The Potter’s Field

Ever since I read about Italian author Andrea Camilleri on A Common Reader’s blog, I’ve wanted to read a mystery written by him. Although the novel Tom reviewed was The Age of Doubt, I found The Potter’s Field at our local library and brought it home to make Andrea’s acquaintance.
I like him! His writing is so authentic, and rugged, and unpretentious. He takes me to Italy as easily as Air Italia, where I am breathing in the sea air and eating the cuisine as surely as if I was there in person. In fact, I enjoyed the atmosphere he created possibly more than the plot, which in The Potter’s Field involved the Mafia, a beautiful woman and betrayal. Wonderful stuff for any mystery, let alone an Italian one.
“Meanwhile, this murder had been committed, or ordered–which amounted to the same thing–by someone who still operated in observance of the rules of the ‘old’ Mafia.
Why?
The answer was simple: Because the new Mafia fired their guns pell-mell and in every direction, at old folks and kids, wherever and whenever, and never deigned to give a reason or explanation for what they did.
With the old Mafia, it was different. They explained, informed, and clarified. Not aloud, of course, or in print. No. But through signs.
The old Mafia were experts in semiology, the science of signs used to communicate.
Murdered with a thorny branch of prickly pear placed on the body?
We did it because he pricked us one too many times with his thorns and troubles.
Murdered with a rock inside his mouth?
We did it because he talked too much.
Murdered with both hands cut off?
We did because we caught him with his hands in the cookie jar.
Murdered with his balls shoved into his mouth?
We did it because he was f***ing someone he shouldn’t have been…” and so on.

And, the characters are so likable! One absolutely wants to know Inspector Montalbano, and I especially want to meet Catarella, personally in person, who works for him and talks like this:

“Ahhh Chief Chief!” said Catarella, racing out of his closet, “I gots a litter f”yiz I’s asposta give yiz poissonally in poisson.”

Looking around himself with a conspiratorial air, he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to the inspector.

If this book is any indication of the series, it’s one I want to become more familiar with. I liked everything I read in Camilleri’s work.

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9 thoughts on “The Potter’s Field

  1. This is the one I am up to – I can't believe I have read 12 of them – so I can't read your review 'cause of the spoilers.

    No, that is just a joke. The mysteries don't matter much. Camilleri is unusually good with characters. If you go back to the beginning, you really see Montalbano change, but slowly, as if years are passing, which they are.

  2. Tom, would I reveal a spoiler? Never! I agree with you completely, that the mystery doesn't matter as much as the character and the atmosphere. I definitely want to go back to the beginning, a very good place to start, and see Montalbano's growth for myself. I did feel a bit lost in this story, not overwhelmingly so, but as if I needed a little more familiarity with the characters and Montalbano's background. So glad I found out about Andrea Camillieri and his Inspector!

  3. I love this series. And I couldn't tell you about the plot of any of them! I also love the translator's notes at the end. He clearly really enjoys the series as well. Montalbano doesn't always treat women the best, but other than that, I've read every one (and there are still another 4 or 5 to be translated.
    So glad you've become a fan!

  4. I don't know how well I remember the plots, either, but I do have a note in praise of them. One of the nice features of the series is that Camilleri does not just repeating the same structure. He does not necessarily invent new forms, but he does not always reuse the same one. So one novel is a police procedural (Montalbano leading his team), and then the next Montalbano is on his own, solving a more traditional mystery. Some of the plots have strong political or social themes, while some are purely personal. Sometimes there is some action, sometimes almost none.

    I guess for a reader who wants the same thing over and over again, this would be a problem.

  5. Wonderful series – a more light-hearted take on Italian crime (although Montalbano does get jaded and cynical at times). The Italian TV series is very amusing and has a really old-fashioned charm to it.

  6. I've been wondering about this author. I keed seeing his books, but I needed a trusted opinion about them before committing to buying any. Yours and Tom's I know and trust.

  7. Love your post and the excerpt, Bellezza! I have read the first two books in the Montalbano series – 'The Shape of Water' and 'The Terracota Dog' – and liked both of them. Glad to know that you liked Inspector Montalbano and his antics :)

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