Tuesday, December 18, 2018

It’s a wonderful thing finding a new author

by Rick Blechta

I play in a big band and the guy who plays next to me in the trumpet section is a huge crime fiction reader. He’s always telling me about the books he’s reading (never mine for some reason) and asking questions about writers he enjoys, some of whom I know.

A few weeks ago during a rehearsal, he passed over a book and indicated a passage and asked what I thought of it.

I quickly read it (because we were about to start playing) and while the sax section worked something over, I had to reread it. Why? Because it was so darn good. I took down the information on the book, intending to look into them.

During another playing gap, I asked some questions. It was the third book he’d read by this author, Andrea Camillerihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Camilleri. The series is set in Sicily and it’s your basic police procedural in form. The main character is Inspector Montalbano. The novel’s title was The Scent of the Night. I took down the information on the book, intending to look into them. The following rehearsal, my colleague presented me with the first book in the series (borrowed from his library) and gave it to me to read since it wasn’t due for another 10 days. I went home and read it basically in one long sitting.

What caught my attention immediately was the quality of the writing. Now understand, these novels are written in Italian (including some Sicilian dialect), so everything I read was filtered through a translator, and as we all know, there are good and bad translations of books. In this case, the translator Stephen Sartarelli seemed to do an excellent job. I checked it out with my wife’s Italian teacher (who is Italian). She’s read Camilleri in Italian. Skimming my translated copy she felt it was done very well.

So basically what I’m saying here is that if you haven’t yet discovered this author, go out and get one of his books. I’m sure you could start anywhere in the series because the set-up is very much like the manner in which the Nero Wolfe series began: it just jumps in with everything “up and running.” All you have to do is get to know the various continuing characters.

The first novel in the series is The Shape of Water. Very important: This novel has nothing to do with the recent movie by Guillermo del Toro.

You will be transported to Sicily at the time of the writing (early ’90s) and it is fascinating. The plot is well set up and works well but is nothing astounding. It is the quality of the writing and the skill of the author that makes the novel really quite special. Camilleri makes you feel as if you’re there with very minimal description. I read the novel for a second time and was rather amazed at how little there is. The way he pulls it off is almost like a magic trick. I’ve finished the next two novels and they are the same high quality. Now I know why Aline has such a fondness for this author.

So during my down time (what little of it there is) this holiday season, you know where can find me: vicariously in Sicily!

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