I always feel there is something right with the world when I have a Commissario Montalbano novel in my hands. For a few happy hours I am able to put away Brexit, Trump and the cares of the world and bask in the pure pleasure that is Camilleri’s storytelling. The Overnight Kidnapper is the latest installment in the long running crime series from the Grand Old Man of Italian letters, Andrea Camilleri. Very few writers manage to combine light and dark, humour and serious intent with such aplomb, and The Overnight Kidnapper is a bravura performance, stylish and funny but with real bite. In fact the last few novels, they are all set in the fictional town of Vigata in modern day Sicily, have been a real return to form, following a slight dip mid series. Camilleri has breathed new life into his character as Montalbano has aged and grown up a little, but not too much. Camilleri’s writing transcends boundaries: I like dark, noirish crime fiction and oodles of gritty realism and I love Montalbano and yet he appeals to cosy crime fans too. The Overnight Kidnapper is an ideal beach read or a prefect winter evening companion. It’s the light tone, the humorous relationships between the characters and the farcical situations that arise in the novels that makes them so enjoyable. Yet, Camilleri, a native of Sicily makes no secret of the deeply felt problems that afflict the island; the mafia, corruption, political incompetence and the blight of Burlesconi chief among them. Whereas a lot of Montalbano plots are adapted from life, The Overnight Kidnapper is the dastardly invention of the author and there are enough twists and red herrings to please those readers who like to solve the mystery for themselves. Once again Stephen Sartarelli’s brilliant translation brings the nuances of the dialogue (Italian/Sicilian/regional accents) to life.

They say that bad things come in threes and Montalbano is about to have one hell of a morning. It starts at 5.30am!! and he has a bloody nose before he gets out of bed, strike one. Then he breaks up a fight and gets arrested by the Carabinieri – strike two. At the station Catarella sees the bruises on the inspector’s face and cries out:

“Wha’ happened, Chief? ‘salt wit’ a deathly weppin’?”

At home, Adelina, the housekeeper, has caught a burglar, she brained him with a saucepan and locked him in a cupboard. Only the victim of her assault is no burglar. Strike three. The man just wanted to talk to Montalbano, now he’s insensible – that will come back to haunt Montalbano. Back at the station, Fazio informs the inspector that they have a nutty little problem to solve. Agostino Smerca’s daughter, Manuela, was kidnapped by a man pretending that his car broke down. She was held at gunpoint before being drugged. The strange thing is she woke up a few hours later in the middle of a field but completely unharmed, nothing stolen. Later at lunch, Enzo says he needs to speak to the inspector but only after lunch:

“Because eating, like sex, wants no worries.”

Unable to fault the logic Montalbano eats, then Enzo recounts the tale of his niece who was kidnapped but released unharmed. Both women work for banks, Montalbano knows something dark is afoot. The day is still young because Fazio calls the inspector to a shop fire. The owner, Marcello di Carlo, has gone missing, he lives in the flat above the shop. Mafia? Protection? Montalbano doesn’t think so.

The next victim of the Overnight Kidnapper might not be so lucky, the attacker is unpredictable. To add to the fun, the Clandestine Anti-Bank Coalition has jumped on the bandwagon, threatening the banks. Both the disappearance of Di Carlo and the kidnappings are about to take a nasty turns, more trouble will follow. Montalbano will have to rise to the challenge.

Montalbano is irked by Fazio anticipating his orders, he still loves to needle Mimi Augello, the lethario, Gallo still drives like a madman, and poor loyal, Catarella, who only wants the honour of sharing a panini with his boss, as he mangles the language and confuses people’s names. If anything The Overnight Kidnapper is funnier than most of the other novels in the series, that is until the serious business of murder kicks in and the tone changes. The Overnight Kidnapper is a satisfying mystery and a great read.

By happy chance Camilleri began writing the Montalbano series when he was blocked on an historical novel about nineteenth-century Sicily. The Brewer of Preston was set aside while and The Shape of Water was written, the series has since attracted acclaim, prizes and a wide readership. Camilleri is adored and revered in Italy but fated across the world these days. His creation, Montalbano, can be irascible, vain and short tempered but he is also brilliant. The Commissario, inspector, knows how to play the Commissioner and the mafia, and how to solve the most perplexing of cases. Vigata is safer for having Sicily’s finest detective in charge, although for everyone’s sake it would be better not to disturb his lunch. If you are new to Montalbano, aside from going back to the beginning, this would be an excellent place to start.

Paul Burke 5/5

The Overnight Kidnapper by Andrea Camilleri
Mantle 9781509840816 hbk Feb 2019