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Mystery review: The Terracotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri

Original Italian title: Il cane di terracotta
Translator: Stephen Sartarelli (2002)
Genre: Mystery
Year of publication: 1996
No. in series: 2
Series detective: Inspector Salvo Montalbano
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Sicily, Italy; 1993

When working on a case, Inspector Montalbano discovers a sealed-off cave and inside it the dessicated bodies of two young people, murdered 50 years before. The bodies have been ritualistically surrounded by a life-size terracotta dog, a water jug and a bowl of money. While on sick-leave, Montalbano has time to investigate the case and makes some interesting discoveries.

Review and rating:
As with the previous books I read by Camilleri, I found this one to be a good mixture of skilful writing and plotting and great storytelling. Combined with the humour, some quite poignant but never sappy scenes and some of the most mouthwatering descriptions of food I have read in any mystery, it makes for great reading.
And of course there is Montalbano. He is far from being perfect, but it is exactly his flaws that make him more human and endearing than many other detectives. He is, I think, a good example of how a character’s flaws can be used to make him come alive on the page.

The mystery itself is a bit lame, but the way that Montalbano finally solves the final part of the riddle is ingenious, and somehow I can easily imagine his gambit working in Italy, simply because the Italians seem to have such a highly developed appreciation for melodrama.

Stephen Sartarelli’s translation is excellent, by which I mean that it reads like the text was written in English but still retains an Italian flavour. The list in the back of the book, of terms and other stuff that needs explaining, is useful but at the same time unobtrusive so that one doesn’t feel like one has to read it.

Highly recommended. 4 stars.


Anonymous said…
Hey bibliophile,
I just recently found your blog and I enjoy it a lot!
I'm glad you reviewed a couple of Camilleri's books as I was thinking of trying one.
By the way, did you know that Camilleri named his hero, Montalbano, in tribute to Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán? VM also wrote murder mysteries (among others things). They feature a P.I. called Pepe Carvalho who lives and works in Barcelona. I'm currently reading a Carvalho for the first time, and I like it... up until now. Can't wait to see how it ends!
I'll be back to read your very interesting blog for sure, bibliophile.
Bibliophile said…
Luciek, I did know about the Montalbán connection. Camilleri makes it quite clear in this book, as Montalbano is actually reading a Carvalho book early on in the story.

The one Carvalho book I have read, "The Spa" was a strange and dark story with a deus ex machina ending which I didn't particularly like, but I have another, "The Southern Seas", which looks promising.

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