Chapter 1 Leonardo Sciascia - RUcore

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Chapter 1 Leonardo Sciascia - RUcore
Jennifer Holt
A dissertation submitted to the
Graduate School–New Brunswick
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
In partial fulfillment of the requirements
For the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Graduate Program in Italian
Written under the direction of
Professor David Marsh
And approved by
New Brunswick, New Jersey
January, 2010
Denouncement, Engagement and Dialect:
The Sicilian Mystery Novels of Leonardo Sciascia and Andrea Camilleri
Dissertation Director:
Professor David Marsh
The genre of the mystery novel offers an ideal medium to analyze social injustice.
The guise of criminal investigations allows for an examination of deviant behavior across
diverse social strata and its causes and effects upon modern society. In theory,
institutional justice in Italy extends equal rights and treatment to all citizens, irrespective
of social standing or political affiliation. However, an analysis of criminal activity and
the manner in which it is investigated and prosecuted reveals that this principle does not
always hold true. These crimes-- each a labyrinth of social and political connections, the
daunting task of exposing those responsible and bringing them to justice within the
framework of the legal system-- constitute the plot of the Sicilian mystery novel.
Despite the valiant and occasionally successful efforts of an investigator to solve
these crimes, it is impossible to prosecute the guilty parties within the framework of the
legal system. This break of the Sicilian mystery novel with the tradition of the genre
prompted Italo Calvino to comment on “…the impossibility of the mystery novel within a
Sicilian context” (Calvino, Foreword. To Each his Own).1 These mystery novels raise the
question: What are the social phenomena unique to a Sicilian context that prevent
institutionalized justice from being administered and what are the historical reasons
responsible for such phenomena?
When read as reflections of modern Sicilian society and the complex social
problems that beleaguer it, the mystery novels of Leonardo Sciascia and Andrea
Camilleri act as powerful tools of social denouncement. Through these novels their
authors denounce the obscure web of connections and corruption that plagues not only
Sicily but the Italian mainland as well. These mysteries reflect a society that is
increasingly socially engaged, and they hint at the evolution of a collective moral
consciousness in Sicily since Sciascia first published The Day of the Owl in 1961.
This dissertation examines the innovative stylistic and thematic elements that
make Sciascia and Camilleri’s literary contributions unique while reflecting the socially
unjust cultural reality in which they were raised.
Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own. Calvino, Prefazione. A Ciascuno il Suo. By
Leonardo Sciascia. Milano: Adelphi, 1988. (“…come viene dimostrata l’impossibilità del romanzo giallo
nell’ambiente siciliano.”)
I am indebted to Professor David Marsh for his guidance and support as my dissertation
advisor. Thank you for your constant encouragement, advice, and above all, your
enduring patience.
I am deeply grateful for my husband Alexander Bauer, my family and friends; their
unwavering moral support and faith in my abilities made this dissertation possible.
Special thanks go to my dear friends Federica Franzè, for her help in editing and
proofreading this dissertation, and to Blanca Gascò, for introducing me to the works of
Andrea Camilleri while in Sicily one summer, many years ago.
Table of Contents
Abstract ............................................................................................................................. ii
Acknowledgements ......................................................................................................... iv
Table of Contents ..............................................................................................................v
Introduction .......................................................................................................................1
Chapter 1: Leonardo Sciascia: Forging the Path of Sicilian Social Engagement
through the Mystery Novel ..............................................................................................8
Mystery Novels...................................................................................................14
1.3.1 The Day of the Owl .................................................................................15
1.3.2 To Each his Own.................................................................................... 23
1.3.3 Equal Danger..........................................................................................25
1.3.4 One Way or Another ...............................................................................27
1.3.5 The Knight and Death ............................................................................29
1.3.6 A Straightforward Tale ..........................................................................30
Analysis of Mystery Novels................................................................................33
Chapter 2: Dialect in the Mystery Novel of Andrea Camilleri: The Crossroads of
Theatrics and Social Engagement .................................................................................53
The Mystery Novel and the Inspector Montalbano ...........................................66
2.2.1 The Shape of Water................................................................................ 66
2.2.2 The Terra-Cotta Dog .............................................................................68
2.2.3 The Snack Thief ......................................................................................71
2.2.4 Voice of the Violin ..................................................................................73
2.2.5 Excursion to Tindari .............................................................................. 75
2.2.6 The Smell of the Night............................................................................ 78
2.2.7 Rounding the Mark ................................................................................ 80
Analysis of Montalbano Mysteries ....................................................................84
Chapter 3: History as the Key to Modern Social Injustices: The Historical Novels of
Leonardo Sciascia and Andrea Camilleri ...................................................................114
Introduction to Historical Novels......................................................................114
Historical Novels by Leonardo Sciascia ...........................................................115
3.2.1 On Behalf of the Unfaithful.................................................................. 115
3.2.2 Death of the Inquisitor ......................................................................... 117
3.2.3 The Council of Egypt ............................................................................121
Historical Novels by Andrea Camilleri.............................................................124
3.3.1 The Way Things Go...............................................................................124
3.3.2 A Thread of Smoke................................................................................130
3.3.3 The Forgotten Massacre.......................................................................136
3.3.4 The Seal of Agreement ..........................................................................140
Chapter 4: The Disappearance: Sciascia and Camilleri as Epigones of Pirandello 144
Coda ...............................................................................................................................154
Bibliography ..................................................................................................................156
C.V. .................................................................................................................................161
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable...
Every step toward the goal of justice requires
sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless
exertions and passionate concern of dedicated
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
In an interview the renowned Italian prosecutor Gian Carlo Caselli once
commented, that in order to understand Sicily he read Sicilian authors from Giovanni
Verga and Luigi Pirandello to Leonardo Sciascia and Andrea Camilleri. As proof, he
then pulled a copy of The Fly Game (Il gioco della mosca) by Camilleri, out of his pocket
(Sorgi 18). His coupling of Leonardo Sciascia and Andrea Camilleri with two of Sicily’s
most renowned authors bears testament to the value and importance of their literary
Both Leonardo Sciascia and Andrea Camilleri have made a tremendous
contribution to Italian literature by introducing contemporary Sicilian culture and its
history to a wide audience. Although their writing styles differ dramatically, they both
found the genre of the mystery novel to be the most effective mode of expression for their
critique of Sicilian culture. Sciascia’s first mystery novel, The Day of the Owl (Il giorno
della civetta), published in 1961, was a revolutionary text-- the first published novel that
had the Mafia as its subject. With this publication Sciascia challenged the culture of
conspiratorial silence (know as omertà) that enables the Mafia to exist, and implicitly
forced the public to acknowledge this parasitic social phenomenon. Paradoxically, the
presence of the Mafia and its culture of omertà dictated the ambiguities of Sciascia’s text;
this break of the Sicilian mystery novel with the tradition of the genre prompted Italo
Calvino in 1965 to comment on “…the impossibility of the mystery novel within a
Sicilian context” (Calvino, Foreword. To Each his Own [A ciascuno il suo] by Leonardo
In chapter one I examine Leonardo Sciascia’s lifelong contributions to Italian
cultural and the innovative elements of his mystery novels. His life was devoted to civic
engagement, and his early years of working as a state employee and an elementary school
teacher gave him tremendous insight into the deplorable conditions of Sicilian laborers.
A prolific researcher and writer, he published numerous essays, historical novels and
critiques, in addition to six mystery novels that he wrote over the span of three decades.
This study focuses primarily on the importance of his mystery novels; they act as
powerful tools of social denouncement that reflect the social reality in which they were
written to demonstrate how the Mafia has changed since it first became the subject of
widespread public debate in the 1960s.
While many critics refer to Sciascia as socially “engaged” in the Sartrean sense,
Sciascia himself expressed his estrangement from that definition of “engaged literature”
(letteratura “impegnata”), which he regarded as synonymous with political literature in
support of a particular party. By contrast, Sciascia reveals his admiration for the socially
engaged literature of the Enlightenment:
The fact of looking for and stating the truth derives from, more that a
humanistic tradition, an enlightened tradition. Voltaire was truly the father of
this approach, later continued by Zola… The danger has been to abusively
redirect this approach to a partisan and political position. Voltaire and Zola,
however, but not Sartre. Like Voltaire and Zola, therefore, it is my duty to
speak of that of which I am convinced. Under no circumstances am I however
“…come viene dimostrata l’impossibilità del romanzo giallo nell’ambiente siciliano.”
an engaged writer, under no circumstances am I a teacher of thought. (Sciascia,
Foreword. One Way or Another) 3
The legacy of Sciascia’s novel approach to denouncing social injustices through
literature and specifically the genre of the mystery novel is continued by his fellow
Sicilian and contemporary author Andrea Camilleri. Chapter two explores the
extraordinary life of this dynamic man and his extensive theatrical and literary
production. On the heels of a prolific career as a director for theater, television and radio,
in addition to teaching for decades at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome, the native
of Southwestern Sicily published his first novel at the age of 64 to become Italy’s most
widely published contemporary author. Like Sciascia, Camilleri regards Sicily as a
microcosm to explore universal social injustice. His mystery novels are of vital
importance to contemporary Italian literature, for they examine explosive social issues
that presently confront Sicily and Italy, as well as Europe and beyond.
