Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri, who died last week at age 93, is probably best known as the author of 27 novels and multiple short story collections starring police officer Inspector Salvo Montalbano, many of which take place in the fictional town of Vigata, Sicily. Camilleri based Vigata on his home town of Porto Empedocle, which honored the popularity of the Montalbano series by officially changing its name to Porto Empedocle Vigata between 2003 and 2009. Although he was a successful screenwriter, Camilleri didn’t write his first novel until he was 53 years old. His first two books were unsuccessful, but his third, The Hunting Season, became a bestseller. His fourth novel, The Shape of Water, was the first story with Inspector Salvo Montalbano.
I first discovered the wonderful world of Vigata and Inspector Montalbano by accident about 20 years ago, when I stumbled across a secondhand paperback copy of The Shape of Water . I was hooked from the first chapter and have every book in the series. Camilleri’s Monttalbano series always offered a quick fun read, but with a social conscience and a message.
Thirteen years ago, Camilleri wrote a final Montalbano novel in which the sometimes irascible detective is irretrievably killed off, to avoid the fate of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The name Montalbano is a tribute to Spanish author Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003), whose Detective Carvalho was also a gastronome and used to highlight local culture and issues.
If you haven’t yet discovered the joy of an afternoon with Inspector Montalbano and the crew from Vigata’s police station, a great place to start is with the Penguin paperback Death in Sicily, which offers the first three novels in the series.