Andrea Camilleri: Inspector (Commissario) Montalbano Series (Last Updated Sunday, 21 July 2019 21:03)

This entry was intended as a private note. However, I have thought it can be of some interest to readers of this blog. Please bear in mind it is a work in progress, you may find my reviews of the books I’ve read so far clicking on the books’ titles. Your comments are welcome and I would appreciate if you let me know of any error and/or omission you may find on this page, thank you beforehand.

094222001-dbcfd5b3-df57-4f71-a739-c2ed9f3cbdecAndrea Camilleri was born in Porto Empedocle in 1925. He made his debut as a theatre director, in Rome, in 1953. He subsequently worked as a producer and scriptwriter and as a director for RAI radio and television. He also taught Actor Directing at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, and theatre directing at the Accademia Nazionale d’Arte Drammatica Silvio d’Amico for fifteen years. He published his first novel in 1978 and has never stopped writing since. He has published more than a hundred volumes: historical novels, political essays, and crime novels, including the celebrated Commissario Montalbano series. His books have sold almost 25 million copies in Italy and 15 million copies abroad, and have been translated into 37 languages. The Commissario Montalbano tv series has been broadcasted in more than 60 countries. He writes for many Italian and foreign newspapers and has won numerous literary awards in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. (Source: Alferj e Prestia agenzia letteraria). On 17 June 2019, Camilleri suffered a heart attack. He was admitted to hospital in critical condition, and died on 17 July 2019. He’ll be sorely missed.

Read more at:

The man behind Inspector Montalbano

Inspector Montalbano mysteries

Sellerio Editore

Inspector (Commissario) Salvo Montalbano is a Sicilian fictional character that was created by Italian writer Andrea Camilleri. The novels are written in a mixture of Italian and Sicilian dialects. As you would expect much of the action takes place on the island of Sicily. They are detective novels intertwined with humour, and social comment.

Salvo Montalbano is a typical Sicilian chalk full of all of the idiosyncrasies and above all else good detective work. He has his own ways of doing things and is seen be his superiors as a loose cannon. He is constantly dealing in a world of shady characters, with different connections, who operate in a your scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours sort of dynamic. Yet through it all the Inspector manages to remain true and uncompromising at least to a point where he can still live with himself. The character involves a great deal of humour but the author also adds hard criticism of both Italian and Sicilian political and social situation. Unlike most detective novels where these contexts are simply skimmed over or ignored altogether, these elements form a backbone to the tales of the inspector.

Montalbano is the head of the Vigata police precinct. As such he must balance the desires of his superiors, the reality of the crime rate in the area and, of course his personal life. To make matters even murkier there are two factions within the force that are trying to control the way things are done. The ideology coming from Milan is a standardized regulated way of doing police work. This northern view demands and increase in transparency and a desire to do things by the book. On the opposite side of the spectrum in the southern outlook to law enforcement that involves intricate interpersonal connections that effect how justice is carried out. What makes Inspector Montalbano so effective is his ability to balance between these two opposite factions; it is not always an easy task but he has a knack of keeping everyone happy. Any mention of Italy is usually followed by an image of great food. Inspector Montalbano often eats well-described meals during his adventures, bringing a delightful gastronomic aspect to the series as a whole.

The original Italian series of novels began in 1994. The novels were not translated into English until 2002, after 6 novels had already been complete. Stephen Santarelli, whom critics say managed to maintain a distinct Italian feel despite the fact that the stories were being told in English, does the translation.

Since 1999 there has been television movies of the Inspector Montalbano adventures being produced in Italy. To date there are 26 separate titles. There were two episodes produced annually for the first 6 years of the run, this number has been increased for the last three seasons to 4. Usually produced at a rate of two annually. The series is very popular and shows no signs of ending any time soon.

Inspector Montalbano is an intelligent competent detective. He manages to wade through the reality of Sicilian life while maintaining his honesty and his integrity. The novels are filled with wonderful character and enough comedic episodes to entertain even the most discerning reader. This is not gratuitous comedy, but rather real, tangible events that are believable and would be comical if witnessed first hand. Beside the characters, the comedic elements and even the fabulous backdrop that makes up the novels, the often referred to gastronomic reality of the Italian island is present as well. We can almost smell the wonderful dishes that are being prepared and consumed, all whilst immersed into thought provoking mysteries that are intriguing up to the very end. (Source: Book series in order)

To the best of my knowledge, the complete book series comprises so far the following titles in publication order:

