Review: The Pyramid of Mud, 2018 (Montalbano #22) by Andrea Camilleri (Trans: Stephen Sartarelli)

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Mantle, 2018. Format; Kindle edition. File size: 2674 KB. Print length: 274 pages. ASIN: B074SVBH86. ISBN: 978-1-4472-9837-3. First published in Italian in 2014 as La piramide di fango by Sellerio Editore, Palermo. Translated by Stephen Sartarelli in 2018.

610nUmH 9kLFirst paragraph: The thunderclap was so loud that not only did Montalbano suddenly wake up in terror, but he gave such a start that he nearly fell out of bed.

Synopsis: It’s been raining for days in Vigàta, and the persistent downpours have led to violent floods overtaking the Inspector’s beloved hometown, sweeping across the land and leaving only a sea of mud behind. It is on one of these endless grey days that a man – a Mr Giuglù Nicotra – is found dead. His body discovered in a large sewage tunnel, half naked and with a bullet in his back. The investigation is slow and slippery to start with, but when Montalbano realizes that every clue he uncovers and every person he interviews is leading to the same place: the world of public spending – and with it, the Mafia – the case begins to pick up pace. But there’s one question that keeps playing on Montalbano’s mind: in his strange and untimely death, was Giuglù Nicotra trying to tell him something?

My take: Montalbano have just woken himself up recalling the dream he was having. He was walking through a tunnel in complete darkness, except for an oil lamp  which didn’t gave off much light. A man was following him, someone whom he knew but whose name he couldn’t remember. The man was not being able to keep up with him and was loosing too much blood due to a wound.  When Montalbano heard a scream, he turned around just to realise that the man had dropped on the ground dead. He was remembering all this seeing a man’s body that had been discovered on a construction site, in a kind of tunnel inside a pipe. Forensics had established he was shot before he went into the pipe and had died about an hour before his corpse was found. Not without effort, the body was identified as Giuglù Nicotra, the head accounting officer for one of the leading construction companies. Nicotra was married with a young German woman. The investigation of the case leads Montalbano to the shadowy world of public contracting and bogus concessions. Powerful forces will do whatever it takes to force shutting the investigation as a clear case of domestic jealousies. However Montalbano is not willing to look the other way and, true to his principles, he won’t stop until finding the truth. Meanwhile Livia remains depressed for François death until she returns to be her own self upon adopting a pet puppy.

Occasionally, when reading a Montalbano book, one may have the impression that they respond to a plain formula, though quite effective and highly successful. It may be true in this new instalment in the series, but anyway I must confess I’ve enjoyed reading The Pyramid of Mud. I’ve always find in this series an antidote to boredom. Its stories transport us to a setting that, although known, it’s nonetheless fascinating. Its dialogues are smart and funny, the interaction between characters is extremely entertaining, Camilleri has a nice sense of humour, and his novels are seasoned with a fine dose of social and political criticism of present day Italy that, in my view, is very gratifying, and is part of Camilleri’s unique hallmark. Even when Camilleri is not at his very best, it is always a pleasure reading one of his books. And this particular book is no exception. I truly believe that it will not disappoint his faithful readers and that it may be prove appealing to those who would like to get into Inspector Montalbano’s world for the first time. Thus, I have no objection whatsoever in recommending this book.

A short snippet to illustrate this:

Walking past Catarella’s desk, he noticed he was busy trying to solve a crossword puzzle. His brow was furrowed and he was chewing the end of his pencil. `Need any help’?’ ?Yeah, Chief. I can’t tink od a wold.’ ‘What’s the definition?’ ‘”Together with the carabinieri, they pursue killers and thieves and maintain law and order.” ‘How many letters?’ ‘Six.’ ‘Police.? ‘Are you sure? I tought o’ that, but then I arased it.’ ‘Why?’ ‘When have us police ever woiked t’gether with the carabinieri?’ Iron-clad logic.