The Sicilian author Vincenzo Consolo (a close friend of Sciascia’s) accused
Camilleri of having betrayed the tradition of engaged literature embraced by Sciascia and
much of Sicilian literature. On one occasion he said that he understood Camilleri had
little to do with Sciascia and civic engagement and that, in his opinion, one of the reasons
for his literary success was that he doesn’t make readers think (Sorgi 145).4 I would
argue the opposite is true and that Camilleri’s novels are perhaps more socially engaged
than Sciascia’s, in certain respects. While Sciascia’s literary contribution was
“Il fatto di cercare e dire la verità rinvia, più che a una tradizione umanista, a una tradizione del secolo dei
lumi. Voltaire è stato davvero il padre di questo atteggiamento, ripreso più tardi da Zola… Il pericolo è
stato di rincondurre abusivamente quest’atteggiamento a una posizione partigiana e politica. Voltaire e
Zola, dunque, ma non Sartre. Come Voltaire e Zola, dunque, è un mio dovere parlare, di ciò di cui sono
convinto. In nessun caso sono però uno scrittore impegnato, partigiano, in nessun caso sono un maestro di
“Di Camilleri ho capito che c’entra poco con Sciascia e con l’impegno civile.” “…Uno dei motivi di
successo di Camilleri, a mio avviso, anche se forse sbaglio, è che non fa pensare.”
instrumental in bringing the oppressive and omnipresent problem of the Mafia in Sicily to
the forefront of national political attention, it offered readers little insight into Sicilian
On the contrary, Camilleri provides an invaluable window to the social norms and
language of Sicily, the facets of contemporary culture that are crucial to understanding
the island’s social problems. Chapter two also considers the social impact of Camilleri’s
literary contribution that has been largely obscured by the Italian literary establishment.5
It is noteworthy that Camilleri writes in an era in which it is not necessary to bring
attention to the socially destructive nature of the Mafia; the phenomenon has garnered
public condemnation and has been officially combated by the State (albeit,
unsuccessfully). Unlike Sciascia, Camilleri writes for a public that lives with the Mafia
on its conscience and is cognizant of the consequences of silent in-action; contemporary
citizens are more active in their denouncement of social ills than previous generations.6
This widespread consciousness allows for Camilleri’s nuanced critique of the Mafia’s
socially destructive nature. The subtle implication, that the Mafia is responsible for much
of the crime in Camilleri’s novels, mirrors the increasingly sophisticated and
technological network that shrouds Mafia members in anonymity. The less esoteric
nature and wider diffusion of Camilleri’s novels, when contrasted with those of Sciascia,
in addition to his use of a hybrid Sicilian dialect, give Camilleri’s literary contribution an
undeniable social force.
It is interesting to recall the initial reaction of critics in response to Luigi Pirandello’s art. In July of 1916
Adriano Tilgher made a comment in reference to Pirandello’s comedy, Think about It, Giacomino!
(Pensaci, Giacomino!) stating that Pirandello’s art was devoid of profound content, it was an art of idleness
and entertainment and that it lacked moral seriousness. (Sciascia, Alfabeto Pirandelliano. 69).
For example, Sicilians mobilized to publicly denounce the Mafia in solidarity following the assassination
of Sicilian magistrates in the early 1990s (behavior in part attributable to Sciascia’s courageous example).
When I met with Camilleri in 2003, I asked him if he felt his literary contribution
was socially engaged. He said that in his view the act of writing is in itself an important
act of engagement and that he wrote specifically to communicate and interact with an
audience. Furthermore, he maintains that his refusal to refer to the Mafia by name
prompts his audience to consider the veil of conspiratorial silence that facilitates the
elaborate, socially destructive crimes that his novels depict.7
Ironically, Sciascia’s use of the standard Italian language, a register intended to
increase the diffusion of his message and ensure comprehension, may have restricted his
readership. While the esoteric nature of his works was well-received by the literary
establishment, educated professionals and politicians, it excluded less sophisticated
readers from his audience, precisely those whose consensus and participation is crucial to
affecting meaningful social change. By appealing to the conscience of socially powerful
individuals to change a system of favors and corruption (some politicians owe their
political position to local mafia members) from which they benefit, Sciascia’s approach
could not instigate truly effective change.
By contrast, Camilleri’s novels incorporate a language reminiscent of Sicilian
dialect as opposed to the Standard Italian language which his characters regard as the
bureaucratic language of the State. Unexpectedly, his novels have engaged millions of
enthusiastic readers that span the socio-economic spectrum in Sicily, Italy and abroad
(Sorgi 79).8 Passionate readers of all ages enter into the mechanism of his mysteries and
Camilleri, Andrea. Personal interview. 4 Nov 2003.
Carlo Bo suggested that “Camilleri fills a void that is the writing of high entertainment, something present
in England but absent in Italian culture.” (“Camilleri occupa uno spazio vuoto, che in Italia finora non
c’era, che è la scrittura d’intrattenimento alto; cosa che in Inghilterra c’è e che invece da noi manca
completamente.”) Sorgi comments that others have referred to Camilleri as a “craftsman of writing”
(“artigiano della scrittura”).
engage the author directly to express their opinions on the verisimilitude of aspects of his
plots. Avid readers of his mysteries relate with the characters and develop a special
relationship with Camilleri as they invest time and energy to learn the basics of his
dialect creation.
The awareness that Sciascia drew to the Mafia represented a milestone in a
generational battle against organized crime in Sicily; indeed, his contribution was a
fundamental catalyst for the creation of an Antimafia crusade. His publications drew
national and international attention to organized criminal activity in Sicily and forced the
government to abandon its complacency in the face of Mafia activity. However, to
change a culture and eradicate problems that have existed for centuries it takes a
revolution and ultimately, as the Italian revolutionary theorist Antonio Gramsci asserted,
revolution must come from within the existing system.
Little can be gleaned about Sicilian culture from Sciascia’s mysteries and hence,
the highly innovative nature of Camilleri’s novels-- they humanize the victims of
organized crime as they depict average Sicilians whose lives are adversely impacted by
Mafia activity. Camilleri’s novels are vitally important to continuing the social crusade
initiated by Sciascia; they draw attention to the weak and exploited in hopes of
eliminating social injustices. When read in a chronological order, both Sciascia and
Camilleri’s mystery novels provide a window to modern/contemporary Sicilian culture
that reveals the evolution of a collective moral consciousness. Sadly, this evolution of
consciousness is juxtaposed with that of the Mafia, a labyrinth of global activity whose
increasingly elusive nature has no regard for human life.
Chapter three considers a number of the historical novels and essays written by
Sciascia and Camilleri; both authors are adamant that the elements responsible for
Sicily’s modern social injustice are found in the island’s history. While they agree on the
crucial importance of studying historical events that have been obscured by the official
version of history, they differ in their approach. Sciascia examines profound, historical
events that have shaped Sicilians’ attitudes towards government, law and religion: his
novels explore the barbaric activities of the Holy Inquisition, land laws and taxation that
favored the nobility and the Church’s persecution of bishops in Sicily. By contrast,
Camilleri focuses on local historical events that have affected the merchant and lowerclasses, events that are often neglected by historians as they reveal the systemic
repression and abuse of the lower classes by local government and church officials.
The concluding and fourth chapter regards the “disappearance” novels of
Sciascia, Camilleri and their literary predecessor Luigi Pirandello, who hailed from the
same southwestern province of the island. These three authors are inextricably linked
through their cultural affinities and their shared preoccupation with the themes of identity
and moral responsibility in the context of a greater social good. A reading of their
disappearance novels provides a synthesis of their unique literary visions.
Leonardo Sciascia: Forging the Path of Social Engagement through the
Sicilian Mystery Novel
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human
beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always
take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
-Elie Wiesel
In modern Sicilian society, organized crime is not an aberration but rather a
recognized system that operates parallel to and arguably, in harmony with that of the
State. It benefits a few to the detriment of the majority, which is why Sciascia called the
Mafia a “parasitic bourgeoisie” in To Future Memory (A futura memoria). Sciascia
attributed the perpetual cycle of miserable economic and social conditions in Sicily to the
Mafia-like attitude that is commonplace in Sicilian daily life. This multi-faceted and
elusive organization secured a place within Sicilian society as the result of complex
historical events that occurred during recent centuries in Sicily, Italy’s largest region.
Throughout history, Sicily has been conquered and inhabited by numerous
cultures as a result of its geographic location in the heart of the Mediterranean. Centuries
of foreign domination are partly responsible for an entrenched distrust of institutionalized
government and law enforcement within Sicilian culture and for the creation of the
Mafia. Rather than appeal to the official system of justice for representation, people
would turn to members of the Mafia to settle agrarian disputes and seek retribution for
injustices suffered. Initially, the organization offered protection to powerless individuals
and played a constructive role in Sicilian society for which it earned the trust and respect
of locals. Its infrastructure was reinforced by the creation of an Italian nation state in
1861 that would radically alter Sicilian society through agrarian land reforms, the
imposition of taxes and a military draft, all of which caused the general public to resent
the national government and its representatives.