  1. The Shape of Water, 2002 [La forma dell’acqua, Palermo, Sellerio, 1994];
  2. The Terra-Cotta Dog, 2002 [Il cane di terracotta, Palermo, Sellerio, 1996];
  3. The Snack Thief, 2003 [Il ladro di merendine, Palermo, Sellerio, 1996];
  4. The Voice of the Violin, 2003 [La voce del violino, Palermo, Sellerio, 1997];
  5. The Excursion To Tindari, 2005 [La gita a Tindari, Palermo, Sellerio, 2000];
  6. The Smell of the Night aka The Scent of the Night, 2005 [L’odore della notte, Palermo, Sellerio, 2001];
  7. Rounding the Mark, 2006 [Il giro di boa, Palermo, Sellerio, 2003];
  8. The Patience of the Spider, 2007 [La pazienza del ragno, Palermo, Sellerio, 2004];
  9. The Paper Moon, 2008 [La luna di carta, Palermo, Sellerio, 2005];
  10. August Heat, 2009 [La vampa d’agosto, Palermo, Sellerio, 2006];
  11. The Wings of the Sphinx, 2009 [Le ali della sfinge, Palermo, Sellerio, 2006];
  12. The Track of Sand, 2010 [La pista di sabbia, Palermo, Sellerio, 2007];
  13. The Potter’s Field, 2011 [Il campo del vasaio, Palermo, Sellerio, 2008];
  14. The Age of Doubt, 2012 [L’età del dubbio, Palermo, Sellerio, 2008];
  15. The Dance of the Seagull, 2013 [La danza del gabbiano, Palermo, Sellerio, 2009];
  16. The Treasure Hunt, 2013 [La caccia al tesoro, Palermo, Sellerio, 2010];
  17. Angelica’s Smile, 2014 [Il sorriso di Angelica, Palermo, Sellerio, 2010];
  18. Game of Mirrors, 2015 [Il gioco degli specchi, Palermo, Sellerio, 2010];
  19. A Beam of Light aka Blade of Light, 2015 [Una lama di luce, Palermo, Sellerio, 2012];
  20. A Voice in the Night, 2016 [Una voce di notte, Palermo, Sellerio, 2012];
  21. A Nest of Vipers, 2017 [Un covo di vipere, Palermo, Sellerio, 2013];
  22. The Pyramid of Mud, 2018 [La piramide di fango, Palermo, Sellerio, 2014];
  23. The Overnight Kidnapper, 2019 [La giostra degli scambi, Palermo, Sellerio, 2015];
  24. The Other End of the Line,2019 [L’altro capo del filo, Palermo, Sellerio, 2016];
  25. La rete di protezione, Palermo, Sellerio, 2017;
  26. Il metodo Catalanotti, Palermo, Sellerio, 2018;
  27. Il cuoco dell’Alcyon, Palermo, Sellerio, 2019; and
  28. Riccardino (inedito).

In bold some of my favourite titles, but need to re-think some titles I read some time ago, like August Heat for instance.

Besides Inspector Montalbano also appears in the following collections of short stories and novellas: Montalbano’s First Case and Other Stories, 2016 [A selection of 21 short stories, of his 59 published stories featuring Chief Insp. Salvo Montalbano. This selection includes the following titles: ‘Montalbano’s first case’, ‘Fifty pairs of hobnailed boots’, ‘Neck and neck’; ‘Fellow traveler’; ‘Dress rehearsal’; ‘Amore’; ‘The artist’s touch’; ‘Montalbano’s rice fritters’; ‘As Alice did’; ‘The pact’; ‘Mortally wounded’; ‘Catarella solves a case’; ‘Being here’; ‘Seven Mondays’; ‘Judicial review’; ‘Pessoa maintains’; ‘The cat and the goldfinch’; ‘Montalbano says no’; ‘A kidnapping’; ‘Montalbano afraid’ and ‘Better than darkness’], and Death at Sea, Mantle , September 2018 [a collection of eight short stories featuring the young Inspector Montalbano]

In Italian the following collections are available in book form: Un mese con Montalbano, 1998 ; Gli arancini di Montalbano  1999 ; La paura di Montalbano, 2002; La prima indagine di Montalbano, 2004; Morte in mare aperto e altre indagini del giovane Montalbano, 2014.


My Book Notes: The Overnight Kidnapper, 2014 (An Inspector Montalbano Mystery Book 23) by Andrea Camilleri (trans: Stephen Sartarelli)

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Mantle, 2019. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 540 KB. Print Length: 271 pages. ASIN: B07GWPTFCS. ISBN: 978-1-5098-4084-7. Originally published in Italian in 2015 as La giostra degli scambi by Sellerio Editore. Translated by Stephen Sartarelli in 2019.

original_400_600Opening Paragraph: At half past five that morning – give or take a few minutes – a fly that had long been stuck to the windowpane as though dead suddenly opened its wings, rubbed then together to clean them, then took flight and, a moment later, changed direction and landed on the bedside table. (Italian translation by Stephen Sartarelli)

Synopsis: After a hectic morning involving two rather irritating cases of mistaken identity, Inspector Montalbano finally arrives in his office ready find out what’s troubling Vigàta this week. What he discovers is unnerving. A woman on her way home from work has been held up at gunpoint, chloroformed and kidnapped, but then released just hours later – unharmed and with all her possessions – into the open countryside. Later that day, Montalbano hears from Enzo, the owner of his favourite restaurant, that his niece has recently been the victim of the exact same crime. Before long, a third instance of this baffling overnight kidnapping has been reported. As far as Montalbano can tell, there is no link between the attacker and the victims. So what exactly is this mystery assailant gaining from these fleeting kidnappings? And what can he do to stop them? Montalbano must use all his logic and intuition if he is to answer these pressing questions before the kidnapper finds his next victim . . .

My take: The day had not started off well. Montalbano mistook the most dangerous man, the one with the knife, for the weaker one. The carabinieri mistook Montalbano for a troublemaker. Adelina mistook an honest man for a thief. And, since troubles always come in fours, Montalbano was sure that early that same morning he killed the innocent fly, mistaking it for the guilty one. Once at the police station, Fazio has an interesting story to tell him. Late last night a man showed up to report that her daughter Manuela was kidnapped five days ago while returning back home. She was chloroformed and released within a few hours without further damages, and with all her belongings intact. The incident could have remained unnoticed had it not been for Enzo, the owner of Montalbano’s favourite trattoria, who that same day told Montalbano his niece Michela was the victim of a similar kidnapping. The two episodes have only one thing in common, both young ladies work at a bank. The following morning a fire destroys a large shop that sells televisions, mobile phones and other electronic devices and the owner, a certain Marcello Di Carlo, is nowhere to be found. The fire seems to have started deliberately and the Mafia’s hand can’t be ruled out, but Montalbano is not fooled by appearances.

