A Very Italian Detective


After discovering the work of Michael Dibdin in 2007 whilst accidentally stumbling across Radio 4’s Bookclub, I started looking for other similarly gifted detective novelists. Continuing with the Italian theme, I quickly discovered Andrea Camilleri and his wonderful series of books featuring Inspector Montalbano.

Recently I came across this interesting insight into how he started writing the novels at the age of 70 (there’s hope for us all…) and his ‘breakthrough moment’ (see my boldface):

Until he was almost 70, Camilleri was a minor historical novelist who was better known as a director of Pirandello. He was an author in search of a character, and that character turned out to be Montalbano. When a protagonist becomes a phenomenon, I am always interested in whether the novelist remembers the exact moment of conception. Camilleri does: “I know exactly when he arrived. In 1994, I was stuck on a historical novel called The Brewer of Preston. I couldn’t organise it the way I wanted, I had not found the key to structure it, and then decided that the best solution was to set it aside and write something else. And then I said to myself: what can I write? The way I used to write novels was to start with the very first thing that struck me about a subject. It was not methodical: the first thing I wrote would never be the first chapter, maybe it would become the fourth or fifth chapter. Then I said: but you can write a novel from first to last chapter with a perfect order of logic. I saw the form of the thriller as a cage that does not allow you to escape. And so I began to write the first Montalbano novel – The Shape of Water.

Recently there’s been the Italian TV series on BBC Four on the Montalbano books although I found them strangely cartoonish especially when seen alongside the Scandinavian (The Killing) and French (Spiral) programmes in this genre.

Linking back to the main theme of my blog, I’ve often thought that research and crime are quite similar. You’re always looking for clues and trying to piece various fragments of information together in creative ways. Sometimes you get it right, and sometimes totally wrong or often it just remains unresolved!

More on this here (from Brian Eno):

This idea came into sharp focus for me when reading a book about Chicago detectives. One of the particularly successful ones was asked how he’d developed such an accurate nose for trouble. He said: “If you find yourself doing a double take, do a triple take.” So don’t say ” Ah … it’s probably nothing important” and rationalise yourself out of looking at it. Say instead “If I noticed it, it must be important. Now in which way is it?”

Isn’t this what all the best science comes from – someone deciding to take seriously something that millions of other people could also have noticed but didn’t?

Picture credit here.


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