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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Terracotta Dog. Andrea Camilleri. Stephen Sartarelli (Translator) Picador (2002)

A wonderfully atmospheric crime story set in Sicily with a clever plot, an engaging cast and a superb leading character. Inspector Salvo Montalbano has a most unexpected meeting with a leading Mafioso which ultimately leads to a hidden cave which proves to have multiple secrets. A pair of lovers, embracing in death, was laid to rest there fifty years before, with a large terracotta dog keeping watch over them. The story twists and turns as the inspector tries to unravel the mysteries of the cave. The reveals are cunningly staged, the cast are bursting with life and vigour and the conclusion is heartfelt and very satisfying.
The major character in the story is Sicily itself in all its contradictory glory. The extraordinary sense of place that Andrea Camilleri is able to conjure up without it ever becoming a travelogue is vital. The context provides the stage for the wonderful strutting cast to play upon, they are so strongly at home that the action feels completely natural. The epidemic corruption and the accommodations to it as well as the struggle against it saturate the story without ever obscuring it.
Inspector Montalbano is as much a pleasure to read about as it would be a terror to work with. He is clever, forceful, terrified of public speaking and utterly dogged. He is a great mix and emerges with force and clarity, the rest of the cast are to a lesser or greater extent in his shadow, they all are demanding to be noticed too. It is the determined vitality of the cast that gives the book its weight and grip. This is a great story brilliantly told.

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