Inspector Montalbano #3: The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri

Read: 26 November, 2012

I was introduced to Inspector Montalbano on a trip to visit my dad, who has lately been burning through the series and couldn’t stop raving about it. While I was there, we watched a couple of the TV shows, and then dad sent me The Snack Thief as a birthday present.

I can be quite picky about mysteries. I find that too often they rely on withholding information or on giving the characters absurd ideas or quasi-psychic insight to reach the correct conclusions, and that’s frustrating because it makes me feel lectured to, rather than an active participant in the solving efforts. The Snack Thief handled this perfectly – all the information is presented to the reader as it’s discovered, and any withheld information had good reasons for being withheld. When Montalbano thought that the answer lay in one direction, it’s what I would have guessed as well. When he was wrong, I was wrong too, and not frantically yelling at him to just please think about Clue X.

The characters are fantastic – they are all, truly, characters, with very amusing quirks and details. Even small side characters aren’t spared the gift of personality. While it may seem like an odd comparison, it reminded me somewhat of A Song of Ice and Fire, except, of course, that the quirks and details were funny rather than depressing and horrifying.

I highly recommend this book and, more broadly, the Inspector Montalbano series. It’s a quick read, easily finished in an afternoon, but it isn’t fluff, and it’s hilarious. My only advice would be not to read it on an empty stomach!

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A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Thanks for the recommendation, Kristin!

Read: 3 October, 2010

In a small Wisconsin town, Ralph Truitt, a wealthy business man, places an advert in the papers for a reliable wife. After carefully reviewing the applicants, he finally selects Catherine Land. Now he waits in the bitter cold for her train to arrive. But when she disembarks, Truitt sees that she looks nothing like her picture. And so begins a relationship fraught with deception.

This is a novel of bad and broken people trying to find hope in each other. It’s a sad story, set in a bleak and unwelcoming landscape. It was difficult reading at times, with characters I couldn’t help but like despite knowing that I shouldn’t, doing things I know I should disapprove of.

The writing style was excellent, very accessible. It’s always lovely to be able to focus on the story without having to worry about meandering sentences. The characterisations were excellent. I really felt as though I were getting to know Catherine and Ralph, as though they were real people with complex goals and emotions that exist independently of the author.

This is a fantastic book to read on a cold wintry day!

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The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Read: 28 November, 2008

Having been a huge fan of the movie version for years, my approach to the book was understandably loaded. I already had an image of what the characters would be like and how the plot would unfold. As I read, I kept referring back to the movie and comparing the two versions – sometimes favourably and sometimes not. Ultimately, however, I realized that the two are entirely different entities, having only some plot elements and names in common.

Overall, I found the characterizations of the movie to be more enjoyable, from a purely emotional stand-point. I don’t think any film has ever captured the awkwardness of growing up quite so well as Adso’s kitchen scene with the village girl! Sean Connery’s William was the familiar figure of the innocent and slightly naive genius. And then there’s Ron Pearlman’s Salvatore – a character the book version can only be a poor foretelling of.

In the novel version, however, the characters didn’t come through as much – perhaps because they were more realistic and didn’t draw quite so much on stereotypes and archetypes. On an intellectual level, this worked just fine. On an emotional level, however, I just had too much trouble bonding with any of the characters for it to really work. That being said, I don’t know how much of this is because of the movie version’s taint.

The novel is long and slow (an intentional feature, if the appended essay is to be believed), but it is never tedious. The rythm is steady and only as slow as it needs to be. Whenever I would feel myself just starting to get bored, something would happen. Eco showed an incredible sense of pace in that sense – every scene is exactly as long as it needs to be.

All in all, it’s a great novel. It is, however, very dense. I am glad that I waited until now to pick it up because I think that I would have been turned off by it had I tried any earlier. It’s a wonderful novel to read for someone who has been studying Medieval history as a hobby for quite a while and wants a good illustration of the complexities of society/theology.

My recommendation would be to try reading it, but to put it down immediately if it seems to dense or boring. Try it again later. It would be a terrible shame to predispose yourself negatively to the experience simply because you tried to get into it too early.

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