Under the Fascist regime, the Mafia was regarded as a threat to the State's power
and those connected to organized crime, an activity that undermined Fascist totalitarian
rule, were aggressively persecuted. Although effectively suppressed by the Fascists,
organized criminal activity was not eradicated. Following the Second World War the
Sicilian Mafia, known as “Cosa Nostra” (a name that refers specifically to the Mafia in
Sicily) vigorously resumed its activities, revitalized by the freedom of democracy. In a
sense, Italy's post-war government, The First Republic, served as a conduit for the
Mafia's resurgence as many members of the Christian Democratic Party (the party that
would monopolize political power for more than fifty years following the Second World
War) either directly or indirectly profited from their illegal activities.
Despite the Mafia's transformation into a socially destructive and parasitic
organization, Sicilians remain reluctant to cooperate with official investigations into its
activity, an attitude that empowers organized crime and undermines the legitimacy of the
official system of justice. It was against this culture of conspiratorial silence (omertà)
that Leonardo Sciascia courageously rebelled, making it his mission to denounce Mafia
activity and the social injustices responsible for its creation.
Leonardo Sciascia was born in Racalmuto, Sicily in 1921, a small town in the
southwestern province of Agrigento, one of the poorest and least developed areas of Italy.
Sciascia’s family was of modest means as his father worked as a manager for a sulfur
mining company. Growing up, he witnessed the intense poverty in which others lived
and the unjust conditions to which laborers were subjected. This experience molded his
consciousness of the human condition and strengthened his conviction that it is the civil
obligation of the privileged and educated to fight for social justice to protect the less
As an elementary school teacher in Racalmuto during the post-war decades, he
had daily contact with the economic hardships that shaped the lives of his pupils. From
this first-hand experience Sciascia developed an acute awareness of the effects of
corruption and the abuse of power upon the general population. His belief that such
social conditions were responsible for the underdevelopment and lack of opportunity in
Sicily became the focus of his writing.
To best understand the social and economic conditions in which Sciascia lived
and taught, one must read Salt in the Wound (Le parrocchie di Regalpetra), which he
wrote in 1954. Compelled to write a true chronicle of the scholastic year’s events, these
chronicles embody the themes that would reoccur throughout Sciascia’s literary
production. The chapters are entitled: “The History of Regalpetra,” “A Brief Chronicle
of the Regime,” “Circle of the Concord,” “Mayors and Police Commissioners,” “Parish
Priests and Archpriests,” “Scholastic Chronicles,” “The Salt Miners,” “Electoral Diary,”
“The Snow and Christmas.” Each chapter examines a facet of Sicilian society and the
intense social injustice that inspired Sciascia’s social engagement through his literary
activity and political participation.
Although the chronicle is set in the imaginary town of Regalpetra, Sicily, Sciascia
stated that Regalpetra was analogous with hundreds of towns across the island. To his
amazement, upon the publication of these scholastic chronicles in the bimonthly journal,
“New Arguments” (“Nuovi argomenti” volume n.12 January-February, 1955), Sciascia
received acknowledgement from teachers across Sicily that shared his experience and
commended him for his courage in transcribing such crude realities. Sciascia added the
following note to a later edition of Salt in the Wound:
I believed that I had transcribed the facts of a particular experience in these
chronicles; I did not think similar conditions were found in other parts of Sicily
and in cities such as Palermo and Catania. The consensus that my Sicilian
colleagues demonstrated, that all I had written was true, and that I had possessed
the courage to write about it, surprised me in a certain sense. Some told me that
in certain areas, conditions are even worse. (Sciascia 143)9
These scholastic chronicles reveal the driving forces behind Sciascia’s passion for
social justice. He describes the impoverished economic conditions of his pupils, the sons
of farmers, salt and sulfur miners who attend school to the chagrin of parents who
desperately need their help in the fields and elsewhere to support their families. They
come dressed in rags with desperate hunger in their eyes to learn to read and write,
useless skills for the destiny to which they, as their fathers beforehand, are condemned.
Sciascia was incredibly frustrated by this cycle of poverty, and with the state-imposed
“Credevo di aver trascritto in esse i dati di una particolare esperienza, non pensavo condizioni simili si
riscontrassero in altre parti della Sicilia, anche in città come Palermo e Catania. Il consenso che colleghi
siciliani mi manifestarono, che tutto quel che avevo scritto era vero, e che avevo avuto il corraggio di
scriverlo, in un certo senso mi sorprese. Qualcuno mi disse che, in certi posti, c’è addirittura di peggio.”
curriculum he was required to teach-- material that had absolutely no relevance to the
lives of his pupils and to which they could not relate. He writes:
I read them a poem, I search for the clearest words, but it suffices to really look
at them as they are, far away as if at the end of a reversed binocular, in their
reality of misery and rancor, far away with their confused thoughts, their tiny
desires of unattainable things, and the luminous echo of poetry shatters within
me. (Sciascia 143)10
Sciascia suggested that Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed (I promessi sposi) be an
integral part of the school curriculum, not for the portrait that it offers of 17th Century
Italy but rather, for the reflection it offers of modern day Italy (To Future Memory 91).
He describes the discomfort he felt standing in decent clothing in front of such
underprivileged children whose parents regarded him as a representative of the State, the
State which imposed taxes, mandatory military service and education for their sons,
depriving them of farm hands. He writes, “Here, in a remote village in Sicily, I enter the
classroom with the heavy heart of a sulfur miner who descends into the dark mining
tunnels” (Salt in the Wound 111).11
Sciascia was committed to contributing to the betterment of society in any way
possible, through teaching, politics and perhaps most effectively, through his literary
contributions. Unlike many Sicilian authors who have left the island to join the literary
circles in Rome and elsewhere on the mainland, Sciascia lived in Sicily his entire life.
Elected councilor as an independent candidate to the Italian Communist Party in 1975
and to both the European Parliament and Chamber in 1980, Sciascia accepted the latter
“Leggo loro una poesia, cerco in me le parole più chiare, ma basta che veramente li guardi, che
veramente li veda come sono, nitidamente lontanti come in fondo a un binocolo rovesciato, in fondo alla
loro realtà di miseria e rancore, lontani con I loro arruffati pensieri, I piccoli desideri di irraggiungibili cose,
e mi si rompe dentro l’eco luminosa della poesia.”
“Qui, in un remoto paese della Sicilia, entro nell’aula scolastica con lo stesso animo dello zolfatore che
scende nelle oscure gallerie.”
post to participate in the parliamentary commission that investigated the slaughter on Via
Fani,12 the kidnapping and assassination of the President of the Christian Democratic
Party, Aldo Moro.
Sciascia’s literary activity constituted a powerful form of social activism aimed at
promoting change by offering readers a grim picture of Sicilian reality and by inviting
them to question the status quo as well as the official version of history and the
importance of justice. Sciascia revisits history in an effort to comprehend modern society
and the centuries’ old cycle of injustice that continues to affect it. In Salt in the Wound,
the ethics that would mold Sciascia’s artistic expression and transcend his vast literary
production are eloquently expressed in his comment, “I believe in human reason and in
the liberty and justice that rise from it” (15).13 In his presentation to the collection of
articles entitled, Leonard Sciascia: Memory, the Future (Leonardo Sciascia: La memoria,
il futuro), Matteo Collura refers to Sciascia as the only dissident voice in Italy during
certain moments and commends the far-sightedness of his works that he argues merit
inclusion in literary canons (7).
Sciascia’s numerous publications consist of historical and detective novels,
chronicles, articles and critiques; an important literary critic, he drew attention to authors
whose works had been marginalized or altogether ignored by the Italian literary scene.
Of his writings, the detective novels were instrumental in eroding the centuries’ old code
The Slaughter on Via Fani refers to the events that occurred in Rome on March 16, 1978 in which Aldo
Moro, the President of the Italian Christian Democratic party, was kidnapped and his body guards killed by
the Red Brigades. Aldo Moro was held captive for 55 days during which the Red Brigades demanded the
political recognition of their movement and the release of various members of their organization on trial in
Turin. When the political parties in power refused to negotiate the President of the Christian Democratic
Party was killed. His body was discovered in the trunk of a Red Renault R4 on Via Caetani, a symbolic
location chosen for its equal distance between the offices of the Christian Democrats and the Italian
Communist Party.
