Friday, January 12, 2007

The Snack Thief, by Andrea Camilleri

Posted by lea at 12:18 PM

Book 3 of the Inspector Montalbano series, The Snack Thief is a mystery set in an Italian town where people ride an elevator with a dead body to save themselves from using the stairs, retired men hire a beautiful young Tunisian cleaning woman for her ‘extra services’ rather than her cleaning expertise, and a young boy steals food in order to survive after his mother (the aforementioned cleaning woman) mysteriously disappears.

The main protagonist, Inspector Montalbano, is great at his job. He loves solving crimes and isn’t averse to using tough (and sometimes unethical) means to find out what he wants. Professionally, he’s totally switched on - a man whose hunches always hit target and has a nose for digging out the truth. However, personally he’s stereotypically shut down and finds it difficult coming to terms with (or even just admitting) his own emotional needs.

Camilleri shows his weaknesses with as much transparency as his strengths, and as a result, Montalbano is a character you grudgingly respect rather than enthusiastically like.

It’s the first book of the series that I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed most of it – especially the Inspector’s digressions into and obvious keen enjoyment of food. It was only towards the end that I felt it lost its zing.

Where did it go wrong? The pace was good, the plot kept me hooked and the writing was precise and brisk.

However, it takes a turn at the end after the mystery is solved. Montalbano takes a break to the seaside and gets in touch with his emotions. It’s ironic that this is the bit that turned me off, because I imagine that for avid followers of this series, this is the moment they’d been waiting for - when he’s finally able to commit to his long-term girlfriend, visit his sick father and show some emotional maturity.

Perhaps it’s partly because I haven’t read the previous novels, but I really think it’s because after the remarkable lack of character development throughout the book, his sudden emotional growth was not very believable. After the smooth ride of the rest of the book, this bit was jarring and seemed out of character.

Having said that, though, I would gladly go back and read the first two books. It was a surprisingly good find in my local library and I’m pleased to add another good author to my list.

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