The Terracotta Dog (1996) by Andrea Camilleri (translated by Stephen Sartarelli)

Having already read several of Inspector Montalbano’s cases by the time I got the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives, when I came to the entry on Pepe Carvalho, a Spanish gourmand, created by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, I knew there had to be a connection given that Montalbano is always stuffing his face, often with seafood, described so lovingly that it even makes me hungry and I generally take my fish in fingers. This is made explicit in this, the second book in the series, as Montalbano is reading one of Carvalho’s cases, although he reflects that “in matters of taste he was closer to Maigret than to Pepe Carvalho…who stuffed himself with dishes that would have set a shark’s belly on fire”.

Montalbano lives and works in Vigàta,a fictional town on the island of Sicily, and so organised crime in the form of the Mafia is often present in one form or another. This case begins with a meeting with an old, high-ranking Mafioso who is looking for a way to retire but becomes a cold case dating back to WWII.

In this he is helped by his womanising second-in-command, Augello, the loyal Fazio with his Records Office complex (he has to introduce any person with a potted biography before getting down to the pertinent facts) and hindered by the malapropistic Catarella, who does eventually reveal a hidden and unsuspected talent in later books. 

As someone said to me recently about Margery Allingham’s books, you don’t read them for the mystery, you read them for the characters, and I would have to apply this description to Camilleri’s work. I’m not going to rush out and get any more, but I will pick them up if I find them in charity shops, and at some point I will definitely read the last book in the series “Riccardino” in which – shades of “Maigret’s Memoirs” – author and character meet.


#78 – Miss Marple’s Final Cases

Or to give it the full title on the UK first edition “Miss Marple’s 6 Final Cases and 2 Other Stories”. As they were originally written and published between 1935 and 1954 they weren’t her final cases at all.

Sanctuary – Miss Marple solves the riddle of a dying man’s last words. This was written specially for the Westminster Abbey restoration appeal which may explain why a church was chosen as a key location in it.

Strange Jest – Miss Marple hunts for treasure.

Tape-Measure Murder – a nice story set in St Mary Mead but it would have been a better mystery if Christie had borrowed Chesterton’s title “The Point of a Pin”.

The Case of the Caretaker – Dr Haydock sets Miss Marple a puzzle to cheer her up whilst she is convalescing. Christie went on to expand this into a later non-series novel so you have been warned.

The Case of the Perfect Maid – Miss Marple intervenes to catch a thief.

Miss Marple Tells a Story – does what it says on the tin. This was written for radio and Christie read it herself making her technically the first person to play Miss Marple.

The Dressmaker’s Doll and In a Glass Darkly both belong in a collection similar to “The Hound of Death”.

And so farewell to “Aunt” Jane for the last time.

Recurring characters

Miss Marple

Shows her economic mindset when she goes shopping in London:

“Really a prewar quality face towel,” gasped Miss Marple, slightly out of breath. ” With a J on it, too. So fortunate that Raymond’s wife’s name is Joan. I shall put them aside until I really need them and then they will do for her if I pass on sooner than I expect.” 

Had an Uncle Henry who was very fond of flowers and whose motto was “Never show emtion”.

Signs of the Times

Miss Marple prefers the work of Mr Alma-Tadema and Mr Frederic Leighton to that of Joan West. Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) was a Dutch painter and Sir Frederic Leighton (1830-96) was a British artist.

References to previous works

Bunch Harmon, revealed in “Sanctuary” to be Miss Marple’s favourite godchild, first appeared in “A Murder is Announced”.

Jane Helier, who introduces Edward and Charmian to Miss Marple in “Strange Jest”, appeared in the second six of “The Thirteen Problems”.

Mr Petherick, who brings a client to see Miss Marple in “Miss Marple Tells a Story”, appeared in the first six of “The Thirteen Problems”. He has now died and his son has taken over his practice. 

The Finchley Puzzle (1916) by Richard Marsh


Judith Lee, one of the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives is described by one adversary as “a young woman who calls herself a teacher of the deaf and dumb; in reality she is the most dangerous thing in England. The police aren’t in it compared with her: they make blunders, thank God; she doesn’t. If she catches sight of your face at distance of I don’t know how many miles, and you happen to open your lips, you are done.”

Her great talent is lip-reading and having an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time to “overhear” conversations of a criminal nature. And yet twice in this short story she takes absolutely no precautions when she opens what she knows are very likely dangerous parcels (compare this to Dr Thorndyke’s elaborate actions in “As a Thief in the Night” when dealing with a much less suspect package) and almost loses her life both times. I knew I had come across one of the methods used before and on looking it up found it to have been in a short story written by Marsh twenty years earlier.

Judith does a neat job of work to get close to a suspect but beyond that there was little of interest to me and no reason to get hold of either volume that collects her other twenty-one cases. Why she made the cut when the aforementioned Thorndyke did not is a much bigger puzzle than what happened in Finchley.