BEING A READER, Crime books

The unsolved mysteries of Andrea Camilleri

Reading what must be my tenth Andrea Camilleri mystery featuring Inspector Montalbano, I was struck by a few mysteries of my own: Why, when there are so many authors and books to read, do I choose to read what pretty much amounts to the same book over and over? Secondly, why among all the series in the world, do I choose this one?

Here’s how the typical Inspector Montalbano book goes:

Our hero wakes up, thinks of dreams, food and his faraway girlfriend, Livia. The phone rings to alert him to or he witnesses something odd that leads to a can of worms. At his office, Catarella mangles the language and bursts through doors for comic relief. Other running gags involve Salvo Montalbano’s relationships with his superiors and colleagues in other departments.

Montalbano meets a woman who seems to fall in love with him. There is also the constant sexual tension between him and his friend Ingrid. Livia calls on the phone, gets mad, but they always seem to make up. The activities of small-time crooks may have Mafia connections. After many wrong turnings, Inspector Montalbano solves the case and sets up a trap for the criminals. In between, he eats a lot and makes acerbic remarks about Italian politics.

That more or less covers it. Yet, there I am, taking yet another one from the shelf.

Perhaps this has to do with having had a pleasant experience and wanting to relive it. Maybe it’s laziness, not wanting to be challenged. Maybe it’s comforting to know exactly what you’re getting into.

Which is strange. Because, if you ask, I’ll tell you what I want in a book is to be surprised, to have a unique experience. And yet what I read tells a different story, being the same story over and over… So I have to put up my hands and admit I’m intellectually lazy, more of a comfort seeker than I’d like to think.

As has been suggested, readers want to be surprised moment by moment, but not by the overall experience. That would explain why the most successful authors become brands, repeating the same formula until they’re rich and worn out enough not to care any more.

This still wouldn’t explain why, in choosing an Andrea Camilleri book, I bypass all the other new mystery series books on display. What is it about Camilleri’s books that’s so appealing?

The plots are clever, hang together and move quickly, but that probably goes for nine out ten other mystery novels. The writing is full of local colour and snappy dialogue, but that probably goes for eight out of ten other mystery novels. The character of Montalbano is mildly interesting, but certainly not inspired, which – just to bedevil the numerical sequence – probably goes for ten out of ten other mystery novels.

So why am I a repeat offender when it comes to these books and no other? … A case for Inspector Montalbano, I suppose.

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