“Credo nella ragione umana, e nella libertà e nella giustizia che dalla ragione scaturiscono…”
of silence that surrounded Mafia activity. His publications raised national awareness of
this elusive organization as it stimulated debates and pressured government officials
(many of whom benefited directly or indirectly from Mafia activities) to acknowledge the
existence of organized crime and its destructive social consequences. It is not a
coincidence that a few years after the 1961 publication of Sciascia’s The Day of the Owl,
the national government organized a “cultural campaign” and assembled an Antimafia
squad to combat organized criminal activity (which some naïve national politicians
mistakenly believed was confined to the region of Sicily) and the socio-political
conditions that allow it to exist.
Sciascia’s legacy exists in the ongoing struggle for social justice in Sicily and in
his unwavering faith in humanity’s moral and ethical obligation to protect and defend the
less fortunate; an attitude embraced by the contemporary Sicilian author Andrea
Camilleri. In Salt in the Wound Sciascia states: “If I become used to this daily anatomy
of misery, of instincts, to this crude human rapport, if I start to view it in its necessity and
as fate, like a body that is made that way and cannot be different, I will have lost that
sentiment, hope and other things that I believe to be my best attribute” (131).14
Mystery novels
Of Sciascia’s vast literary production, this study focuses on his six mystery novels
whose publication spans a period of nearly thirty years: Il giorno della civetta (The Day
of the Owl) 1961, A ciascuno il suo (To Each His Own) 1966, Il contesto (Equal Danger)
“Se io mi abituerò a questa quotidiana anatomia di miseria, di istinti, a questo crudo rapporto umano; se
comincerò a vederlo nella sua necessità e fatalità, come di un corpo che è così fatto e diverso non può
essere, avrò perduto quel sentimento, speranza e altro, che credo sia in me la parte migliore.”
1971, Todo modo (One Way or Another) 1974, Il cavaliere e la morte (The Knight and
Death) 1988, and Una storia semplice (A Straightforward Tale), published posthumously
in 1989.
The Day of the Owl offers an introduction to the phenomenon of the Mafia. To
Each His Own highlights the ineptitude of the local police and the use of anonymous
letters and crimes of passion as means of diverting attention from organized crime.
Equal Danger underscores the political manipulation of law enforcement and official
justice and the unwillingness of officials to take responsibility for judicial errors. One
Way or Another condemns the complicity of the Catholic Church in politics and political
corruption and the consequences of its grave in-action as it fails to condemn such illegal
activity. The Knight and Death demonstrates that organized crime is not confined to the
island of Sicily but is rampant throughout the country and that officials continue to
obstruct justice as they manipulate investigations and knowingly assign the blame to
innocent individuals. Lastly, A Straightforward Tale contains the damning revelation of
the direct involvement of church representatives and law enforcement officials in
organized criminal activity.
The Day of the Owl
Published in 1961, The Day of the Owl is Sciascia's first and most important
mystery novel-- it offers a groundbreaking introduction to the phenomenon of the Mafia
and outlines the steps that the government must take to eradicate this socially and
economically crippling organization. The story opens with the murder of Salvatore
Colasberna (a bricklayer turned businessman), who is shot in the back as he runs to board
the first bus out of town early one morning. Colasberna, together with other bricklayers
had founded the Santa Fara cooperative that was reputed to do excellent quality work at
reasonable prices. Their honest work ethics helped them to win several building
contracts making their cooperative unpopular with competitors “protected” by the local
The story is told from the perspective of the protagonist Captain Bellodi, a
Northern from the town of Parma who is stationed in a small Sicilian town. The fact that
he is not Sicilian is fundamental to the narration for it conveys the challenges that prevent
Sicilians from denouncing their system: they lack a point of comparison to view and
judge their system and they are conscious of the serious personal consequences they
could suffer for drawing attention to the presence of organized crime. Instead, it is
natural for Captain Bellodi to compare the social system and culture in Sicily with that of
his native town and to comment on particular elements of Sicilian society. While his
status as an outsider makes his astute observations and social critique possible; it limits
his effectiveness as an investigator: witnesses are loathe to cooperate with officials of the
State and especially with outsiders.
Just as Sciascia was criticized for his writing, Captain Bellodi is viewed with
diffidence by his Sicilian colleagues and the population. They are annoyed by the naive
desire of an outsider to instigate change in Sicily where corruption and organized crime
are historically entrenched. Sciascia describes the annoyance of some cooperative
members when questioned by Captain Bellodi: “From the first words he uttered the
members of the Santa Fara (cooperative) thought, “mainlander” with a mixture of relief
and contempt; the mainlanders are nice but they don’t understand a thing” (17).15
In comparison with Sciascia's subsequent novels, the presence of Sicilian dialect
is most prevalent in The Day of the Owl. For example, to express distrust of the police a
proverb in Sicilian dialect is cited: “He who sides with the police loses wine and
cigarettes” (Cu si mitti cu li sbirri, ci appizza lu vinu e li sicarri) (53). Captain Bellodi is
reminded of the historical reasons for the Sicilians’ distrust of the law when warned by a
farmer not to pet his dog, named “Barruggieddu.” Curious to learn the word's etymology
the Captain asks the significance of “Barruggieddu” and is told it means evil or
malicious, one who first appears docile but betrays trust and bites those within reach.
The captain is told the name was changed from "Barricieddu" and before that from "o
Bargieddu" at which point the original meaning of the word is revealed: "Bargello, il
capo degli sbirri" (Chief of Police). At that point Bellodi decides not to question the
farmer for it would be useless to expect his cooperation. Furthermore, he acknowledges
that the Bargello had done exactly that for centuries, treated people well at first only to
later ferociously attack and betray their trust. Through Captain Bellodi’s recognition of
the historical reasons responsible for such deeply entrenched distrust, Sciascia reiterates
that to understand modern social injustices you must examine history.
As Captain Bellodi’s introspective nature prompts his ironic reflections on
Sicilian society, Sciascia brings the following cultural elements to the attention of his
readers—anonymous letters, crimes of passion and the family. In reference to
anonymous letters the captain muses: “It’s interesting . . . how in these parts one drowns
“…dalle prime parole che disse i soci della Santa Fara pensarono, ‘continentale’ con sollievo e disprezzo
insieme; i continentali sono gentili ma non capsicono niente.”
in anonymous letters: no one speaks but fortunately for us, for us police [military police],
everyone writes. They forget to sign, but they write” (17).16 His irony alludes to the fact
that yes, anonymous letters do contain clues about the motive for a murder; however, the
author of the letter is typically the perpetrator of the crime framing another individual to
take the blame. No anonymous letter can be taken at face value as things are often not
what they seem.
Similarly Sciascia comments upon the phenomenon of “crimes of passion”, that is
to say when one murders another to defend his honor and that of his family; a defense
commonly used to justify homicide. Captain Bellodi states that often these crimes have
nothing to do with defending one’s honor but are an excuse to mask a less respectable
reason to kill: “In Sicily, Crimes of passion…do not arise from true passion, from the
passion of the heart but rather from an intellectual passion” (101).17 Like anonymous
letters this convenient motive for murder is eagerly accepted by the police and cleverly
employed by the Mafia. In reference to the frequency with which homicides committed
by the Mafia are being ruled a “crime of passion” Bellodi remarks:
Since they first screamed “they killed cumpari Turiddu” from the sudden silence
of the orchestra pit, chilling the spine of opera fans, Sicilian criminal statistics
and the lottery combinations, show a more frequent connection between
cuckolds and murderers. Passion inspired homicide (crimes of passion) is
discovered right away and therefore enters in the active police register:
homicide that is considered a crime of passion carries a light sentence and
therefore enters into the active register of the Mafia. Nature imitates artmurdered upon the lyrical set of Mascagni’s music and by Compare Alfio’s
knife Turiddu Macca began to populate autopsy tables across Sicily's tourist
maps. (38)18
“È curioso …come da queste parti ci si sfoghi in lettere anonime: nessuno parla ma, per nostra fortuna,
dico di noi carabinieri, tutti scrivono. Dimenticano di firmare, ma scrivono.”
“Il delitto passionale, il capitano Bellodi pensava, in Sicilia non scatta dalla vera e propria passione, dalla
passione del cuore; ma da una specie di passione intellettuale.”
“Da quando, nell’improvviso silenzio del golfo dell’orchestra, il grido ‘hanno ammazzato cumpari
Turiddu’ aveva per la prima volta abbrividito il filo della schiena agli appassionati del teatro d’opera, nella
statistiche criminali relative alla Sicilia e nelle combinazioni del giuoco del lotto, tra corna e morti
The lack of regard for the law, and the institution of the State, that inspires such
creativity in the form of anonymous letters and crimes of passion is best understood in
the context of the family structure in Sicily. A family’s honor must be defended at any
cost and therefore Sicilians are willing to accept this motivation for crimes. Sciascia’s
protagonist reflects upon the importance of the family within Sicilian society:
The Captain thought that the family is the only institution truly alive in a
Sicilian’s conscience, but it exists more as a dramatic contractual and juridical
knot than as a natural and sentimental union. For a Sicilian the family is the
State. The State, which for us is the State, is outside, an enforced entity that
imposes taxes, military service, war and the police. (101)19
While Sicilians are united in their cohesion to a family unit, they are often at odds
with their fellow citizens, and this distrust of their neighbors and other outsiders to their
family structure, makes them vulnerable to being framed for crimes they did not commit.