I’ve very much liked to see Camilleri once more in top form in this new instalment. The story has it all, an intriguing plot, an exciting mystery and Camilleri’s usual characters. It was quite fun to see how Montalbano manages to come out successfully from the compromising situations in which he finds himself involved in. All peppered with a very peculiar sense of humour, as can be see in the following passage:

‘It was clear he was destined for the sort of brilliant career common to so many of today’s executives: a rapid ascent (perhaps from selling his own mother to the highest bidder), arrival at the top, immediate crash of the stock value of the company, bank, or whatever it was, disappearance of said executive, and reappearance, one year later, of same executive in a position of even greater importance.’

A thoroughly enjoyable reading. Highly recommended.

My rating: A (I loved it)

About the author: Andrea Camilleri born 6 September 1925) was a playwright, scriptwriter, filmmaker and Italian novelist.  Originally from Porto Empedocle, Sicily, Camilleri began studies at the Faculty of Literature in 1944, without concluding them, meanwhile publishing poems and short stories. From 1948 to 1950 Camilleri studied stage and film direction at the Silvio D’Amico Academy of Dramatic Arts (Accademia Nazionale d’Arte Drammatica) and began to take on work as a director and screenwriter, directing especially plays by Pirandello and Beckett. With RAI, Camilleri worked on several TV productions, such as Inspector Maigret with Gino Cervi. In 1977 he returned to the Academy of Dramatic Arts, holding the chair of Film Direction and occupying it for 20 years. In 1978 Camilleri wrote his first novel Il Corso Delle Cose (“The Way Things Go”). This was followed by Un Filo di Fumo (“A Thread of Smoke”) in 1980. Neither of these works enjoyed any significant amount of popularity. In 1992, after a long pause of 12 years, Camilleri once more took up novel-writing. A new book, La Stagione della Caccia (“The Hunting Season”) turned out to be a best-seller. In 1994 Camilleri published the first in a long series of novels: La forma dell’Acqua (The Shape of Water) featured the character of Inspector Montalbano, a fractious Sicilian detective in the police force of Vigàta, an imaginary Sicilian town. The series is written in Italian but with a substantial sprinkling of Sicilian phrases and grammar. The name Montalbano is a homage to the Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán; the similarities between Montalban’s Pepe Carvalho and Camilleri’s fictional detective are remarkable. Both writers make great play of their protagonists’ gastronomic preferences. This feature provides an interesting quirk which has become something of a fad among his readership even in mainland Italy. The TV adaptation of Montalbano’s adventures, starring Luca Zingaretti, further increased Camilleri’s popularity to such a point that in 2003 Camilleri’s home town, Porto Empedocle – on which Vigàta is modelled – took the extraordinary step of changing its official name to that of Porto Empedocle Vigàta, no doubt with an eye to capitalising on the tourism possibilities thrown up by the author’s work. On his website, Camilleri refers to the engaging and multi-faceted character of Montalbano as a “serial killer of characters,” meaning that he has developed a life of his own and demands great attention from his author, to the demise of other potential books and different personages. Camilleri added that he writes a Montalbano novel every so often just so that the character will be appeased and allow him to work on other stories. In 2012, Camilleri’s The Potter’s Field (translated by Stephen Sartarelli) was announced as the winner of the 2012 Crime Writers’ Association International Dagger. The announcement was made on 5 July 2012 at the awards ceremony held at One Birdcage Walk in London. On 17 June 2019, Camilleri suffered a heart attack. He was admitted to hospital in critical condition, and died on 17 July 2019. He’ll be sorely missed. (Source: Wikipedia)

