I’ve enjoyed reading detective series for a very long time. I was trying to think for how long: I certainly remember ‘discovering’ Agatha Christie, probably in my late twenties after a colleague proudly showed me his collection of ancient Penguin editions. I borrowed one and that was it, I was hooked. Then I went on to Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham etc, and later, I crossed the Atlantic (in spirit) to enter the super-cool world of Raymond Chandler.
But actually I think it started way before then. A lot of the series I borrowed from the children’s library were, in a way, detective stories – the Famous Five and the Malcolm Saville books, for example, both centred round a mystery – and usually a dastardly criminal – who had to be investigated by sleuthing children.
Recently, though, having a Kindle has moved my enjoyment of the genre up to a whole new level. It began when a friend recommended the Montalbano series, by Andrea Camilleri. (Incidentally, Camilleri wrote the first of this massively successful and much-loved series when he was 69. I find that curiously comforting.) I downloaded the first and loved it. For anyone who hasn’t seen or heard of Montalbano, he is an eccentric, short-tempered but very lovable Sicilian detective inspector. He lives in a house right on the edge of a beach, and often goes for an early morning swim to clear his mind. Probably the most important thing in his life is food – and woe betide anyone who interrupts his enjoyment of a good meal, or who serves him up a bad one. Other objects of his affection are his team – lascivious Mimi, loyal Fazio and the utterly bonkers Caterella; his long-distance girlfriend Livia, and his best friend Ingrid, the utterly beautiful six foot Swedish blonde, who helps him out in so many ways.
|Catarella, Montalbano (aka Luca Zingaretti), Fazio and Mimi - from the Italian TV series|
Like all the best detectives, Salvo Montalbano is very much his own man. He’s left-wing, cynical, and a natural rebel who loves to wind up his superiors and lives in terror of being promoted. He doesn’t toe the party line, and he certainly doesn’t follow procedures. He’s a maverick who inspires loyalty and admiration – even from the criminal fraternity.
So – I read the first one. Then his publishers did a very clever thing. They put the first chapter of the second book at the end of the first one. So, just at the point where you are reluctantly dragging yourself away from the sun-drenched shores of Sicily, you’re offered another chance. What harm can it do? You read the first chapter. You realise that not only are you being offered a brand new adventure – you are also being given the chance to pick up the threads left dangling in the first. And that’s it – you’re hooked. You don’t even have to get out of bed. With a few taps on the screen, it’s done: the second book is there. And so it goes on.
|Young Montalbano, played by Michele Riordano|
This cunning ploy certainly helps the publishers – but it helps you, the reader, too. You don’t have to waste time till you can get to a bookshop or till you can order the next book from the library – you can read the whole series end-to-end. So there’ll be none of that forgetting what happened earlier on in the series (well, you’d better hope there isn’t, because one thing it isn’t easy to do with a Kindle is to flick back through the pages to check on something). You get a clear sense of the series arc; of how the characters are developing, how they are affected by their experiences. In the case of Montalbano, you also begin to get a sense of the social and political context of the books, and of Camilleri’s own concerns about Italy and how it is governed.
But every good series comes to an end, so what did I read next? Well, for that you’ll have to wait till next time.
But meanwhile, PLEASE tell me about your own favourite detective novels in the comments. I'm on the lookout for my next series.