Following Colasberna’s murder, neither the bus driver, the food vendor standing next to
the bus, nor a single passenger aboard the bus claim to have witnessed his death. This
novel exemplifies the mentality of “hear no evil, see no evil” (which Camilleri later refers
to as “nenti vitti, nenti saccio”) and depicts a complacent majority privy of a collective
moral consciousness. Sciascia alludes to the centuries’ old climate of fear responsible for
the witnesses’ refusal to cooperate with the official investigation as he describes their
diffidence: “Now they remained silent, as if their faces were buried under a centuries’
ammazzati si è istituito un più frequente rapporto. L’omicidio passionale si scopre subito: ed entra dunque
nell’indice attivo della polizia: l’omicidio passionale si paga poco: ed entra perciò nell’indice attivo della
mafia. La natura imita l’arte: ammazzato sulle scene liriche dalla musica di Mascagni e dal coltello di
compare Alfio, Turiddu Macca cominciò a popolare le mappe turistiche della Sicilia e i tavoli d’autopsia.”
“..Pensava il capitano, che la famiglia è l’unico istituto veramente vivo nella coscienza del siciliano: ma
vivo più come drammatico nodo contrattuale, giuridico, che come aggregato naturale e sentimentale. La
famiglia è lo Stato del siciliano. Lo Stato, quello che per noi è lo Stato è fuori: entità di fatto realizzata
dalla forza; e impone le tasse, il servizio militare, la guerra, il carabiniere.”
long silence” (10).20 The lack of solidarity amongst Sicilians, expressed in their refusal
to defend one another, allows organized crime to operate without obstruction. They are
united only in their diffidence and distrust of the law and justice system. This sentiment
is captured in the words of a police informant:
That the law was written equally for all, the informant had never believed, nor
could he: between rich and poor, educated and ignorant, there stood the law and
its representatives; and these men could, extend their arm as referee only in one
direction, on the other part they were supposed to protect and defend. (30)21
This informant (who ordinarily reveals the name of an individual innocent of the
fact at hand, someone “without protection”) is killed when he reveals information leading
Captain Bellodi to the trail of the parties responsible for the murder of Colasberna. From
the moment the names leave his mouth, the informant is destined to live his final hours in
terror, aware that he sealed his fate with his revelation. Sciascia writes, “Normally his
revelations affected people outside of this connection of friendship and interests: young
thugs not held in regard that committed a robbery at the cinema and the next day held up
bus; small-time delinquents that were isolated or without protection” (57).22
In his relentless search for the truth Captain Bellodi uncovers evidence that
implicates members of the Mafia in Colasberna's murder. Although the Mafia boss Don
Arena is convicted in court, his conviction is overturned in appeals court: clearly
powerful political officials are behind the scenes protecting others connected to the
“..ora stavano in silenzio, le facce come dissepolte da un silenzio di secoli.”
“Che la legge fosse immutabilmente scritta ed uguale per tutti, il confidente non aveva mai creduto, ne
poteva: tra i ricchi e i poveri, tra i sapienti e gli ignoranti, c’erano gli uomini della legge; e potevano, questi
uomini, allungare da una parte sola il braccio dell’arbitrio, l’altra parte dovevano proteggere e difendere.”
“Di solito le sue confidenze colpivano persone estranee a questa trama di amicizie e di interessi:
giovinastri sconsiderati che la sera vedevano una rapina al cinematografo e l’indomani andavano a
fermare un autobus; delinquenti di piccolo affare, insomma, isolati, senza protezioni.”
murder. As the novel ends Captain Bellodi vows to continue to impose justice in Sicily
despite his defeat in bringing Don Arena to justice.
Just as Captain Bellodi questions Don Arena about the source of his hundreds of
millions of lire on deposit in various bank accounts (with no legal source of employment
and land that generates a nominal revenue it is obviously obtained through illegal
activities), Sciascia encourages the government to increase transparency of the banking
sector and conduct fiscal reviews of the funds suspected of having a connection to
organized crime. Sciascia maintained this is a critical step in combating mafia activity-an approach that proved effective when employed twenty years later by the Antimafia
Magistrate Giovanni Falcone.23
With the Publication of The Day of the Owl people could no longer deny the
existence of organized crime for this novel provides a clear example of how it operates.
In the Appendix added to a later edition Sciascia writes:
The Mafia was and is another thing, a “system” that in Sicily contains and
moves the economic interests of a class that we can closely describe as the
bourgeoisie and that rises from and it develops in the emptiness /vacuum of the
State (that is to say when the State with it laws and orders is weak or does not
exist) but inside the State. In other words the Mafia is nothing other than a
parasitic bourgeoisie, a bourgeoisie that does not labor or produce but that
merely exploits. The Day of the Owl in effect is nothing more than an example
of this definition. (137)24
Giovanni Falcone introduced an innovative investigative technique, following "the money trail", to build
his case. Subsequently, he became part of Palermo's Antimafia Pool, created by Judge Rocco Chinnici. The
Antimafia pool was a group of investigating magistrates who closely worked together sharing information
to diffuse responsibility and to prevent one person from becoming the sole institutional memory and
solitary target. Next to Falcone the group consisted of Paolo Borsellino, Giuseppe Di Lello and Leonardo
Guarnotta. 11 Sept. 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovanni_Falcone/>.
“Ma la mafia era, ed è, altra cosa: un <<sistema>> che in Sicilia contiene e muove gli interessi economici
e di potere di una classe che approssimativamente possiamo dire borghese; e non sorge e si sviluppa nel
<<vuoto>> dello Stato (cioè quando lo Stato, con le sue leggi e le sue funzioni, è debole o manca) ma
<<dentro>> lo Stato. La mafia insomma altro non è che una borghesia parassitaria, una borghesia che non
imprende ma soltanto sfrutta. Il giorno della civetta, in effetti, non è che un <<per esempio>> di questa
While this first mystery The Day of the Owl, is clearly set in Sicily (the towns are
referred to as C. or S. etc. to demonstrate the Mafia's ubiquitous nature on the island), the
setting of subsequent novels is increasingly ambiguous to convey the presence of the
Mafia and corruption at a national level. At the end of the novel Capitan Bellodi
Italy is also incredible: and one must go to Sicily to understand how incredible
Italy is. Perhaps all of Italy is becoming like Sicily…. As I was reading about
the scandals of the regional government in the newspaper an idea came to me,
the situation is similar to that scientists refer to as ‘the path of the Palm tree’,
that is to say the climate that is conducive to the growth of the palm tree, is
moving north, something like 500 meters every year… (125)25
Of Sciascia’s detective novels, The Day of the Owl is the most organic. The
protagonist Captain Bellodi is a character Sciascia based upon the figure of Major Renato
Candida, a commander in Agrigento who had an exceptional sense of social awareness
and an understanding of the phenomenon of the Mafia during the 1950’s. Upon the
publication of a book that he wrote on the Mafia, Major Candida was transferred to
Turin, as was common practice anytime a member of the Carabineri or Polizia
demonstrated intelligence and a desire to combat the Mafia. Like Major Candida,
Sciascia’s protagonist Captain Bellodi is an exemplary individual whose intelligence,
meticulous morality and heightened sense of civic duty will serve as a model for
subsequent protagonists.
“Incredibile è anche l’Italia: e bisogna andare in Sicilia per constatare quanto è incredibile l’Italia.”
“Forse tutta l’Italia va diventando Sicilia…. A me è venuta una fantasia, leggendo sui giornali gli scandali
di quel governo regionale: gli scienziati dicono che la linea della palma, cioè il clima che è propizio alla
vegetazione della palma, viene su, verso il nord, di cinquecento metri, mi pare, ogni anno…”
To Each His Own
To Each His Own, Sciascia’s second detective novel published in 1966, features
Professor Laurana, a high school Latin teacher, as its protagonist. The professor acts as
an amateur detective as he investigates the murder of Doctor Roscio and the Pharmacist
Manno, who were killed while hunting. Although there is no reference to a particular
town, the mention of sulfur and salt production indicates that the novel is set in western
The mystery begins with the delivery of an anonymous letter to the Pharmacist
Manno, news that immediately spreads throughout the small town. As the pharmacist is
an upstanding citizen with no enemies the letter is considered a joke, yet after his death it
is regarded as the threat that foreshadowed his fate and that of Doctor Roscio.
A peculiar embossing on the stationary used for the anonymous letter reveals that
the paper is of exceptional quality and is quite rare. Although the characters contained in
the anonymous letter are cut out of a newspaper, the professor notes that the characters
have a distinct font, unique to a religious publication written in Latin and to which only
two clergy members in town subscribe. Incapable of perceiving such subtle clues, the
local police are portrayed as ineffective investigators who lack the intelligence and
cultural sensitivity to solve the mystery. Prompted by naïveté or convenience they
believe that the anonymous letter contains the true motive for the crime.