To the best of my knowledge, the complete book series comprises so far the following titles in publication order: The Shape of Water, 2002 [La forma dell’acqua, Palermo, Sellerio, 1994]; The Terra-Cotta Dog, 2002 [Il cane di terracotta, Palermo, Sellerio, 1996]; The Snack Thief, 2003 [Il ladro di merendine, Palermo, Sellerio, 1996]; The Voice of the Violin, 2003 [La voce del violino, Palermo, Sellerio, 1997]; The Excursion To Tindari, 2005 [La gita a Tindari, Palermo, Sellerio, 2000]; The Smell of the Night aka The Scent of the Night, 2005 [L’odore della notte, Palermo, Sellerio, 2001]; Rounding the Mark, 2006 [Il giro di boa, Palermo, Sellerio, 2003]; The Patience of the Spider, 2007 [La pazienza del ragno, Palermo, Sellerio, 2004]; The Paper Moon, 2008 [La luna di carta, Palermo, Sellerio, 2005]; August Heat, 2009 [La vampa d’agosto, Palermo, Sellerio, 2006]; The Wings of the Sphinx, 2009 [Le ali della sfinge, Palermo, Sellerio, 2006]; The Track of Sand, 2010 [La pista di sabbia, Palermo, Sellerio, 2007]; The Potter’s Field, 2011 [Il campo del vasaio, Palermo, Sellerio, 2008]; The Age of Doubt, 2012 [L’età del dubbio, Palermo, Sellerio, 2008]; The Dance of the Seagull, 2013 [La danza del gabbiano, Palermo, Sellerio, 2009]; The Treasure Hunt, 2013 [La caccia al tesoro, Palermo, Sellerio, 2010]; Angelica’s Smile, 2014 [Il sorriso di Angelica, Palermo, Sellerio, 2010]; Game of Mirrors, 2015 [Il gioco degli specchi, Palermo, Sellerio, 2010]; A Beam of Light aka Blade of Light, 2015 [Una lama di luce, Palermo, Sellerio, 2012]; A Voice in the Night, 2016 [Una voce di notte, Palermo, Sellerio, 2012]; A Nest of Vipers, 2017 [Un covo di vipere, Palermo, Sellerio, 2013]; The Pyramid of Mud, 2018 [La piramide di fango, Palermo, Sellerio, 2014]; The Overnight Kidnapper, 2019 [La giostra degli scambi, Palermo, Sellerio, 2015]; The Other End of the Line (2019) [L’altro capo del filo, Palermo, Sellerio, 2016]; La rete di protezione, Palermo, Sellerio, 2017;Il metodo Catalanotti, Palermo, Sellerio, 2018; Il cuoco dell’Alcyon, Palermo, Sellerio, 2019; and Riccardino (inedito). The Other End of the Line (Inspector Montalbano mysteries #24), originally published in Italian in 2016 as L’altro capo del filo, will go on sale on 5 September 2019.

About the Translator: Stephen Sartarelli was born in Youngstown, Ohio, on July 5, 1954. He holds a BA in literature and languages from Antioch College and an MA in comparative literature from New York University. Sartarelli is the author of three books of poetry: The Open Vault (Spuyten Duyvil, 2001), The Runaway Woods (Spuyten Duyvil, 2000), and Grievances and Other Poems(Gnosis Press, 1989). He has translated over forty books of fiction and poetry from the Italian and French, including The Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini(University of Chicago Press, 2014), which received the 2016 Raiziss/de Palchi Book Prize. About Sartarelli’s winning translation, judges Antonello Borra and Alessandro Carrera write: “Thanks to Stephen Sartarelli’s magnificent volume, flawless translation and sound scholarly apparatus, the English-speaking readership will now be aware that Pier Paolo Pasolini was as great as a poet, and possibly even greater, as he was a filmmaker. Not only does Sartarelli intelligently select and elegantly translate from Pasolini’s poetic opus, he also gives us a clear, informed introduction, a useful, concise set of notes, and an essential bibliography. This book is a must have for both scholars and lovers of poetry alike.” Sartarelli’s other honors include the International Dagger Award from the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain, the John Florio Prize from the British Society of Authors, and the Raiziss/de Palchi Book Prize for Songbook: Selected Poems of Umberto Sabain 2001. He has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities for the ongoing translation of Horcynus Orca by Stefano D’Arrigo, originally published in 1975. Sartarelli currently lives in the Périgord region of South West France with his wife, the painter Sophie Hawkes. (Source: https://www.poets.org)

Pan Macmillan publicity page

Penguin Random House publicity page

Sellerio publicity page

Inspector Montalbano mysteries

audible

El carrusel de las confusiones de Andrea Camilleri

Primer párrafo: A las cinco y media de aquella mañana, minuto arriba, minuto abajo, una mosca que parecía muerta desde hacía tiempo en el cristal de la ventana abrió las alas de repente, se las limpió con esmero, restregándoselas bien, echó a volar y al rato cambió de dirección y fue a posarse en la repisa de la mesita de noche. (Traducción del italiano de Carlos Mayor)

Sinopsis: En Vigàta las escenas nocturnas adquieren una belleza leopardiana, pero no absorben el murmullo de las alas invisibles en la tiniebla. En una calle solitaria, una mujer de unos treinta años es raptada, narcotizada con cloroformo y abandonada sin sufrir violencia ni robo, lo mismo que le ocurrió la víspera a la sobrina de Enzo, el propietario de la trattoria favorita de Salvo Montalbano. Ambas tienen en común la edad y que trabajan en sucursales bancarias. Unos días más tarde, otra joven es secuestrada con idéntico modus operandi, pero liberada en este caso con una treintena de cortes superficiales por todo el cuerpo menos la cara. Y coincidiendo con estos sucesos tan extraños, un incendio a todas luces provocado arrasa en parte una tienda cuyo dueño y su novia han desaparecido sin dejar rastro. La situación huele a mafia, pero el paso del tiempo no ha hecho perder a Montalbano un ápice de su fino olfato para descifrar los pequeños detalles y captar las motivaciones ocultas. Cuando todo apunta a una explicación más que obvia, el ejercicio de una lógica impecable lleva al comisario hacia una realidad mucho más compleja, un entramado de perversiones, traiciones y venganzas. En ese laberinto pantanoso de servidumbres y desamores, de lóbrego malestar, se esconde, entre un dédalo de confusiones, una «cámara de la muerte»: la última, la más secreta, el lugar donde lo espera agazapada la verdad.

