Friday, 31 May 2013

The brilliance, appetite and humanity of Inspector Montalbano

Camilleri could be perhaps described best as a maker of artefacts. Especially fine ones, which make you smile and smile.

Inspector Montalbano is really something. Humane, clever, tolerant up to a point, which of course, you would have to be to be a Sicilian police officer. And hilarious. He is also, throughout many volumes, the lover of the superb Livia, from Genoa. From where, as  I seem to recall Christopher Columbus hailed.

A serious gourmet, he maintains relationships of mutual respect with a selection of wonderful cooks. In parenthesis, here, Sicily may well be home to the finest food in Italy. A risky thing to say, but I recall a Tuscan friend of mine saying that in Tuscany, they had peasant food, but here in Sicily, ah! King's food.

In The Scent of the Night, Montalbano sets out to track out the sponsor of a Ponzi scheme, who has done the necessary runner with all clients money. Or so it appears to everybody, even to the Inspector, for a fair segment of the book. Camilerri does not write long novels, just wonderfully crafted ones.
A clue here as to why it turns out he hasn't. A spoiler I am afraid, for Faulkner aficionados. The Scent of the Night openly cites William Faulkner's great story  A Rose for Emily.

Naturally, Fazio, whose loyalty to Montalbano is absolute, and which loyalty, in an uncharacteristic twist for the genre, is completely supported by Fazio's excellent wife, plays his part, entirely unmoved if the Inspector has to do something slightly illegal to do the right thing. Likewise Cateralla, whose grasp of language is tangential, and who passes on more and more absurd excuses for Montalbano's absence to the Commissioner.

This is number six in a series of Montalbano novels which reached its 20th in 2012, when Camilerri reached the age of 87. Apparently while also being a lifelong, heavy smoker. 

When you want something immaculate to cleanse the pallet, if you enjoy your perfection with humour and solid morality, reach for one of these books.   

Drew Ratter

NOTE: Camilleri chose the name Montalbano as a tribute to his friend and fellow Marxist crimewriter/gourmand, the Catalonian Manuel Vazquez Montalban

My sacrifice: I read this so you don't have to

I thought I should read this because it is to be filmed, and we Shetlanders are endlessly fascinated by portrayals of our archipelago. Some of us - though not me - because, of course, every writer makes errors, whether in language or geography, and some of us - not me - cannot bear it, fascinated and indignant concerning bloopers.

Me, I like  ingenious plotting, great characters, and splendid writing. For contrast, take the recent dramatisation of Shetland, from Ann Cleeves, and STV's Broadchurch. The former had terrible plotting, hopeless characters, and dismal writing. It also did a complex round of the islands, regularly and inconsistently, to get from the north end of Bressay to the ferry. Which would not have mattered at all. If not for the aforementioned plotting, characters, writing etc.

Broadchurch was not adapted from a novel, had one principal writer, and gripped from beginning to end. It was great, with excellent actors as well. 

So. You will note that I have got this far in without really making much of SJ Bolton's Sacrifice at all. So 
no sacrifices by me so far.  But it won't do. It is truly terrible. A small but telling detail. What, for God's sake is a "soft, sweet, eastcoast accent"? One such is possessed by a WPC, where it proves that she doesn't come 
from Shetland? Peterhead? Peterheid?

Anyway. Women are dug from the peat. They might be ancient, due to the  curative properties of the moor. But as it turns out, they aren't. It's all about a sort of Shetlandic sub-species of trow. Full sized, and very clever, and born out of women who get sacrificed (hence the title), and a massive conspiracy which manages to include pretty well the whole workforce at the local hospital, and so on.

I think that covers it, though I was speedreading towards the end. Well, after, say, page 23. 

I have read it (well,sort of) so you don't have to. And because I can't really be bothered with 
the supernatural, I probably won't trouble with the movie. Or definitely.

Drew Ratter

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Hacks, heroes and hopefully avoiding legal action: the journalist as novelist and protagonist

Anyone who has ever been involved with the Scottish newspaper industry should undoubtedly beg, borrow, steal or otherwise obtain a copy of Matt Bendoris's first novel Killing with Confidence. I can promise that they will read it with tremendous enjoyment.

Unless - or maybe especially if -  they happen, lightly or heavily disguised, to be in it.

And striding colourfully through the book they may imagine they can identify more than the models for Bendoris's array of  hacks, former editors, editors, news editors, editorial secretaries, union reps and human resources managers. Cops, therapists, celebrities, businessmen and women, gangsters and restaurateurs - the full panoply of West Central Scotland tabloidism is here, some individuals more recognisable than others.

I trust that Bendoris's nose for a 'legal' - he is chief features writer for the Scottish Sun - will keep him out of trouble in the courts over this highly entertaining book - I certainly hope so. Some of the 'originals' are dead and as for others, well. I will say nothing more, other than I expect a few tweaks before the paperback version comes out in the summer. That's the great thing about Kindle releases: the editing process can be continuous.

There are some brilliant tropes in what is often reminiscent of Colin Bateman's early Ulster black farces (before he became just 'Bateman' and too easily confused with the protagonist of American Psycho): The serial killer Osiris, fuelled by American self-help CDs. The Jekyll and Hyde detective with Tourette's. The hilarious central character April Lavender and the Bendoris stand-in Connor 'Elvis' Presley.

 It feels slightly unfinished - the ending is rushed and the sense of scores being settled may be a little too strong for some. It's perhaps a stringent edit and a couple of more drafts away from being properly done and dusted. But as it stands, it's a great read, and less than three quid on your Kindle.

There are some great illustrations of pre- (and probably post-) Leveson tabloid tactics, and probably the best swearing and deep-fried food consumption I have experienced outside of John Niven's  wonderful The Amateurs.

Just beware, though if you have a Paperwhite: My version loaded the book to start four chapters from the end. Which kind of spoilt the whodunnit element when I finally realised and started at the beginning...