Although he has no intention of making his discoveries public, when Professor
Laurana comes too close to the truth he is killed. As the novel concludes two of
Laurana's acquaintances (with whom he frequented the local circle) learn of his death and
one comments: “He was an idiot” (151). While certainly not an idiot in terms of his
intellectual capabilities, the implication is Professor Laurana was an idiot for thinking he
could uncover the truth and not be killed.
This novel highlights the ease with which people's opinions are easily
manipulated, as they are suddenly willing to believe slanderous gossip about an
individual. In the case of the pharmacist Manno, upon his death most people are willing
to believe he had an affair with a young girl who came to the pharmacy to pick up
medicine for her ill mother. This illicit affair, while unsubstantiated, provides a motive
for his murder, a potential crime of passion committed to avenge the honor of the girl’s
family. The malicious rumor destroys the lives of Mrs. Manno (she is widowed and her
family’s reputation is tarnished), that of the young girl with whom the pharmacist is
accused of having an affair, and her family. This rumor prompts the young girl's fiancé
to abruptly break off their engagement. She is no longer an attractive candidate for
marriage, she is responsible for her family's dishonor and she will strain her family's
financial resources, her fate and that of her family is determined by an anonymous letter.
This novel details the far-reaching consequences of a single crime. The murder of
Doctor Roscio and the Pharmacist Manno produces two physical victims but also
victimizes their families and friends. The eagerness with which the police accept false
motives is highlighted as is their failure to protect citizens.
Equal Danger
Published in 1971 the setting of Sciascia’s third detective novel, Equal Danger is
ambiguous, as the story could take place anywhere in Italy. In the final note Sciascia
states that the setting is an imaginary town and that, “The substance (if there is any) is
intended as that of an apologue on the world’s power, the power that is evermore reduced
in the impenetrable form of a chain of events that we can most accurately call mafiosa”
The protagonist Inspector Rogas is called upon to investigate the highly
publicized assassination of several judges as officials have little confidence in the
investigative abilities of the provincial police squad. However, when Inspector Rogas
highlights the irregularities encountered in his search for motives such as, for example,
the inheritance amassed by a judge that is more than twenty times the amount he would
have earned from twenty-two years of state service, his superiors strongly discourage him
from bringing attention to such matters.
Sciascia highlights the ease with which the police assign blame for crimes to
certain groups or individuals without any evidence. Inspector Rogas is ordered to ignore
his suspicions about an individual he suspects is responsible for the murders and is told
instead to focus on a fringe radical group that clearly had no part in the assassinations.
Rogas contemplates the justice system and its shortcomings; he is convinced the judges’
assassin is an individual that was falsely convicted of a crime for which he is now meting
out retribution by liquidating members of the judicial system.
“La sostanza (se c’è) vuole essere quella di un apologo sul potere nel mondo, sul potere che sempre più
digrada nella impenetrabile forma di una concatenazione che approssimativamente possiamo dire mafiosa.”
Inspector Rogas meets with the President of the Supreme Court, to warn him that
he is very likely a victim on the killer’s list. Afterwards they discuss the possibility of
judicial error and when the President asks the Inspector whether he has ever considered
the problem of judging he replies, “Always.” The President then makes a comparison
between the superior power of a judge and a priest in that the moment they are dressed in
their vestments they are incapable of making an error for they are vested with the power
and trust of the people who will accept their decision as if it were scripture.
The theme of justice and judging is paramount to Sciascia’s scheme of social
responsibility. He maintains that judges and priests have a tremendous amount of
accountability for the perpetuation of organized crime because they are entrusted with a
tremendous social responsibility- to oversee and protect the welfare of all citizens. More
than any other members of society, judges and priests have a moral and ethical obligation
to condemn unjust actions and demonstrate exemplary behavior by protecting the weak
and powerless.
Early in the novel it is clear the Inspector’s superiors are attempting to cover up
the true nature of the assassinations and orchestrate a politically advantageous outcome.
When Rogas discovers he is being followed by members of the Italian Secret Service he
knows the evidence he is uncovering could potentially implicate very powerful
individuals. As if a foregone conclusion, Inspector Rogas is killed in the novel's final
scene as representatives of the system he challenged will not permit that his discoveries
be made public.
One Way or Another
Unlike Sciascia's other mystery novels, One Way or Another, is unique as it is
narrated in the first person. The story’s protagonist, a successful artist, is driving
aimlessly through the countryside one day when his curiosity is piqued by a sign for the
Zafer Retreat. A former monastery converted into a hotel, the retreat is preparing to host
spiritual exercises that important political figures, industry leaders and church officials
will attend. Intrigued by the content of these spiritual exercises, the artist (who remains
anonymous) checks in to the hotel for a few days to witness these spiritual exercises
As the artist observes an exercise in which the participants chant and move in a
choreographed fashion across a dimly lit room, an ex-senator is shot and killed. In its
investigation of the murder, local police forbid guests from leaving the premises (with the
exception of a few of the men’s' lovers in the hopes of avoiding an even greater scandal).
As the investigation proceeds, it is clear that the cult of power surrounding some guests
will ultimately protect them-- they are considered beyond suspicion by virtue of their
reputations which exclude them from the investigation.
One Way or Another contains Sciascia's scathing judgment on the Catholic
Church's complicity in organized criminal activity and the obstruction of justice. Sciascia
asserts that the Church's in-action, represented in Don Gaetano’s refusal to cooperate
with investigators, constitutes a passive acceptance of the murder. Don Gaetano wields
his priestly vows like a shield to exonerate himself from his moral and civic obligations
to cooperate with the investigation. His behavior not only casts doubt on his integrity and
Christian values, it makes a mockery of the exemplary Christian behavior church officials
vow to uphold. Don Gaetano’s insistence that the punishment awaiting the guilty parties
will be decided by God (the only being capable of judgment), and served in the afterlife,
is a convenient, self-serving mentality that would result in a total breakdown of law and
order if applied on a larger scale.
This novel is fundamental to understanding Sciascia’s views on the institution of
the Church and the lack of moral leadership that is conveyed in the refusal of the
Church’s representatives to denounce social injustice. The in-action of the Church (its
refusal to publicly condemn the Mafia) has far reaching consequences for the entire
society and ultimately bears some of the responsibility for the social inequities that local
parishioners benefited from for centuries. Sciascia contends that it is impossible for the
Church to exist as a neutral party and that in attempting to do so they have facilitated
mafia-like activities to the detriment of the less powerful masses, which the Church is
morally obligated to protect.
Midway through the novel a second murder occurs at which point it is clear that
Don Gaetano’s refusal to cooperate has resulted in another death. Thus one crime leads
to another like a chain of events that continues unimpeded. Ironically the story concludes
with the murder of Don Gaetano, whom the artist believes had full knowledge of the
circumstances surrounding the earlier murders. Don Gaetano’s efforts to protect the
identity of the guilty individuals ultimately results in his own demise. The artist reflects
on the uncanny resemblance between a portrait of Lucifer and Don Gaetano to convey
Sciascia’s assertion that frequently those vested with authority, spiritual or otherwise,
appear more evil than those whose actions they have vowed to protect against.
The artist is the most introspective and philosophical of Sciascia’s protagonists,
he bears a striking resemblance to the author himself as he contemplates aesthetics,
religion, and social values. As he observes the official investigation that encounters
resistance, he ironically reflects on the abuse of power and the hypocrisies of the Catholic
The Knight and Death
Nearly 15 years later in 1988, Sciascia published his fifth detective novel entitled
The Knight and Death. The title is appropriate as Sciascia was very ill when he wrote
this novel and was constantly reminded of his own mortality. The novel investigates the
murder of a lawyer named Sandoz. The tone is more cynical than that of previous novels
for the Deputy, the novel’s protagonist, has become jaded by the seemingly impossible
tasks of bringing the truth to light and imposing justice within the framework of the law.
On the eve of his death, Mr. Sandoz and a friend, the President of an important
industrial consortium, exchange notes that read, “I’ll kill you.” at a dinner party. As the
only evidence for a possible motive, the Deputy questions the President about the note,
who explains that it refers to a longstanding joke they have about courting the same
woman. The President tells the Deputy that Sandoz confided in him that he had received
threatening phone calls. Of course, they had not taken the threats seriously as they
assumed they were a joke, prompting the Deputy to think: “Yet another joke, these
people don’t do anything but joke” (23).27
“Ancora uno scherzo, pensò il Vice, questa gente non fa che scherzare.”
As in the novel Equal Danger, the Deputy is pressured by his superiors to ignore
suspicions about a high-ranking industry leader that implicate him in the assassination of
the lawyer Sandoz and to focus his investigation on a fringe political group of
disenfranchised youths referred to as the “Sons of 1989.” The Deputy reflects upon the
willingness of law enforcement officials to prosecute individuals for crimes they clearly
did not commit and their lack of conscience in doing so. Like Inspector Rogas in Equal
Danger, the Deputy is killed for suspecting the true nature of the crime and following a
course of investigation his superiors warned him not to. In a familiar ending, the Deputy
is shot dead one evening as he leaves his house. As he falls to the ground, he solves the
mystery and bitterly envisions the morning paper’s headline that will mistakenly attribute
his death to a fringe political group: “The Sons of ’89 strike again. The police official on
their trail is killed.”