Mi opinión: El día no había empezado bien. Montalbano confundió al hombre más peligroso, el del cuchillo, con el más débil. Los carabineros confundieron a Montalbano con un alborotador. Adelina confundió a un hombre honesto con un ladrón. Y, dado que los problemas siempre vienen de cuatro en cuatro, Montalbano estaba seguro de que esa misma mañana mató a la mosca inocente, confundiéndola con la culpable. Una vez en la comisaria, Fazio tiene una historia interesante que contarle. A última hora de la noche, un hombre apareció para informar que su hija Manuela fue secuestrada hace cinco días cuando regresaba a casa. Fue dormida con cloroformo y liberada en pocas horas sin más daños y con todas sus pertenencias intactas. El incidente podría haber pasado inadvertido si no hubiera sido por Enzo, el propietario de la trattoria favorita de Montalbano, quien ese mismo día le contó a Montalbano que su sobrina Michela fue víctima de un secuestro similar. Los dos episodios tienen una sola cosa en común, ambas jóvenes trabajan en un banco. A la mañana siguiente, un incendio destruye una gran tienda que vende televisores, teléfonos móviles y otros dispositivos electrónicos, y el propietario, un tal Marcello Di Carlo, no aparece por ninguna parte. El fuego parece haber comenzado deliberadamente y no se puede descartar la mano de la mafia, pero Montalbano no se deja engañar por las apariencias.

Me ha gustado mucho ver a Camilleri una vez más en plena forma en esta nueva entrega. La historia lo tiene todo, una trama intrigante, un misterio apasionante y los personajes habituales de Camilleri. Fue bastante divertido ver cómo Montalbano logra salir con éxito de las situaciones comprometedoras en las que se encuentra involucrado. Todo salpicado con un sentido del humor muy peculiar, como se puede ver en el siguiente pasaje:

“Estaba claro que estaba destinado a la clase de brillante carrera habitual en muchos de los ejecutivos hoy en día: rápido ascenso (tal vez por vender a su propia madre al mejor postor), llegada a la cima, desplome inmediato del valor de las acciones de la empresa, banco o lo que sea, desaparición del citado ejecutivo y reaparición, un año mas tarde del mismo ejecutivo en un puesto de mucha mayor importancia.”

Una lectura muy agradable. Muy recomendable.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Sobre el autor: Andrea Camilleri nació en 1925 en Porto Empedocle, provincia de Agrigento, Sicilia, y últimamente vivía en Roma, donde impartió clases en la Academia de Arte Dramático. Durante cuarenta años fue guionista y director de teatro y televisión. En 1994 crea el personaje de Salvo Montalbano, el entrañable comisario siciliano protagonista de una serie que en la actualidad consta de veintiséis novelas. Todos sus libros ocupan habitualmente el primer puesto en las principales listas de éxitos italianas. Andrea Camilleri es hoy el escritor más popular de Italia y uno de los más leídos de Europa. En 2014 fue galardonado con el IX Premio Pepe Carvalho. El 17 de junio de 2019, Camilleri sufrió un ataque al corazón. Fue ingresado en un hospital en estado crítico y falleció el 17 de julio de 2019. Le echaremos mucho de menos. (Fuente: Ediciones Salamandra)

Ediciones Salamandra página de publicidad

My Book Notes: The Moving Toyshop, 1946 (Gervase Fen Mystery #3) by Edmund Crispin

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Collins Crime Club, 2015. Paperback Edition. 246 pages. First published in Grain Britain by Victor Gollanz, 1946. ISBN: 978-0-00-812412-0.

MovingToyshop_PB-226x345Opening Paragraph: Richard Cadogan raised his revolver, took careful aim and pulled the trigger. The explosion rent the small garden and, like widening circles which surrounded a pebble dropped into the water, created alarms and disturbances of diminishing intensity throughout the suburb of St John’s Wood. From the sooty trees, their leaves brown and gold in the autumn sunlight, rose flights of startled birds. In the distance a dog begun to howl. Richard Cadogan went up the target  and inspected it in a dispirited sort of way. It bore no mark of any kind. 

Synopsis: Richard Cadogan, poet and would-be bon vivant, arrives for what he thinks will be a relaxing holiday in the city of dreaming spires. Late one night, however, he discovers the dead body of an elderly woman lying in a toyshop and is coshed on the head. When he comes to, he finds that the toyshop has disappeared and been replaced with a grocery store. The police are understandably sceptical of this tale but Richard’s former schoolmate, Gervase Fen (Oxford professor and amateur detective), knows that truth is stranger than fiction (in fiction, at least). Soon the intrepid duo are careening around town in hot pursuit of clues but just when they think they understand what has happened, the disappearing-toyshop mystery takes a sharp turn…

My take: Arguing that he’s run out of ideas and needs a change of scenery, the poet Richard Cadogan somehow manages to get from his editor an advance payment of fifty pounds. With the check in his pocket and without further delay he sets out for Oxford, the city in which according to him any eccentricity is possible, in search of adventure and inspiration. His train stops at Didcot and, after a long wait, he discovers there won’t be more trains to Oxford that night. He is able to stop a lorry to take him to Oxford, where he finally arrives at early hours of the night. There, he begins to worry  about where to spend the night and he begins to wander aimlessly, running into nobody. When he finds the door of a store ajar, he enters out of curiosity. It turns out to be a toyshop and, behind the counter, a wooden staircase leads him up to a short passage with two doors. There’s a living room in one of them where he discovers the lifeless body of an old woman, but when he senses a blow to his head, he faints. When he wakes up, he finds himself locked in a small room with several cleaning items. He manages to escape through an open window and informs the police. Returning with the police, the toyshop has disappeared. There’s never been a toyshop in that place and its site is now occupied by a grocery store. In addition, there’s no trace of any corpse. Undoubtedly this is a case suitable only for Professor Gervase Fern, amateur sleuth and former Cadogan’s schoolmate.

