A large part of the attraction of these novels is the wonderfully grumpy, slightly eccentric, marvellously self-involved Inspector Montalbano. And the food - the meals that Montalbano insists on partaking on a regular basis are frankly, almost obscenely fantastic. Of course, for the books to be completely satisfactory there has actually got to be a story, and as with all these books, the story here is superbly Italian in its feel. The financier Emanuele Gargano has disappeared - as has a large amount of money that a lot of local retirees invested with him. An investigation had been undertaken but it seems to have gone nowhere. Everyone seems to be resigned to the idea that the Mafia have dealt with a problem. It's not until one elderly local man finds the news that his money has gone too much for him, and starts waving a gun around, that Montalbano's interest is sparked.
The standard of the initial missing persons investigation doesn't impress Montalbano. But his reopening of the search occurs at a time when Montalbano is questioning his own life in his own way. His ongoing long distance love affair with Livia is getting more fraught, for Montalbano in particular. His housekeeper taking a couple of days off causes him all sorts of personal upset (despite her arranging a replacement), and it just doesn't seem to take much at all to tip him over into rage these days. None of this being helped by a confrontation with the Commissioner over accusations of impropriety. Basically Montalbano is grumpy. Very very grumpy.
Even though the main concentration of these books is Montalbano there is an ensemble cast that reoccurs in all books. Whilst it may help to understand everyone to have read earlier books in the series, each story can stand on its own. The tone is, however, very Italian, very biting, and you just can't emphasis how grumpy Montalbano can get. But everyone is in their own way, fantastic, and involving, and the books are like trips to the sunny beaches and trattorias of beautiful Sicily. You can smell the food he eats, you can see the tables settings. You can feel the sun, the wind, the rain. You can hear the shouting, the arguing, see the smiling faces. If you've not read an Inspector Montalbano series then I really can't recommend them highly enough. If you're lucky enough to have access to Australian SBS Television they recently played an all too short series of TV movies based on the books that were very very well done as well.