Although the Deputy is Sicilian, The Knight and Death is set in an unspecified
Northern Italian city; through this detail Sciascia emphasizes that organized crime is not
confined to Sicily and that corruption is prevalent nationwide. In an ironic twist of
events, there is no longer a northern captain investigating crime in Sicily as in the case of
The Day of the Owl, but rather a reversal of this scenario with a Sicilian deputy
investigating crime in a Northern Italian city.
A Straightforward Tale
Published posthumously in 1989, Sciascia’s last crime novel, A Straightforward
Tale, brings Sciascia’s detective fiction to a full circle. Like his first mystery novel, A
Straightforward Tale is set in Sicily. The novel is prefaced by a quote from Dürrenmatt’s
The Execution of Justice, “Once again I want to scrupulously sound out any possibilities
that perhaps still exist for justice.”28 The choice of this quote captures Sciascia’s
relentless struggle to communicate with an audience and his undying hope in humanity’s
ability to rectify social injustices.
The story begins with a telephone call that no one takes seriously, especially as it
is the evening of the festival of San Giuseppe the Carpenter. A man has discovered
“something” at his country home that he would like the police to go and see but he does
not elaborate. Told by his superior to ‘go and check it out, if he wants to, but that it is
most likely a joke’ (especially as it is the evening of an important local celebration), the
Brigadier and two officers head out the following morning to investigate (12). Upon
their arrival the man who had called is sitting at the kitchen table slumped over dead with
a bullet in his temple. With the exception of the Brigadier, officials are eager to report
the death as a suicide. When the protagonist, the young Brigadier feels certain there is
more to the story, he is warned not to investigate further and to leave the case as “a
straightforward tale” i.e., a suicide.
In the course of his investigation the Brigadier learns that the abandoned country
farmhouse had sheltered a narcotics operation and that his superior, the Police
Commissioner is involved. When the Commissioner learns the Brigadier has knowledge
of his involvement in the case, he makes a desperate attempt to murder him. As the
Brigadier expects the Commissioner to try to prevent him from making his discovery
public he is on guard and rapidly responds to the commissioner's attempt to kill him. The
“Ancora una volta voglio scandagliare scrupolosamente le possibilità che forse ancora restano alla
Brigadier shoots and kills the Commissioner in an act of self-defense and high-ranking
law enforcement officials immediately arrive on the scene. To avoid making the
commissioner’s illegal activities known to the public and to protect the others involved,
they organize the Brigadier’s defense so that he is accused of accidentally killing his
superior. Once again, the true proponent of truth and justice is victimized.
Unlike previous novels, in A Straightforward Tale the direct participation of the
police commissioner and a local parish priest in the production and trafficking of drugs
occurs. The previous passiveness of law enforcement officials and their willingness to
overlook the true culprits of crime has escalated to their direct involvement in the aiding
and abetting of organized criminal activity. Sciascia maintained that those guilty of
passive in-action could not escape blame for their behavior allows the direct participation
in criminal activity to occur.
This detective novel is extremely important to understanding Sciascia’s view on
the ineffectiveness of the Anti-Mafia force in Italy from the late 1960s to the late 1980s.
In fact, Sciascia argued that the problem of organized crime had escalated during these
two decades and become more difficult to combat. Despite the lack of apparent headway
made in the fight against criminal activity and the corruption that perpetuated it, Sciascia
did see one last reason for hope that is expressed in the choice of a native Sicilian for his
final protagonist. In his final mystery novel the story is set in Sicily (there are many
references to Sicily), the protagonist the Brigadier is Sicilian, he has knowledge of who is
responsible for the crime at hand-- and he lives. He cannot, of course, make the truth
known, but he is empowered by his will to survive and overcome the attempt on his life.
In this protagonist, Sciascia acknowledges the importance that the struggle against
organized crime in Sicily, come from within the system. It takes a native to combat these
deeply-rooted social ills, someone from the inside who truly understands the socially
destructive nature of this phenomenon. Sciascia commends the courageousness of this
individual to denounce his superior and to continue his search for the truth.
Analysis of Mystery Novels
While Sciascia communicated eloquently in a variety of genres, his most effective
social denouncement is expressed in the detective novel, the genre he felt to be the most
honest form of literature as noted by author Andrea Camilleri: “He is a writer who
considers the mystery novel to be the most honest form of literature, with its caged logic
from which the narrator cannot escape” (Capecchi 32).29
In his manipulation of the traditional structure of the detective novel Sciascia
reflects the subversive nature of organized crime without alienating his readers. The
pretext of criminal investigations allows him to scrutinize the multiple facets and effects
of criminal activity in their natural context. According to Philippe Renard, “It is wellknown that the police investigation is well-suited to Sciascia’s way of thinking, this
provides him a scalpel with which he uncovers the entire society…” (97).30
The presence of this enigmatic network of corruption, reciprocal favors and
protection amongst powerful individuals in Sciascia’s mystery novels polemicizes them
within the tradition of classic detective fiction. Sciascia challenges that a mystery set in a
“È colui che considera il ‘giallo’ come la forma più onesta di letteratura, con la sua gabbia logica dalla
quale il narratore non può uscire.”
“L’indagine poliziesca, è noto, corrisponde bene alla forma mentis di Sciascia: essa lo fornisce di un
bisturi col quale mette a nudo l’intera società…”
Sicilian context that mirrors Sicilian reality (and later set in an Italian context that mirrors
Italian reality), paradoxically cannot be solved in accordance with the tradition of the
genre, for crimes are rarely solved in Sicily, and indeed, it is an anomaly when the guilty
party is officially accused. The sensation that order and logic have been restored at the
conclusion of criminal investigations in Sicilian society does not exist and therefore, the
traditional structure of the detective novel cannot be fulfilled. In reference to Sciascia’s
avoidance of a solution, Stefano Tani comments, “The suspension of the solution leaves
the lack of justice and the related mechanisms of power and corruption standing bare and
unpunished in a ‘decapitated structure’, so that they become the real theme and purpose
of the fiction” (91).
The mystery novel as written by Sciascia can only end with a sense of defeat, for
it is not possible for the investigator-protagonist to prove the true nature of the crime and
punish the perpetrators within the official framework of law and justice. It is impossible
to restore logic and impose an order that did not previously exist. Sciascia challenges the
premise of the detective novel that societies are based on logic and order and that a
democratic system ensures justice for all citizens. This innovative and subversive nature
of Sciascia’s mysteries prompted Italo Calvino to comment on the impossibility of the
mystery novel within a Sicilian context, “…how the impossibility of the mystery novel
within the Sicilian environment is demonstrated” (Calvino, Foreword To Each his Own).
“…come viene dimostrata l’impossibilità del romanzo giallo nell’ambiente siciliano.”
Mystery Novels with a Social Purpose - Communicating the Possibility of Change
Sciascia’s detective novels highlight the complicity required at various levels of
provincial and national governments, in addition to the reticence of the Catholic Church
(and its occasional direct participation in illegal activities) in order for a complex
organization like the Mafia to operate. Sciascia turns the spotlight on the corruption and
malfeasance that prevail amongst politicians, representatives of the judicial system, law
enforcement officials and clergy members. He recalls their responsibility as elected
public servants and spiritual leaders as he highlights the devastating consequences of
their morally reprehensible in-action. This is supported by Anne Mullen’s assertion:
The ‘decapitated structure’ of Sciascia’s detective novels, his game playing with
traditional aspects of detective fiction, is for a specific purpose, not for delight
in play itself. The disguise of fiction and, more specifically, the simplicity of
conventional detective writing, allowed him to communicate more complex
notions regarding the nature of politics, power, and mafia, as well as other more
metaphysical concerns. (99)
In a compilation of articles written by Sciascia and published by Bompiani, To
Future Memory – if Memory has a Future (A futura memoria- se la memoria ha un
futuro), Sciascia states the only adjective that can be used to describe the Mafia is
changing (cangiante). His detective novels convey the transformational nature of
organized crime and social dynamics that he witnessed during a span of nearly thirty
year, from 1961 to 1989. To this point: Claude Ambroise has defined Sciascia’s writings
as a work in progress: “Sciascia’s work is a work in progress, that constitutes the
reflection of a world experienced by him, in which the association Sicily-Italy-planetary
society continues to undergo modification” (31).32
In his first detective novel, The Day of the Owl (1961), the structure of the Mafia
is demystified, as the protagonist, Captain Bellodi, draws clear connections between Don
Arena, a high-ranking member of the Mafia, and the suspects of a murder investigation.
