I have been an avid fan of Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano series since the first novel was translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli. Montalbano’s impudence in the face of self-serving bureaucrats has always been entertaining. Most plots were intricate and well resolved. The descriptions of Sicilian seafood specialties often sent me to my cookbooks in fruitless attempts to duplicate them.
In recent years, Camilleri was in ill health. He’d lost his eyesight and had to dictate his novels. While these efforts lost some of the sparkle of his earlier stories, they remained highly entertaining.
Of his final Montalbano adventure, Riccardino, Camilleri writes, “At eighty, I foresaw Montalbano’s departure from the scene… I found myself writing this novel which is the final chapter; the last book in the series. And I sent it to my publisher saying to keep it in a drawer and to publish it only when I am gone.”
Many writers of series reach a point where they choose to bring the stories to an end and to do so on their own terms. Agatha Christie killed off Poirot. Henning Mankell’s Wallander succumbed. In ending the Montalbano series, Camilleri doesn’t take the easy way out. He crafts an ending that is unique.
He tells the story through metafiction, a technique in which the writer becomes part of the story and interacts with it. This is a dangerous process, for the entire point of fiction is to draw the reader in. Just as we do not want to be aware that actors are acting, when we see a writer writing, it pulls us out of the story.
Camilleri handles this masterfully. The Author becomes part of the plot. The mystery cannot be solved without him, and the denouement hinges on his participation. I will not spoil the trick by telling you how Montalbano disappears from the scene. You must witness it for yourself.
Riccardino will appeal to those who have followed the series, but it should also appeal to writers who have never encountered the series, for Camilleri does something no one else has tried, and he pulls it off as the master he was.