“Upon hearing this last question, Montalbano–who was watching the broadcast from his home, and for the last half hour had been unsuccessfully searching for a clean pair of underpants, which he knew must be around somewhere–told the newsman to go fuck himself.”
The Terra-Cotta Dog from Italian crime author Andrea Camilleri is the second novel in the wonderful Inspector Montalbano series. In this episode in Montalbano’s food-centered life, he ‘captures’ a vicious Mafioso known as Tano the Greek, a man so violent that it’s reported he murdered his own brother by strangulation. The capture, which is really just a staged, face-saving cover for Tano’s surrender, brings three things to Montalbano: celebrity status, the threat of a promotion, and the discovery of a double murder that took place fifty years before.
The first novel in the series, The Shape of Water, shows Sicilian Inspector Montalbano struggling to solve crime in spite of the obstacles of corruption. This second novel shows Montalbano obsessing about two unidentified murder victims whose deaths were obscured by WWII, American bombings and the arrival of American troops in Vigata.
As always, author Camilleri creates some fascinatingly bizarre characters. In The Terra-Cotta Dog, the strangest character has to be the eccentric priest Alcide Maraventano who suckles from a baby’s bottle while contemplating death rituals. There’s also Inspector Sciacchitano “universally known as pusillanimous ass-lick,” and Judge Lo-Bianco whose one-track mind is still working on his “ponderous” Magnus opus, “The Life and Death of Rinaldo and Antonio Lo Bianco, Masters of Law at the University of Girgeti at the Time of King Martin the Younger (1402-1409).”
As Montalbano tries to solve the fifty-year old murders, he’s forced to work with the men in his department, and as always Montalbano does not ‘work well with others.’ Montalbano’s patient, long-suffering, long-distance girlfriend Livia makes an appearance, as does the inspector’s cook–a woman whose wizardry in the kitchen uncannily matches Montalbano’s moods.
Although we learn Montalbano’s distaste for fascists, The Terra-Cotta Dog is not an overtly political novel. Instead there’s the background noise of “the magistrates who had laid bare the dirty secrets of the political corruption [who] were resigning in protest.” Humor invades almost every page, and this is due to Montalbano’s playful personality. Whether he’s lounging in his underwear, evading a promotion or indulging in a dirty dream, Montalbano’s approach to life makes him someone we’d love to hang out with, but since that’s impossible, I’ll happily settle for a few hours spent reading about this delightful character.