Even though my first encounter with a novel by Edmund Crispin was a bit disappointing (my review of Frequent Hearses is here), this does not mean I wasn’t interested in reading some of his works. And, given its popularity, The Moving Toyshop seemed to be the most suitable option. This book, however, had been resting for quite some time on my TBR shelf until  I heard that Christian (Mysteries, Short and Sweet) and JJ (The Invisible Event) were going to re-read it this July and, without hesitation, I decided to read it to make the most of their views. 

Perhaps what first caught my attention in this book was discovering that, despite having been published in 1946, the story is set in Oxford 1938, that is, before the Second World War. Its humorous and funny tone was something that I liked it a lot and I did greatly enjoyed reading it. It is, of course, a nicely written entertaining farce. Although more than a detective novel in the strict sense, it is a mystery book. In fact, it’s a locked-room mystery or, as I prefer to call it, an impossible crime and, definitely, it is a good novel to entertain us but, in my view, it lacks the necessary substance to consider it a masterpiece. It could well be, as Rob Kitchin points out, that the plot is based on far too many coincidences. It is interesting to highlight that, in a couple of times at least, the author breaks the fourth wall, addressing himself directly to the reader.  It’s quite funny when one of the characters begins to suggest Crispin several titles for his next novels. Besides, there are many literary references scattered throughout the book, and I wonder if I’ve been able to grab all their meaning.

Julian Symons wrote in Bloody Murder: “Crispin’s work is marked by a highly individual sense of light comedy, and by a grate flair for verbal deception rather in the Christie manner. If he never gives the impression of solid learning that can be sensed behind Innes’s frivolity, he is also never tiresomely literary. At his weakest he is flippant, at his best he is witty, but all his work shows a high-spiritedness rare and welcome in the crime story. His thrid book, The Moving Toyshop (1946) . . . . , is probably his best.” (page 159, Penguin Books, 1974).

And Martin Edwards in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books highlights about The Moving Toyshop: “Few crime novels can match Edmund Crispin’s most celebrated mystery for sheer exuberance. A teasing, seemingly impossible situation, a wonderfully evoked setting among the dreaming spires of Oxford, and an amateur sleuth in the finest tradition of great detectives, make up the ingredients of a much-loved novel. Published shortly after the Second World War ended, the storyline belongs in spirit to the between-the-wars Golden Age of detective fiction.

My rating: A (I loved it)

About the author: Edmund Crispin was the pseudonym of (Robert) Bruce Montgomery (1921-1978). His first crime novel and musical composition were both accepted for publication while he was still an undergraduate at Oxford. After a brief spell of teaching, he became a full-time writer and composer (Particularly of film music. He wrote the music for six of the Carry On films. But he was also well known for his concert and church music). He also edited science fiction anthologies, and became a regular crime fiction reviewer for The Sunday Times. His friends included Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis and Agatha Christie. He had always been a heavy drinker and, unfortunately, there was a long gap in his writing during a time when he was suffering from alcohol problems. Otherwise he enjoyed a quiet life (enlivened by music, reading, church-going and bridge) in Totnes, a quiet corner of Devon, where he resisted all attempts to develop or exploit the district, visiting London as little as possible. He moved to a new house he had built at Week, a hamlet near Dartington, in 1964, then, late in life, married his secretary Ann in 1976, just two years before he died from alcohol related problems. His music was composed using his real name, Bruce Montgomery.

A biography by David Whittle, Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin: A Life in Music and Books (ISBN 10: 0754634434) was published in June 2007.

The Moving Toyshop has been reviewed at The View form the Blue House, Past Offences, A Penguin a week, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, The Green Capsule, reviewingtheevidence, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, and The Invisible Event among others.

HarperCollinsPublishers publicity page

Edmund Crispin website 

A four part essay on Edmund Crispin from The Passing Tramp: one, two, three and four

audible

La juguetería errante / aka El bazar diabólico (The Moving Toyshop, 1946) de Edmund Crispin

Primer párrafo: Richard Cadogan sacó su revólver, apuntó con cuidado y apretó el gatillo. La explosión rasgó el silencio del pequeño jardín y, como las ondas concéntricas que van haciéndose cada vez más grandes cuando una piedra cae en el agua, generó alarmas y perturbaciones de intensidad progresivamente menor a lo largo de todo el barrio de St John’s Wood. De los árboles cenicientos, con sus hojas pardas y doradas en el atardecer otoñal, se elevaron bandadas de pájaros asustados. En la distancia un perro comenzó a aullar. Richard Cadogan se acercó lentamente a la diana y la escudriñó con gesto resignado. No había ni rastro de marca de ningún tipo. (Traducción de José C. Vales de la edición española de Editorial Impedimenta, 2018)

