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The Snack Thief

Montalbano finds unexpected connections between a man who is knifed to death in a building elevator and another man who is killed by machine gun fire on a fishing boat. The link involves terrorism, and it takes a snack thief ? a boy who beats up schoolmates for food ? to help crack the case.

Along the way, the inspector interviews bizarre tenants, watches cartoons to fend off a midlife crisis and finds himself "breathless, almost frightened" after an exquisite meal.

Montalbano is a delightful creation, an honest man on Sicily's mean streets. Viking plans to issue a fourth of these beautifully crafted mysteries in the fall, but there are more. Let's hope they are published.

Joseph Barbato, special for USA TODAY

In his third Inspector Salvo Montalbano mystery to be made available in the U.S., Camilleri (The Shape of Water) displays all the storytelling skills that have made him an international bestseller. When gunfire from a Tunisian patrol boat kills a worker on an Italian fishing trawler, the worldly Sicilian police inspector knows that this is just the type of situation his overly ambitious second-in-command, Mimi Augello, will want to exploit. Meanwhile, Montalbano has to look into the stabbing death of a retiree in the elevator of the victim's apartment building. While the trawler incident appears to resolve itself, the elevator slaying gets more complex by the minute. Soon Montalbano is searching for the retiree's beautiful housekeeper (and sometimes prostitute) and her son. It's only when he finds the boy (the snack thief of the title) that Montalbano learns the true nature of the case, its relation to the trawler shooting and the danger it poses. Although warned to keep his distance, Montalbano, who can't deny his investigative instincts any more than he can refuse a hardy portion of sardines a beccafico, proceeds headlong into the thick of government corruption with a risky plan to set things right. Montalbano, despite his curmudgeonly exterior, has a depth to him that charms. Readers are sure to savor this engrossing, Mafia-free Sicilian mystery.

(Apr. 28) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Unlike American movies, in which the detective can identify a suspect from a license plate number in less than two minutes, solving a crime in Italy is a bit more complicated: "One time they'd made Montalbano wait twenty-eight days, in the course of which the owner of the vehicle...was goat-tied and burnt to a crisp." And if things are done differently on the Italian mainland, they are even more bizarre on the island of Sicily. Where else could a police officer enjoy a mouthwatering meal prepared by a petty crook-turned-chef, "directly inspired by the Madonna." Camilleri's third Inspector Montalbano mystery (after The Shape of Water and The Terra-Cotta Dog) takes readers into this strange, colorful world as the sardonic yet compassionate Montalbano investigates the stabbing death of an elderly man in an elevator and the machine-gunning of a Tunisian crewman on an Italian fishing boat. Is there a connection between the two killings? And what about the case of the little boy who has been mugging other schoolchildren for their snacks? Full of memorable characters and witty takes on Italian life (`the Italian bureaucracy, usually slow as a snail, becomes lightening-quick when it comes to screwing the citizen"), Camilleri's latest proves why he is such a big hit in Europe. U.S. mystery readers take note. Highly recommended.

Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Bristly Sicilian police inspector Salvo Montalbano is roused from a sweet dream of his mistress Livia by a blaring telephone and the nervous voice of detective Catarella announcing a murder. The body of semi-retired businessman Palmisano Lapecora, uncharacteristically dressed to the nines, was found aboard the elevator of his apartment building by Giuseppe, a cocky security guard. Antonietta, the widow, peppers Montalbano with unusual questions. Most of the Lapecoras' quirky neighbors don't want to get involved, but they do let it be known that Lapecora was enjoying an ongoing affair with Karima, a beautiful young Tunisian whose skills include housecleaning and probably prostitution. As usual (The Terra-Cotta Dog, 2002, etc.), Montalbano's path to a solution is complicated by amusingly incompetent coworkers and pesky distractions. Off the coast of Sicily, a crewman on an Italian fishing trawler is gunned down by a Tunisian patrol boat. Could the cases be related? Montalbano's suspicion that Karima holds the key to his own mystery is confirmed when she disappears shortly after talking to him, leaving behind her sensitive young son, Francois. Even stranger, Livia unexpectedly volunteers to take care of Francois, and still more unexpectedly, displays a strong maternal instinct, something Montalbano has never seen in her before. And when her boorish male protégé Mimi offers to help Livia, Montalbano's jealousy surprises himself. Along with his midlife crisis, these developments lead him to some genuine soul-searching. After rambling a bit early on, the tale is enlivened and deepened by eleventh-hour surprises. Montalbano, blessedly, is as bitingly humorous as ever.


