I just finished reading Riccardino, the last book in the Detective Montalbano series. Published posthumously, the novel was the 28th in the popular crime fiction series created by Andrea Camilleri.
Getting snagged in the Montalbano stories was one of my guilty pleasures during the pandemic and my first foray into this literary genre. I watched all 37 two-hour episodes of the TV series, which initially aired on Italian TV (RAI) and then was streamed on MHz Choice. Viewers in Italy had to wait for new episodes, which were released every two years, so I was fortunate to be able to binge-watch the entire series.
These rich stories with intriguing plots and colorful characters transport viewers to Vigata, a fictional town based on the author’s recollections of his birthplace in Agrigento, and the time he spent in Ragusa. Both are hilltowns in Sicily.
Like millions of fans, I loved the wit that Camilleri brings to his novels. His eloquent writing (with excellent English translation) makes reading fast and effortless, except for the frequent pauses needed to laugh out loud. The books introduce readers to new Italian words and phrases as well as the customs, traditions and culinary treasures of Southern Italy. (The TV series, shot in Italian and subtitled in English, is even a better vocabulary builder.)
The Catalanotti Method, the last TV episode
After the last episode in the series, The Catalanotti Method (in English, the Sicilian Method), aired in the U.S. in July 2021, there was a great deal of speculation on both sides of the Atlantic as to whether more episodes were to come.
However, an unfortunate series of deaths central to the production seemed to cement the fate of the TV series. Doc Pasquano (who played the forensic pathologist) died in 2017. The series’ director, Alberto Sironi passed away in 2019. During July of the same year, Camilleri, the prolific Italian author and an esteemed director in his own right, died at the age of 93.
Having caught up with all the stories, either by reading the books or watching the TV episodes—sometimes both—led me to an involuntary “Montalbano hiatus.”
Riccardino, the last book
Riccardino was released in Italy in July 2020 and became available in the U.S. in September 2020, with a wonderful English translation by Stephen Sartarelli.
When I received and opened the new book (a gift from my son), you can imagine my mixed feelings. I was eager to read the volume but reluctant to do so because I knew it would be the last in the series.
Riccardino brings a change in tone along with the introduction of a new character, “the Author.”
As the book opens we discover that Montalbano has grown cynical and disengaged from his work.
“These days, whenever he could, he preferred dodging it [taking on a case] from the start,” writes Camilleri.
A meddlesome local writer has mined Montalbano’s cases turning them into bestsellers translated abroad and broadcast on TV, making the detective a celebrity of sorts wherever he goes. “The Author” needles Montalbano, noting that the actor who plays him on TV is a decade younger.
Another new character waiting in the wings is Inspector Enrico Toti, a “new chief of the Flying Squad,” a mobile police division who enters the scene from Lombardy as a competitor to Montalbano.
Some things remain unchanged
Riccardino embraces the familiar with a storyline involving politics, the Catholic church, the Mafia, cuckoldry and a group of odd suspects. It starts with a 5 AM phone call to Detective Montalbano, who learns about the death of Riccardo Lopresti (Riccardino), a man in his 30s, outside Bar Aurora. It appears that the banker, about to meet up with his friends, has been shot by someone speeding by on a motorcycle.
The characters are also familiar including his right-hand man, Fazio, and Catarella, the clumsy policeman/security guard who continually opens the door of Montalbano’s office with a crash to announce something unintelligible (even to Montalbano), often in Sicilian dialect.
The detective’s long-time, on-again, off-again girlfriend Livia also reappears by phone (after the two seem to have split on the final TV episode) in the last book of the Detective Montalbano series.
And, of course, the detective continues to indulge in mouth-watering dishes prepared by Enzo, his favorite restaurateur, such as purpiteddri a strascinasale (boiled octopus and Ragusan caciocavallo cheese (a spicy Sicilian PDO cheese made from cow’s milk with added lamb’s milk). At home, he enjoys a large casserole of pasta ‘ncasciata prepared by his housekeeper, Adelina.
Read my post about some Great Italian PDO Cheeses
As Detective Montalbano works to solve the murder case, he is repeatedly interrupted with annoying faxes and calls from “The Author,” his alter-ego, who accuses him of telling a confusing story. I probably would agree. But I’ve always found that even when I’ve gotten lost in the story, I’ve been captured by the writing full of wonderful metaphors (e.g. describing a beehive coiffure as “reminiscent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa” and a traffic jam that looks like “a rope full of knots that ..would take at least two hours to disentangle”).
The Author seems intent on eroding Montalbano’s self-confidence.
“Your investigations are not what they used to be. You’re too often uncertain, vague, contradictory, and even scatterbrained,” he says.
Even Fazio expresses some concern about his boss’ mental state, telling him he seems “burnt out” and exhausted.
DISCLOSURE: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS TO AMAZON, MEANING I GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO PURCHASE THIS BOOK THROUGH MY LINKS, OF COURSE, AT NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU.
The end: The last book in the Detective Montalbano series
In 2005, when Camilleri was 80 years old, he wrote—somewhat philosophically—that things eventually come to an end, probably speaking for both himself and his beloved protagonist.
Riccardino was delivered to Camilleri’s Italian publisher, Sellerio, in 2006. In the epilogue to the book, written almost 12 years later when he was 91 years old, the author reveals that he has lost his eyesight and has had to make many revisions to the text of the final volume.
To reveal the ending to Riccardino would be unfair to my readers but suffice it to say it ends with Camilleri employing an intrusive literary device that left me disappointed. It just may be that I really didn’t want the string of wonderfully creative stories by a brilliant author to end at all.
Will Riccardino make the big screen?
Update 1/22: A recent article in Italian Vanity Fair speculates that two episodes of Camilleri’s popular Montalbano mysteries that have still not aired on TV, Riccardino (released posthumously in 2020) and The Cook of the Halcyon (released in 2019) might still make it to the screen.