Monday, July 31, 2023

The Montalbano Confusion

 I picked up the detective novel The Wings of the Sphinx by the Italian writer Andrea Camilleri due to a misunderstanding. Some time back, I happened to read a delightful Spanish novel called Murder in the Central Committee by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Featuring the gastronome-detective Pepe Carvalho, it also was a strong political commentary of the times. Carvalho used to be a Communist in his youth and also a CIA agent. This gave his character the unique perspective of an insider who is also an outsider at the same time. Then there are a lot of culinary descriptions, as he enjoyed food and was also an expert cook.

After reading it, I wanted to read more books in the series. But as I failed to find one, I never had the opportunity to read another entry from it. Once, when I was browsing a stack of used books in a store, I found The Wings of the Sphinx with the subtitle An Inspector Montalbano Mystery. When I read the name Montalbano, I thought I had finally been able to find a book in the series. After purchasing the book, I came to know that Andrea Camilleri, the writer, was influenced by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. So he kept his detective's name as Montalbano.

There are some similarities between two characters—Pepe Carvalho and Inspector Montalbano—that I could feel after reading one novel each of both protagonists. I am not sure how all these observations pan out when every book in both series is considered. The most obvious is their love for food. A lot of pages are dedicated to descriptions of food—of eating and preparing it. Both characters have an inherent sense of humour that is wicked at times. Both are loose cannons who are not afraid to offend someone to get their way.

But, while Carvalho has a certain assuredness about him, Montalbano seems to bumble sometimes and provides enough opportunities to laugh at him. While The Murder at the Central Committee is a sharp political satire about investigating a dead comrade while a Communist party meeting progresses, The Wings of the Sphinx is more of a social satire that exposes rampant corruption in the bureaucracy, class differences, and the overall rotten tendencies of society. It is about the murder of an unidentified young girl with the tattoo of a butterfly on her shoulders. The former has its pulse firmly on history, while the latter is more of a comedic ride with a pretty good puzzle to solve and a lot of colourful characters inhabiting it to make it more palatable.

Now I have to hunt down the books in two series!

1 comment:

  1. Sound interesting. Thank you for introducing these guys.