Montalbano, Zeydan and Me

Inspector Salvo Montalbano, the hero of the Andrea Camilleri’s eponymous series, is one of my favourite characters in fiction…. as much as Brigadier General of Police Khamis Zeydan, the police chief of Bethlehem and a close friend to Omar Yussef, the aging ustaz who is the principal protagonist of Matt Beynon Rees’ admirable series.

Aurelio Zen and Inspector Endeavour Morse are the others I also like. However, we will talk about them some time and place else but soon.

The obvious question is why do I like Montalbano and Zeydan? It is because I identify with them and find it many points of resemblance, even though some are superficial.

Like both of them, I do not fit easy in the world – Montalbano’s inability or more correctly, disinclination to fit in the groove, his secretiveness, his ways to tackle the unfairness and iniquity – both of life and service, the way to avoid committments given some unsavoury experiences, the devious strategems to avoid promotions and other problems  — I still remember that passage when a venerable scholar looks straight at Salvo and askes him point-blank about when he will decide to grow up (its a question posed to me many times by my parents, sister, friends and people who were friends),  his run-ins with the new commissioner (the one who comes after the older, sympathetic one announces his retirement in The Snack Thief) and Zeydan’s pervasive cynicism and what the series terms “dreadful disillusionment and self-destructiveness”  – among all this there are some qualities I can identify with.

Superficially, like both of them, I have a close relation to ethanol and nicotine….. Also, like Salvo, I have a pronounced gastronomic streak and a trenchant appetite (though I have managed to bring it under an iron restraint for the last few years and only indulge in it in my hometown, or some specific and special occasions here) as well as his fondness for reading, that tough hide sometimes pushed to the extreme….. What I don’t have is someone like Livia around (though I guess we would spar as much) or for that matter, even Mimi Augello, Fazio or Nicolas Zitto and that skill at dramatics (though sometimes unsuccessful as far as Livia is concerned).

I, however, tend to think that the similarities outnumber and outweigh the disparities by a large margin.

Read this passage from the Montalbano series and then tell me what you think….. It is from The Snack Thief (pg 229 of the Picador edition).   

~~~~ He was early for his appointment with Valente. He stopped in front of the restaurant where he’d gone the last time he was in Mazara. He gobbled up a saute of clams in bread crumbs, a heaped dish of spaghetti with white clam sauce, a roast turbot with oregano and caramelized lemon, and he topped it all with a bitter chocolate timbale in orange sauce. When it was all over, he stood up, went into the kitchen and shook the chef’s hand without saying a word, deeply moved. In the car, on his way to Valente’s office, he sang at the top of his lungs “Guarda come dondolo, guarda come dondolo, col twist……”

Doesn’t this convince you? Well some more proof will be adduced soon.

To be continued…..


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