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il metodo catalanotti

23 november 2018

Once again, Salvo Montalbano has a crazy dream, and once again, his dream is telling him that somebody's calling him on the phone, trying to tell him about another fresh murder case.

And in this case it's Mimì Augello, with a corpse of his own. No, Mimì hasn't killed anybody. But in ducking out of a jealous husband's apartment, Mimì has wandered into another apartment where a corpse has taken up residence. And a short while later, returning to investigate, Mimì discovers that "his" corpse has disappeared.

A corpse very much resembling Mimiì's appears in a different Vigàta apartment. It is the body of Carmelo Catalanotti, the title character: a miraculous acting coach and small-time loan shark. The title "method" of the novel is Catalanotti's patented technique for getting actors into character, which consists of various applications of psychological torture. Between that and the loan-sharking, it's a wonder he'd remained alive as long as he did.

But nobody from Catalanotti's acting troupe or his list of financial clients is eager to illuminate Montalbano about any motives they had for killing him. It seems that, from beyond the grave, Catalanotti still exerts some kind of hold over his debtors and his pupils. As Augello notes at one point, "cchiù che essiri 'n usuraro o 'n omo di tiatro, era un vero e propio sbirro" (226): more than a moneylender or a man of the theater, Catalanotti was a real and true detective. Fascinated by humanity, he fascinated them in turn, and the dynamic seems to have gotten him killed.

The copious notes that Catalanotti took on his sessions with actors may hold the answers. So, in the company of a new chief of forensics named Antonia, Salvo sets about combing these documents for clues. Hence the personal subplot of Il metodo Catalanotti: Montalbano embarks on a physical relationship with this sharp, independent-minded young woman. In a score of novels past, he has flirted regularly with new acquaintances, and sometimes found himself on the brink of infidelity to his long-time partner Livia, but he has usually pulled back or extricated himself before long. Here, he pursues a new relationship – even to the point of buying a new wardrobe. I would say that Salvo is having a mid-life crisis, but he must be well past middle age by now.

Camilleri, now 93 and blind, dictates his novels, and it may be fair to say partly collaborates on them with his secretaries. Sometimes the comic scenes in Catalanotti are labored, and the overall plot is fairly creaky. But I found myself reading along with interest and affection for Montalbano, whatever his male angst and his male shortcomings. Few detective series at their height have been as good as Montalbano in his later days.

Camilleri, Andrea. Il metodo Catalanotti. Palermo: Sellerio, 2018.