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25 march 2021
I have announced, several times, that I was reading the last Montalbano novel, but Riccardino really is the last; there will be no more unless somebody finds another manuscript or scrap of one in the late Andrea Camilleri's desk and markets it as the final final Montalbano.
Riccardino bears such a strong literary debt to Les mémoires de Maigret that I have to think that Camilleri knew Georges Simenon's tour de force. If not, it's just one of those things. The meta-murder-mystery has a long lineage even before Simenon, even if few writers have taken it to the virtuoso extremes of the Mémoires or Riccardino.
All the other Montalbanos have titles of the form "the something preposition something." In an endnote, Camilleri acknowledges the departure, but says that Riccardino was a working title for what was always intended to be his final Montalbano, and he got used to it and never thought of a replacement. Drafted in the mid-2000s, revised in the mid-2010s after Camilleri was blind and working solely via dictation, Riccardino puts an end to the Montalbano series by pitting Salvo against his toughest nemesis yet. L'Autore. Andrea Camilleri.
Most Montalbanos begin with Salvo waking up. Often he wakes up because he gets a phone call, and usually the caller is Catarella from the office. This time, though, it's a stranger named Riccardino. It's clearly a wrong number, but Riccardino does not wait for an explanation, telling his listener to meet him right away. Montalbano, with his usual insouciance, agrees.
A little while later, it is Catarella on the phone; somebody has been shot. Riccardino.
The mystery becomes how the three friends who were meeting Riccardino for a sporting excursion might be involved in his murder, and how their wives figure into the equation, and how a second case – a strange nightly performance involving a cul-de-sac, a truck driver, and a canister of gasoline – might be obliquely related. All pretty standard for Montalbano's crime-ridden city of Vig&agreave;ta.
Only this time, we learn that for several years now, a certain Autore has been transcribing Salvo's investigations into best-selling novels. They've even made a TV series out of them, in which Montalbano is played by an actor cchiù picciotto di 'na decina d'anni (il cornuto!): ten years younger than Salvo, the bastard (21).
Usually l'Autore waits a while before turning a Montalbano case into a novel, but the years are gaining on him and to save time, he decides to write this one while Salvo is in the process of solving the case. But Montalbano doesn't make much progress, and l'Autore suspects him of dragging his feet, perversely doing the exact opposite of what clever TV Salvo would do.
I'll drop the summary there so as not to spoil anything. I don't know if this conceit entirely works. Riccardino gets a bit schematic, and the extra layer of complication might not altogether justify the confusions it brings. But it's worth it for moments like the one where Montalbano and l'Autore start to haggle over where a particular street is located, and l'Autore has to remind Salvo "Vigàta l'ho inventata io": I invented the city of Vigàta (222). And all the other characters, too but can l'Autore control Salvo Montalbano himself?
Camilleri, Andrea. Riccardino. Palermo: Sellerio, 2020.