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.