He woke up in a bad way. The sheets, during the sweaty, restless sleep that had followed his wolfing down three pounds of sardines a beccafico the previous evening, had wound themselves tightly round his body, making him feel like a mummy. He got up, went into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and guzzled half a bottle of cold water. As he was drinking, he glanced out the wide-open window.The dawn light promised a good day. The sea was flat as a table, the sky clear and cloudless. Sensitive as he was to the weather, Montalbano felt reassured as to his mood in the hours to come. As it was still too early, he went back to bed and readied himself for two more hours of slumber, pulling the sheet over his head. He thought, as he always did before falling asleep, of Livia lying in her bed in Boccadasse, outside of Genoa. She was a soothing presence, propitious to any journey, long or short, "in country sleep," as Dylan Thomas had put it in a poem he liked very much.

No sooner had the journey begun when it was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. Like a drill, the sound seemed to enter one ear and come out the other, boring through his brain.


"Whoozis I'm speaking with?"

"Tell me first who you are."

"This is Catarella

"What's the matter?"

"Sorry, Chief, I din't rec'nize your voice as yours. You mighta been sleeping."

"I certainly might have, at five in the morning! Would you please tell me what the hell is the matter without busting my balls any further?"

"Somebody was killed in Mazāra del Vallo."

"What the fuck is that to me? I'm in Vigāta."

"But, Chief, the dead guy-"

Montalbano hung up and unplugged the phone. Before shutting his eyes he thought maybe his friend Valente, vice-commissioner of Mazāra, was looking for him. He would call him later, from his office.


The shutter slammed hard against the wall. Montalbano sat bolt upright in bed, eyes agape with fright, convinced, in the haze of sleep still enveloping him, that he'd been shot at. In the twinkling of an eye, the weather had changed: a cold, humid wind was kicking up waves with a yellowish froth, the sky now entirely covered with clouds that threatened rain.

Cursing the saints, he got up, went into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and lathered himself up. All at once the water ran out. In Vigāta, and therefore also in Marinella, where he lived, water was distributed roughly every three days. Roughly, because there was no way of knowing whether you would have water the very next day or the following week. For this reason Montalbano had taken the precaution of having several large tanks installed on the roof of his house, which would fill up when water was available. This time, however, there had apparently been no new water for eight days, for that was the maximum autonomy granted him by his reserves. He ran into the kitchen, put a pot under the faucet to collect the meager trickle that came out, and did the same in the bathroom sink. With the bit of water thus collected, he somehow managed to rinse the soap off his body, but the whole procedure certainly didn't help his mood.

While driving to Vigāta, yelling obscenities at all the motorists to cross his path-whose only use for the Highway Code, in his opinion, was to wipe their asses with it, one way or another-he remembered Catarella's phone call and the explanation he'd come up with for it, which didn't make sense. If Valente had needed him for some homicide that took place in Mazāra, he would have called him at home, not at headquarters. He had concocted that explanation for convenience's sake, to unburden his conscience and sleep for another two hours in peace.


"There's absolutely nobody here!" Catarella told him as soon as he saw him, respectfully rising from his chair at the switchboard. Montalbano had decided, with Sergeant Fazio's agreement, that this was the best place for him. Even with his habit of passing on the wildest, most unlikely phone calls, he would surely do less damage there than anywhere else.

"What is it, a holiday?"

"No, Chief, it's not a holiday. They're all down at the port because of that dead guy in Mazāra I called you about, if you remember, sometime early this morning or thereabouts."

