Work has been a bit grim lately so, to cheer me up, P booked us a weekend away in Oxford. I’d never been before but we had a great time exploring all those ancient streets, colleges and museums. We crammed a lot in that day, including a stop for lunch at a veggie pub called The Gardener’s Arms where I had a really good chilli cheese hot dog. I don’t really like hot dogs. That’s how good this one was.
Our table was next to a little book shelf and while we waited for our food we spent a little time browsing. Inevitably I ended up taking two books home with me and the barman would only let me give him £3 for them, which was very kind as they were both in good nick. One of the books was The Haunted House, a collection of Victorian ghost stories from the likes of Dickens, Gaskell, Collins et al. Apparently I don’t have enough classic ghost stories.
The other was this book, an Inspector Montalbano mystery by Andrea Camilleri, chosen purely because I love the TV show which you can sometimes find on BBC 4 late at night. In case you’ve not seen it, most of the show is taken up with the insanely long opening credits but there’s also some beautiful Sicilian scenery, several people shouting at each other in Italian, some petty crime and lots of really gratuitous shots of seafood being prepared and eaten. I mean, really, it’s mainly about a man who eats seafood and solves the occasional murder on the side. Usually after his afternoon nap. I love it.
In this book Salvo Montalbano investigates the death of a local politician whose body is discovered in a car on a notorious beach used by local prostitutes. He suspects it’s got something to do with political rivalry in the dead guy’s party but he’s also got to deal with a missing diamond necklace, a mafia shoot out and an old man who thinks his wife is having an affair with the octogenarian postman. To make things worse several beautiful women want to sleep with him but he’s too preoccupied with eating seafood, napping and solving crimes to pay them any attention.
“As they ate they spoke of eating, as always happens in Italy. Zito, after reminiscing about the heavenly shrimp he had enjoyed ten years earlier at Fiacca, criticised these for being a little over done and regretted that they lacked a hint of parsley…”
I wasn’t overly gripped by the mystery but I think this is probably down to the very casual, laid back style in which it’s written. Part of me loves all that local colour; the food, the sunsets, the beautiful women, the humour. The scene setting is actually really well done and Camilleri is great at providing really effortless place descriptions that don’t feel tired or forced. But the other half of me gets frustrated and wants to feel a bit more engaged with the story and the characters. I guess it’s a book you read for the setting and the atmosphere, rather than for the mystery.
I hate to say it but I think I might prefer the TV show. Actually, let’s be truthful, I don’t hate to say it. I get a weird, perverted kick out of preferring the adaptation to the book. I’m like that. But I’m glad I read it, if only because I’ve been meaning to read one of these books ever since I discovered the show. At least now I can cross it off my ever growing TBR list.