When I posted on Facebook recently about Inspector (Commissario in Italian) Montalbano a friend asked about the comparison between him and Donna Leon’s Inspector (Commissario) Brunetti. I think this is an interesting question so I’ll take a stab at it.
They are different locations: Montalbano in Sicily, and Brunetti in Venice. The location shapes the character of the story. Both authors use the languages of the place – Veneto and Siciliano. And both include the different idioms unique to the place. Camilleri writes in Italian and Siciliano and is translated into English. The translator, Stephen Sartarelli, does include notes in the books as even Italians need help with some of the words. Donna Leon writes in English, and has never officially allowed her books to be translated into Italian because she lived in Venice (a very small city) and didn’t want the daily notoriety. (She now lives in Switzerland.)
Both Montalbano and Brunetti are inspectors (commissarios), part of the civilian police force. And they both have complicated relationships with the carbinieri, the military police. They also both have great disdain for their immediate superiors and have a mischievous attitude towards them. They also each have a regular team of detectives that accompany them on their cases. We do get to know Montalbano’s Augello and Fazio better than Brunetti’s assistants. The medical examiners are a bit different. Rizzardi in the Brunetti books is skilled, competent, and serious. Pasquano in the Montalbano books is certainly competent, but also a bit of a cannoli-loving buffoon.
And, speaking of cannoli, food plays a huge part in both series. Montalbano’s housekeeper Adelina prepares amazing dishes that are ready for him on his return home in the evening, and Camilleri’s descriptions of Montalbano’s delights at these creations are wonderful. Montalbano also eats lunch almost every day at Enzo’s where the owner simply presents him with the best thing of the day. In the Brunetti books, his regular bar stops for a coffee and maybe a quick tramezzino and a glass of white wine (all eaten standing in the Venetian way) are accompanied with his delight at whatever his wife Paola has prepared for dinner. Leon, like Camilleri, describes the food in wonderful detail so we can almost imagine being at the table with them.
Those are the parallel pieces of these books. But each has its own very distinct feel. When reading these you’ll be transported to each of these unique and beautiful locations in Italy and learn well about the culture, the crime, and yes, the food!
I’ve written extensively about both of these series before, but here are the first two books of each so you can get started if you’ve missed these delightful reads.