Synopsis: Cuando el poeta Richard Cadogan decide pasar unos días de vacaciones en Oxford tras una discusión con el avaro de su editor, poco puede imaginar que lo primero que encontrará al llegar a la ciudad, en plena noche, será el cadáver de una mujer tendido en el suelo de una juguetería. Y menos aún que, cuando consigue regresar al lugar de los hechos con la policía, la juguetería habrá desaparecido y, en su lugar, lo que encontrarán será una tienda de ultramarinos en la que, naturalmente, tampoco hay cadáver. Cadogan decide entonces unir fuerzas con Gervase Fen, profesor de literatura inglesa y detective aficionado, el personaje más excéntrico de la ciudad, para resolver un misterio cuyas respuestas se les escapan. Así, el dúo libresco tendrá que enfrentarse a un testamento de lo más inusual, un asesinato imposible, pistas en forma de absurdo poema, y persecuciones alocadas por la ciudad a bordo del automóvil de Fen, Lily Christine III. (Editorial Impedimenta)

Mi opinión: Argumentando que se ha quedado sin ideas y que necesita un cambio de escenario, el poeta Richard Cadogan de alguna manera se las arregla para obtener de su editor un anticipo de cincuenta libras. Con el cheque en el bolsillo y sin más demora, se dirige a Oxford, la ciudad en la que, según él, es posible cualquier excentricidad, en busca de aventura e inspiración. Su tren se detiene en Didcot y, tras una larga espera, descubre que no habrá más trenes a Oxford esa noche. Logra detener un camión para llevarlo a Oxford, donde finalmente llega a primeras horas de la noche. Allí, comienza a preocuparse por dónde pasar la noche y comienza a vagar sin rumbo, sin encontrarse con nadie. Cuando encuentra la puerta de una tienda entreabierta, entra por curiosidad. Resulta ser una juguetería y, detras del mostrador, una escalera de madera lo lleva a un pequeño pasaje con dos puertas. Hay una sala de estar en una de ellas donde descubre el cuerpo sin vida de una mujer mayor, pero cuando siente un golpe en la cabeza, se desmaya. Cuando se despierta, se encuentra encerrado en una pequeña habitación con varios artículos de limpieza. Se las arregla para escapar a través de una ventana abierta e informa a la policía. Regresando con la policía, la juguetería ha desaparecido. Nunca ha habido una en ese lugar y su sitio ahora está ocupado por una tienda de comestibles. Además, no hay rastro alguno de ningún cadáver. Sin duda se trata de un caso apto solo para el profesor Gervase Fern, detective aficionado y antiguo compañero de colegio de Cadogan.

A pesar de que mi primer encuentro con una novela de Edmund Crispin fue un poco decepcionante (mi reseña de Frecuent Hearses está aquí), no significa que no estuviera interesado en leer algunas de sus obras. Y, dada su popularidad, La juguetería errante parecía ser la opción más adecuada. Este libro, sin embargo, había estado descansando durante bastante tiempo en mi estantería de libros por leer hasta que escuché que Christian (Mysteries, Short and Sweet) y JJ (The Invisible Event) iban a releerlo en julio y, sin dudarlo, decidí leerlo para aprovechar al máximo sus opiniones.

Quizás lo primero que me llamó la atención de este libro fue descubrir que, a pesar de haberse publicado en 1946, la historia se desarrolla en Oxford en 1938, es decir, antes de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Su tono cómico y divertido fue algo que me gustó mucho y también es cierto que disfruté mucho al leerlo. Es, por supuesto, una farsa entretenida muy bien escrita. Aunque más que una novela policiaca en sentido estricto, es un libro de misterio. De hecho, es un misterio de habitación cerrada o, como prefiero llamarlo, un crimen imposible y, definitivamente, es una buena novela para entretenernos pero, en mi opinión, carece de la sustancia necesaria para considerarla una obra maestra. Bien podría ser, como señala Rob Kitchin, que la trama se basa en demasiadas coincidencias. Es interesante destacar que, al menos un par de veces, el autor rompe la cuarta pared y se dirige directamente al lector. Es bastante divertido cuando uno de los personajes comienza a sugerirle a Crispin varios títulos para sus próximas novelas. Además, hay muchas referencias literarias dispersas a lo largo del libro, y me pregunto si he podido captar todo su significado.

Julian Symons escribió en Bloody Murder: “El trabajo de Crispin está marcado por un sentido muy particular de comedia ligera, y por un gran gusto por el engaño verbal muy a la manera de Christie. Si nunca da la impresión de un aprendizaje sólido que pueda percibirse detrás de la frivolidad de Innes, tampoco es excesivamente literario. En su peor momento es frívolo, en el mejor ingenioso, pero todo su trabajo muestra una rara y bienvenida fogosidad en la historia de la novela criminal. Su tercer libro, La juguetería errante (1946). . . . , es probablemente el mejor ”(página 159, Penguin Books, 1974).

