Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri

Monday, November 8th, 2010

I would venture to guess that most of my readers (yes, I have more than one) have never heard of this name. I think His voice reflects his habit!that I ran across his name in a New York Times article that surveyed a number of writers who wrote mysteries in other languages. Since this is an Italophile blog there is no need to guess where he is from and where his settings are. Of course his name is a good clue to start with. His setting is a relatively small town in Sicily and his protagonist is the middle aged Inspector Salvo Montalbano. He’s a thoughtful man struggling with the vicissitudes of middle age. He loves food and eats well. He can be crude and kind. He understands his environment well, including the corruption of the government officials and the constant backdrop of mafia influence. He’s a commitmentphobe with his long suffering girlfriend Livia who lives in Genoa and visits regularly. There are a host of wonderful characters. I especially like Catarella. He is one of the guys at the station who, at least in the English translations, has the distinct accent of someone from, say, the Bronx. He butchers words, names and complete sentences.

Andrea is no newcomer to writing and in fact didn’t really start out as a writer. He worked for RAI the Italian TV network for twenty years and wrote his first novel in 1978. The list of his writing aside from the Montalbano series fills up my complete computer screen but I don’t think that any of them have been translated into English. He only started the Montalbano series in 1994 and has cranked out about one a year. My Italian teacher thinks he’s terrific but says that it is hard even for an Italian to read some of the Montalbano books in Italian because they include a fair amount of Sicilian dialect. I know that there was (and possibly still is) an Italian TV series on Montalbano. I tried watching some of it but it was hopeless with my limited command of Italian. In fact I am trying hard to forget what the character in the series looked like because it was quite different from my mental image of him.

Andrea has written a bunch of these books with Montalbano and I think that I have read every one that has been translated into English and am anxiously awaiting the next one that is due imminently. My favorite I think is “The Patience of the Spider” and runner up would probably be “The Terra-Cotta Dog”.  Do, by all means, seek him out. I give him my highest recommendation. At least where I live a number of his books are also available in the library.

One last note – for some reason mysteries in Italian are called “gialli” – “yellows”. Maybe I’ll ask Gabriele why that is.

8 Responses to “Andrea Camilleri”

  1. Gabriele Says:

    Hanno il nome di “giallo” perché nel ’29 Arnoldo Mondadori iniziò una collana di libri polizieschi chiamati “I gialli Mondadori” dal colore giallo della copertina; dato che questi libri vendevano molto li si chiamò “gialli” e da allora la parola “gialli o giallo” indica anche un genere letterario 🙂

    They have the name “giallo” because in ’29 Arnoldo Mondadori, a pubblisher, began a series of books called “I gialli Mondadori” named this way for yellow color of the cover; because these books sell very well we started to call them “gialli” and since then the word “giallo or gialli “is also a literary genre

  2. Joe Says:

    Grazie Gabriele,

    I thought that you would have the answer!


  3. Peter Says:

    Your post’s title, “Dreaming in Italian,” is especially appropriate for the most recent Montalbano novel translated into English, La pista di sabbia/The Track of Sand.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  4. Joe Says:


    I’m not sure if this is spam or not but think that it’s a worthwhile comment that my readers may appreciate.


  5. Martha Says:

    The TV series is the best. Perhaps since you are a man you don’t appreciate the male actor as much as I do. I can follow along as long as I have subtitles (in Italian) on the screen. When a dialect part comes on the subtitle doesn’t even try to translate, just says speaking in dialect.

  6. Joe Says:


    I appreciate the character in terms of looks, style, etc. It’s just that he seems both younger than the Montalbano that I have in my mind’s eye and perhaps less angst ridden at times. I must admit that I didn’t get far enough into the series to see his internal dialog, which surely is there if it is true to the books. What I saw was on a website that had Italian TV shows and didn’t see any options for subtitles. That would help a lot. If you can point me to a source that includes them I will give it another go. I need all the help that I can get for understanding oral Italian!


  7. Jamie Says:

    Hi Joe,
    Mandy and I have read most of the Montalbano stories. We love to read mysteries that also provide us with the extra bonus of experiencing the place in which the stories are set. Camilleri and Donna Leon write books that do this so well. I especially love how both writers describe the often illogical, sometimes corrupt, mostly self-serving institutions, bosses, and fellow workers, the roadblocks they constantly put in front of our heroes Montalbano, Busetti, et. al., and the ingenious and often humorous ways these men (and the smart women behind them) solve the crimes anyway. And the food!! I gain weight just reading about the meals waiting for Busetti at home or in the cafes of Venice.

  8. Joe Says:


    I guess that Andrea Camilleri is better known than I thought and that’s a good thing. I believe that the irrationality of Italian life and bureaucracy is really true. I have read so much about it in other, non-fiction books that it’s almost hard to imagine. I don’t know how much the image of the relatively carefree Italian lifestyle is illusion but I would certainly like to live there for awhile to find out. And yes, the food in both Donna’s and Andrea’s books is fantastic!


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