"But if the dead guy's in Mazāra, what are they all doing at the port?"

"No, Chief, the dead guy's here."

"But, Jesus Christ, if the dead guy's here, why the hell are you telling me he's in Mazāra?"

"Because he was from Mazāra. That's where he worked."

"Cat, think for a minute, so to speak . . . or whatever it is that you do: if a tourist from Bergamo was killed here in Vigāta, what would you tell me? That somebody was killed in Bergamo?"

"Chief, the point is, this dead guy was just passing through. I mean, they shot him when he was on a fishing boat from Mazāra."

"Who shot him?"

"The Tunisians did, Chief."

Montalbano gave up, demoralized.

"Did Augello also go down to the port?"


His second-in-command, Mimė Augello, would be delighted if he didn't show up at the port.

"Listen, Cat I have to write a report. I'm not in for anyone."


"Hello, Chief? I got Signorina Livia on the line here from Genoa.

What do I do, Chief? Should I put her on or not?"

"Put her on."

"Since you said, not ten minutes ago, that you wasn't in for nobody-"

"I said put her on, Cat . . . Hello, Livia? Hi."

"Hi, my eye. I've been trying to call you all morning. The phone at your house just rings and rings."

"Really? I guess I forgot to plug it back in. You want to hear something funny? At five o'clock this morning, I got a phone call about-"

"I don't want to hear anything funny. I tried calling at seven-thirty, at eight-fifteen, I tried again at-"

"Livia, I already told you I forgot-"

"You forgot me, that's what you forgot. I told you yesterday I was going to call you at seven-thirty this morning to decide whether-"

"Livia, I'm warning you. It's windy outside and about to rain."

"So what?"

"You know what. This kind of weather puts me in a bad mood. I wouldn't want my words to be-"

"I get the picture. I just won't call you anymore. You call me, if you feel like it."


"Montalbano! How are you? Officer Augello told me everything. This is a very big deal, one that will certainly have international repercussions. Don't you think?"

He felt at sea. He had no idea what the commissioner was talking about. He decided to be generically affirmative.

"Oh, yes, yes." I

nternational repercussions?

"Anyway, I've arranged for Augello to confer with the prefect. The matter is, how shall I say, beyond my competence."

"Yes, yes."

"Are you feeling all right, Montalbano?"

"Yes, fine. Why?"

"Nothing, it just seemed . . ."

"What day is today?" "Thursday, sir." "Listen, why don't you come to dinner at our house on Saturday? My wife'll make you her black spaghetti in squid ink. It's delicious." Pasta with squid ink. His mood was black enough to dress a hundred pounds of spaghetti. International repercussions?


Fazio came in and Montalbano immediately laid into him.

"Would somebody please be so kind as to tell me what the fuck is going on?"

"C'mon, Chief, don't take it out on me just because it's windy outside. For my part, early this morning, before contacting Inspector Augello, I had somebody call you."

"You mean Catarella? If you have Catarella calling me about something important, then you really must be a shithead, since you know damn well that nobody can ever understand a fucking thing the guy says. What happened, anyway?"

"A motor trawler from Mazāra, which according to the ship's captain was fishing in international waters, was attacked by a Tunisian patrol boat. Sprayed with machine-gun fire. The fishing boat signaled its position to one of our patrols, the Fulmine, then managed to escape."

"Good going," said Montalbano.

"On whose part?" asked Fazio.

"On the part of the captain of the fishing boat, who instead of surrendering had the courage to run away. What else?"

"The shots killed one of the crew."

"Somebody from Mazāra?"

"Sort of."

"Would you please explain?"

"He was Tunisian. They say his working papers were in order. Down around Mazāra all the crews are mixed. First of all because they're good workers, and secondly because, if they're ever stopped, they can talk to the patrols from the other side."

"Do you believe the trawler was fishing in international waters?"

"Me? Do I look like a moron or something?"

from The Snack Thief: An Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri, Copyright Š 2003 by Andrea Camilleri, Published by Viking Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Last modified Sunday, January, 02, 2022