Y Martin Edwards en The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, destaca sobre La juguetería errante: “Pocas novelas policiacas pueden igualar al misterio más célebre de Edmund Crispin en pura exuberancia. Una broma, en una situación ​​aparentemente imposible, un escenario maravillosamente evocado entre las agujas de ensueño de Oxford y un detective aficionado en la mejor tradición de los grandes detectives, conforman los ingredientes de una novela muy querida. Publicado poco después de finalizar la Segunda Guerra Mundial, la historia pertenece en espíritu a la edad dorada del período de entreguerras de la novela policiaca.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Sobre el autor: Edmund Crispin fue el seudónimo de (Robert) Bruce Montgomery (1921-1978). Su primera novela policíaca y su primera composición musical fueron aceptadas para su publicación cuando aún era estudiante en Oxford. Después de un breve período dedicado a la enseñanza, se convirtió en escritor y compositor a tiempo completo (Especialmente de música de películas. Escribió la música de seis de las Carry On Films. Pero también fue conocido por su música para concierto y religiosa). También editó antologías de ciencia ficción, y se convirtió en el crítico habitual de novela policiaca para The Sunday Times. Entre sus amigos se incluían Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis y Agatha Christie. Siempre había sido un gran bebedor y, desgraciadamente, durante un tiempo sufrió una prolongada laguna en su escritura por problemas con el alcohol. Por lo demás, disfrutó de una vida tranquila (animada por la música, la lectura, la iglesia y el bridge) en Totnes, un rincón tranquilo de Devon, donde resistió todos los intentos por ampliar o sacar el máximo de partido al distrito, visitando lo menos posible Londres. Se mudó a una casa nueva que había construido en Week, un pueblecito cercano a Dartington, en 1964; luego, más tarde, se casó con su secretaria Ann en 1976, solo dos años antes de morir por problemas relacionados con el alcohol. Compuso su música utilizando su verdadero nombre, Bruce Montgomery.

Una biografía de David Whittle, Bruce Montgomery / Edmund Crispin: Una vida en la música y los libros (ISBN 10: 0754634434) fue publicada en junio de 2007.

Editorial Impedimenta página de publicidad

My Tribute to Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri died yesterday 17 July 2019 in Rome, aged 93. Born in Porto Empedocle, Sicily on 6 September 1925. A playwright, scriptwriter, filmmaker and Italian novelist, he was probably best known by the general public as the series creator featuring Commissario Montalbano, a mystery series of which, to the best of my knowledge, up to date 26 27 novels have been published, and some nine collections of short stories. A final book devoted to Montalbano and titled Riccardino, was delivered to the publisher, but without a release date. It represents the Inspector’s concluding story (Inspector Montalbano mysteries #28) and will be the last book to be published in the series, as stated by Camilleri himself.

There can’t be a better tribute to an author than to read his (her) books. Thus, at A Crime is Afoot, I have decided to start reading soon the last of his novels in the series, translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli, The Overnight Kidnapper (Inspector Montalbano mysteries #23) published originally in Italian in 2015 as La giostra degli scambi. Stay tuned.

descargaSynopsis: After a hectic morning involving two rather irritating cases of mistaken identity, Inspector Montalbano finally arrives in his office ready find out what’s troubling Vigàta this week. What he discovers is unnerving. A woman on her way home from work has been held up at gunpoint, chloroformed and kidnapped, but then released just hours later – unharmed and with all her possessions – into the open countryside. Later that day, Montalbano hears from Enzo, the owner of his favourite restaurant, that his niece has recently been the victim of the exact same crime. Before long, a third instance of this baffling overnight kidnapping has been reported. As far as Montalbano can tell, there is no link between the attacker and the victims. So what exactly is this mystery assailant gaining from these fleeting kidnappings? And what can he do to stop them? Montalbano must use all his logic and intuition if he is to answer these pressing questions before the kidnapper finds his next victim . . .

The Other End of the Line (Inspector Montalbano mysteries #24), originally published in Italian in 2016 as L’altro capo del filo, will go on sale on 5 September 2019.

Rest in peace, Andrea Camilleri.

The Birth of the Golden Age

The expression ‘Golden Age of detective fiction’ seems to have been coined by John Strachey in an article published by The Saturday Review in 1939 where he wrote: ‘Three sorts of novels are being written in England today. First, there are the best sellers; second, there are the highbrow intellectual novels; and third, there are the detective stories.’  To add later on:

The remaining branch of English fiction, which it is worth saying a word or two about, is the third category, that of the detective novel. And here, as a steady student, I feel a little more qualified to speak. In this queer little bypath of letters, and here almost alone, there are in England the characteristic signs of vigor and achievement. This is, perhaps, the Golden Age of the English detective story writers. Here suddenly we come to a field of literature—if you can call it that—which is genuinely flourishing.
Here are a dozen or so authors at work, turning out books which you find that your friends have read and are eager to discuss. Here are books which the authors evidently enjoyed writing and the readers unaffectedly enjoy reading. I have myself little doubt that some of these detective novels are far better jobs, on any account, than are nine tenths of the more pretentious and ambitious highbrow novels. It is characteristic of the situation that a whole list of names comes into one’s mind the minute one begins to think of detective writers. There are, for example, what we may call the “old masters.” There are Sayers, Christie, and Freeman Wills Crofts; and brooding now almost silently above them, there hovers the father of the contemporary detective novel, Mr. A, C. Bentley of that still un – surpassed classic, “Trent’s Last Case.” 
. . .
It is, however, in the work of what I may call the “young masters,” the work of, for example, Marjorie Allingham, Michael Innes, and Nicholas Blake, that the most interesting and curious developments of the detective story are taking place.

And following Martin Edwards suggestion on The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, a good place to start to become familiar with the Golden Age of detective fiction might the following novels:

  1. Trent’s Last Case by E. C. Bentley (1913)
  2. In the Night by Lord Gorell (1917)
  3. The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher (1919)
  4. The Skeleton Key by Bernard Capes (1919)
  5. The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts (1920)
  6. The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne (1922)

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Except for In the Night by Lord Gorell (1917) that is out of print, and its second-hand editions are ridiculously high priced, I look forward to reading the rest of these novels soon. Stay tuned.