefer not be placed on his plate.  Then, Paola comes to him with a request to look into the sudden death of a handicapped man who worked at their dry cleaner, a man who turns out to have absolutely no legal papers, no record of existence.   

As is common to this series, there are many references to the corruption that runs rampant in Italian business and government, and my biggest concern is that Brunetti will resign and the series will end!

Death in Sardinia  by Marco Vichi, is the third in the crime series set in Florence in the l960's.  Inspector Bordelli is younger than Brunetti or Montalbano.  And much more consumed by his, and Italy's, past in World War II.  Although the crimes are well developed and explored in detail, Bordelli's memories of combat and the factions that existed in Italy during the war are a recurring motif - one that I have found intriguing and informative, so far.  Vichi also injects snatches of 60's history - Bordelli discovers The Rolling Stones in this novel - which lightens the serious atmosphere of the novel.   Because this is a young series in comparison to Leon's or Camilleri's, however, I don't have a good sense of Bordelli yet (and for some reason the second in the series is not available on the Kindle).  Haven't decided how much further I continue with this series.

Note: Vichi's translator is Stephen Sartarelli, who also translates Camilleri, with the same fluency and sensitivity to the English language.

River of Shadows by Valerio Varesi, is set in the Po Valley in 2000,and introduces a new protagonist, Commisario Soneri and his young female partner, Angela. Soneri reminds me a bit of Montalbano, so it will be interesting to see how he develops.  The novel is richly atmospheric, with the valley's inhabitants and history as dark and meandering as the river that runs through it.  The mystery at the heart of the novel, the separate but ultimately related deaths of two elderly brothers leads, Soneri into the shadows still cast by the second World War, 55 years after its conclusion.  This is the only title in the series to be translated so far (and I wish Sartarelli had done it), but the series appears to have a following in Italy, so I suspect more will be coming.  And I will check out them out when they do.