My rating: A (I loved it)

About the Author: Andrea Camilleri born 6 September 1925) is an Italian writer. 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. Camilleri now lives in Rome. (Source: Wikipedia)

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 Saba in 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:

The Pyramid of Mud has several reviews at Goodreads

Pan MacMillan publicity page

Penguin Random House publicity page

Sellerio publicity page 

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series


La pirámide de fango, de Andrea Camilleri

Primer párrafo: El restallido del trueno fue tan fuerte que Montalbano no solo se despertó de golpe y porrazo con un buen susto en el cuerpo, sino que además por poco se cayó de la cama del gran respingo que dio. (traducción Carlos Mayor Ortega)

Sinopsis: Durante días ha estado lloviendo en Vigàta, y los persistentes aguaceros han desembocado en violentas inundaciones que han anegado la querida ciudad natal del inspector, arrasando la tierra y dejando solo un mar de lodo. Es en uno de estos interminables días grises que un hombre, un tal señor Giuglù Nicotra, es encontrado muerto. Su cuerpo apareció en un gran túnel de aguas residuales, medio desnudo y con una bala en la espalda. La investigación es lenta y resbaladiza para empezar, pero cuando Montalbano se da cuenta de que cada pista que descubre y cada persona que entrevista está conduciendo al mismo lugar: el mundo del gasto público, y con él, la Mafia, el caso comienza a adquirir ritmo. Pero hay una pregunta que le sigue rondando a Montalbano en la cabeza: en su extraña y prematura muerte, ¿no estaba acaso Giuglù Nicotra tratando de decirle algo?

Mi opinión: Montalbano acaba de despertarsr recordando el sueño que estaba teniendo. Estaba caminando a través de un túnel en completa oscuridad, a excepción de una lámpara de aceite que no emitía mucha luz. Un hombre lo estaba siguiendo, alguien a quien conocía pero cuyo nombre no podía recordar. El hombre no podía seguirle el ritmo y estaba perdiendo demasiada sangre debido a una herida. Cuando Montalbano oyó un grito, se dio la vuelta para darse cuenta de que el hombre había caído muerto al suelo. Estaba recordando todo esto al ver el cuerpo de un hombre que había sido descubierto en una obra en construcción, en una especie de túnel dentro de una tubería. Los forenses habían establecido que le dispararon antes de entrar en la tubería y que había muerto aproximadamente una hora antes de que encontraran su cadáver. No sin esfuerzo, el cuerpo fue identificado como Giuglù Nicotra, el director contable de una de las principales empresas constructoras. Nicotra estaba casado con una joven alemana. La investigación del caso conduce a Montalbano hasta el tenebroso mundo de la contratación pública y de las falsas concesiones. Poderosas fuerzas harán lo que sea necesario para obligar a cerrar la investigación como un caso claro de celos familiares. Sin embargo, Montalbano no está dispuesto a mirar hacia otro lado y, fiel a sus principios, no se detendrá hasta encontrar la verdad. Mientras tanto, Livia sigue deprimida por la muerte de François hasta que vuelve a ser ella misma al adoptar un cachorro como mascota.

Ocasionalmente, al leer un libro de Montalbano, uno puede tener la impresión de que responden a una fórmula simple, aunque bastante efectiva y altamente exitosa. Puede ser cierto en esta nueva entrega de la serie, pero de todos modos debo confesar que he disfrutado leyendo La pirámide de fango. Siempre he encontrado en esta serie un antídoto contra el aburrimiento. Sus historias nos transportan a un escenario que, aunque conocido, no deja de ser fascinante. Sus diálogos son inteligentes y divertidos, la interacción entre personajes es extremadamente entretenida, Camilleri tiene un buen sentido del humor, y sus novelas están sazonadas con una buena dosis de crítica social y política de la Italia actual que, en mi opinión, es muy gratificante , y es parte del sello distintivo de Camilleri.  Incluso cuando Camilleri no está en su mejor momento, siempre es un placer leer uno de sus libros. Y este libro en particular no es una excepción. Realmente creo que no defraudará a sus fieles lectores y que puede resultar atractivo para aquellos a quienes les gustaría adentrarse por primera vez en el mundo del Inspector Montalbano. Por lo tanto, no tengo ninguna objeción en recomendar este libro.

Un pequeño fragmento para ilustrar esto:

Al pasar junto a la mesa de Catarella, notó que estaba ocupado tratando de resolver un crucigrama. Tenía el ceño fruncido y mordía el extremo de su lápiz.
-¿Necesitas ayuda?
-Sí, Jefe. No consigo saberlo.
-¿Cuál es la definición?
-Junto con los carabinieri, persiguen asesinos y ladrones, mateniendo la ley y el orden.
-¿Cuántas letras?
-¿Está seguro? Lo pensé, pero luego lo borré.
-¿Por qué?
-¿Cuándo hemos trabajado nosotros la policía con los carabinieri?
Lógica aplastante.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Sobre el autor: Andrea Camilleri nació en 1925 en Porto Empedocle, provincia de Agrigento, Sicilia, y actualmente vive 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. (Fuente: Ediciones Salamandra)

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