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la prima indagine di montalbano

18 october 2016

Atypically for a Montalbano story, "Sette lunedi" – "Seven Mondays" – begins from the perspective of the perpetrator, not from Salvo Montalbano's. The perpetrator, in this instance, snares a fish from a live tank, after hours at a fancy restaurant, and shoots the fish in the head. Our heroes seem to be dealing with a maniac, possibly a religious maniac, who has set them an elaborate puzzle – and failure to solve it within those seven Mondays may be disastrous.

The title story "La prima indagine di Montalbano" ("Montalbano's First Case"), like so many "first cases" of other fictional commissaires, is best read after you've read all his other cases. Here we learn how Montalbano was promoted to Commissario and assigned to Vigàta. He meets Fazio (a little older than he is, a detail not salient in the series as a whole), and the detectives Gallo and Galluzzo; he finds his favorite trattoria and the flat rock by the breakwater where he goes to digest and meditate after lunch. He finds a house on the beach in Marinella.

Salvo has not yet found Livia (he's seeing a woman named Mery, and treating her much like he'll treat Livia, with affection but never revealing parts of himself to her; and he's a habitual liar from day one). Catarella is not in evidence – someone with normal language is answering the phone. Mimí Augello is not yet vice-commissario. Yet we see the pieces of the Montalbano formula falling into place early – an imaginary early, that is, an early of retrospect based on the imaginary "later" that gives us Vigàta fully formed in the series of novels.

A theme of "La prima indagine" is that Montalbano breaks all the rules, and Fazio is the cautious veteran who keeps upbraiding him and telling him he'll end up in prison himself some day. This isn't part of Fazio's character note in the novels, but perhaps we assume that after long acquaintance with Montalbano's methods, Fazio finally had to become inured to them to keep working in that office.

The plot? A young femme fatale pretends that a mafioso has ordered her to kill a judge. The judge himself is unharmed, but both the girl and the mafioso are in trouble. Montalbano's method, as so often, is to ensure that the right amount of trouble gets inflicted on each of them. If it's not always for the exact crimes they've committed, chalk it up to a larger account of justice.

"Ritorno alle origini," "Back to Beginnings," starts with the disappearance, and sudden reappearance, of a four-year-old girl. She's been slapped but not otherwise harmed: not held for ransom, not sexually assaulted. What kind of crime has happened, if any crime at all? Many typical elements of the Montalbano mystery are present here: "metodi poco ortodossi" ("quite unorthodox methods," 328) including role-playing, traps, subterfuges; a beautiful woman who takes a shine to Salvo and complicates his relationship with Livia; Fazio's obsession with vital statistics. Once again, the mafia have their tentacles into everything, and Montalbano conducts his perpetual low-level war against them.

There are no murders in any of the three stories, Camilleri notes, though this means that he doesn't see the assassination of an elephant as murder. In any case, he observes, "i morti ammazzati, nelle mie storie, sono sempre un pretesto" ("murders, in my fiction, are always just a pretext," 341): a pretext, I suppose, for social commentary, and for storytelling itself.

Camilleri, Andrea. La prima indagine di Montalbano. 2004. Milano: Oscar Mondadori, 2005.