Because Don Arena is respected (i.e., feared) by government officials and industry
leaders, Captain Bellodi’s efforts to prosecute him in a court of law are inevitably
undermined. Despite the overwhelming evidence that connects Don Arena to a hired hit
man; corrupt government officials will protect him by testifying on his behalf, confident
that their reputations as honorable and upstanding citizens will discourage further
The connections delineated in The Day of the Owl are more ambiguous in
subsequent mystery novels to mirror the growing complexity of the Mafia in the years
that followed the creation of the First Italian Republic and throughout the latter half of
the twentieth century. During the post-war decades organized crime on the island
underwent a radical transformation; from the suppressive environment of the fascist
regime it evolved into a more sophisticated and expansive organization involved in arms
trafficking as well as the production and distribution of illegal drugs. This dramatic
development greatly increased the economic interests at stake causing the Mafia to
become a more violent organization that required increased participation from corrupt
officials to operate effectively.
“Quella di Sciascia è un opera in progress, che costituisce la riflessione su di un mondo da lui esperito, in
cui è andato modificandosi il rapporto Sicilia-Italia-società planetaria.”
Sciascia’s novels parallel the changing times in which he wrote. In the novels he
published subsequent to the Day of the Owl, the individuals responsible for orchestrating
criminal activity remain anonymous with their identity shielded by an increasingly
violent network of power and protection. Although the complicity of government and
industry leaders remains obvious, their involvement is evermore difficult to prove. It has
always been a challenge to define the Mafia because of the elusive nature of this wellprotected organization (in part owing to the “internal fear” it generates that binds its
participants and victims to a “code of silence”). Sciascia insists that organized crime
could not exist without the support and participation of high-ranking government, judicial
and law enforcement officials.
Stylistic Innovations of the Protagonist
Sciascia’s investigators are a variety of state official such as: Captain Bellodi in
The Day of the Owl, Inspector Rogas in Equal Danger, the Deputy in Death and the
Knight or the Brigadier in A Straightforward Tale, or civilians such as Professor Laurana
in To Each his Own and the Artist in One Way or Another. While some may succeed in
uncovering the truth behind the crimes they investigate, not a single one will see official
justice imposed. This is an important element of his novels; it permits Sciascia to
communicate the existing corruption implied in his mysteries from the perspective of a
variety of inspectors and allows each novel to be viewed in an independent, organic
This stylistic element deviates from the European tradition of the mystery genre in
which the figure of the inspector is the same individual from one story to the next as in
the case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s investigator Sherlock Holmes, Simeon’s Inspector
Maigret and Manuel Vazquez Montalban’s P.I. Pepe Carvalho. Sciascia’s deviation from
this tradition equips each protagonist with a unique perspective and experience that
effectively reinforces Sciascia's message.
In The Day of the Owl, Captain Bellodi not only meets with the Mafia boss Don
Arena, and gathers evidence connecting him to criminal activity; he will convict him in a
court of law. The conviction will be overturned in appeals court on the testimony of
“honorable” individuals who provide a false ability for the accused and yet, this outcome
and “official resolution” (albeit an incorrect one) to the mystery at hand is as close as any
of Sciascia’s investigators will ever come to revealing the truth and imparting official
justice. Some of the protagonists of subsequent novels are assassinated to prevent them
from making their revelations public. While the investigators are continually frustrated
in their attempts to restore law and order this figure simultaneously undergoes an
important demographic transformation that represents hope for Sicilians in their struggle
for a just society free of organized crime. Sciascia’s first investigator Captain Bellodi in
The Day of the Owl embodies a degree of hope as the novel ends with his decision to
continue his struggle in Sicily for truth and justice, despite the futility of his previous
efforts. Captain Bellodi's behavior is exemplary as he is willing to make personal
sacrifices for the betterment of society. Through his determination Sciascia
communicates the selfless and ongoing efforts required in order to eradicate this
centuries’ old problem of Mafia activity. Despite his valiant struggle to see justice
served, the Captain is always regarded as an outsider by his Sicilian colleagues and those
he intends to protect, because he is not a native Sicilian and thus his attempts to effect
change in Sicily encounter resistance and remain largely unappreciated.
Claude Ambroise refers to Sciascia’s protagonists as “defeated” or “vinti” (in the
tradition of Giovanni Verga). Like Giovanni Verga’s characters who were defeated by a
corrupt and exploitative system that prevented them from improving their social
condition, Sciascia’s investigators are defeated by a system of corruption that prohibits
them from fulfilling the traditional role of the investigator as a restorer of logic and order.
Ambroise states: “With the profile of this character during the second half of the 1950’s
Sciascia seems to foresee his subjective work that will carry him from Bellodi (The Day
of the Owl) to the Deputy (Death and the Knight), from a relative hope to desperation”
Of the six mystery novels cited, each concludes with the defeat of truth and
justice, for all six of Sciascia’s investigators are undermined in their efforts to make the
truth known and impose justice. Their voices are suppressed by the social mechanism of
power that violently resists change and that seeks to silence those who draw attention to
its exploitative nature. When his detective novels are read in a chronological order the
“devolutionary process” to which his protagonist-investigators are subjected is evident.
As the result of a nationwide campaign intended to raise public awareness and combat
organized crime during the decades in which Sciascia wrote, one would expect the figure
of the investigator to evolve and become more effective in solving crimes and imparting
justice. Instead, the investigator’s ability to discover the truth and to impart justice within
“Con il profilo di questo personaggio della seconda metà degli anni ’50 del nostro secolo, Sciascia
sembra antivedere un suo travaglio soggettivo, che lo porterà da Bellodi (Il giorno della civetta) al Vice (Il
cavaliere e la morte): da una relativa speranza alla disperazione.”
the framework of the law is perpetually diminished. Each of Sciascia’s investigators is
increasingly inept at restoring order and logic and their efforts appear evermore futile
when contrasted with the surmounting corruption. The intensifying violence present in
the novels that follow The Day of the Owl culminates with the assassination of the
Deputy in Death and the Knight, who is brutally murdered despite the fact he is dying
from cancer. The debilitating cancer that is slowly robbing him of his life (yet not his
will) serves as a metaphor for the destructive nature of organized crime and its crippling
effects on society. His murder represents the more immediate threat of danger for anyone
who dares to expose this labyrinth of power and corruption in which the Mafia is
embroiled. In reference to the death of the Deputy, Natale Tedesco writes: “Within the
clear diagram of the detective story, the pathos of human suffering and of an existential
uneasiness has been introduced” (69).34
Sciascia’s own increasing frustration and disillusionment with the inability of
Sicilian authorities to make the necessary personal sacrifices required to affect social
change is experienced by his protagonists as if they were to represent his alter ego. Upon
the publication of his penultimate mystery novel, Death and the Knight Sciascia stated:
“Even if I continue to write, this is a book that closes for me […]. It closes that which is
my life experience, my judgment on existence, on Italian things, on the sense of being
alive and on the sense of death. It is true; I am serenely desperate. I think that nothing
will change any longer in Italy, at least during the arch of my short life” (Il venerdì di
Repubblica 137).35
“Nello schema lucido della detective-story si è introdotto il pathos del dolore umano, del malessere
“Anche se continuerò a scrivere, questo per me è un libro che chiude[…]. Chiude quella che è la mia
esperienza di vita, il mio giudizio sull’esistenza, sulle cose italiane, sul senso dell’essere vivi e sul senso
Despite Sciascia’s disappointment with the lack of meaningful change he
witnessed during his career, he subsequently wrote one last mystery novel, A
Straightforward Tale. Sciascia once said that if he were a pessimist, he would stop
writing, a statement that attests to the importance Sciascia attributed to the act of
communication in defying this culture of conspiratorial silence (omertà) and to his
undying hope in the possibility for change. It is also an acknowledgement that the social
conditions that have fostered a culture of conspiratorial silence, will take more than a few
decades to change. It is crucial to continue the struggle for social justice irrespective of
how slowly a culture seems to change, for progress is sometimes barely perceptible.
The title of Sciascia's final detective novel, A Straightforward Tale, published
shortly after his death in 1989, ironically implies that despite what high-ranking law
enforcement officials eagerly insist, the investigation at hand is anything but
straightforward. Upon the discovery of a dead body, the state prosecutor demands a
written report as soon as possible, observing: “This is a simple case; we must conclude
the investigation as soon as possible and not allow it to become more complicated…Go
write the report, straight away” (24).36 The Commissioner’s refusal to consider all of the
evidence and his insistence that the death is a suicide calls his integrity into question and
alludes to his underlying complicity in the organized criminal activity that motivated the
murder. From the beginning the Commissioner warns the Brigadier not to romanticize
the events and to use the logical (and of course, convenient) explanation that the death
della morte. È vero, sono serenamente disperato. Penso che nulla cambierà più in Italia, almeno nell’arco
della mia breve vita.”
“Questo è un caso semplice, bisogna non farlo montare e sbrigarcene al più presto… Vai a scrivere il
rapporto, subito.”
was a suicide that requires no further investigation. It is an open and shut case, “a simple
case” and should be left as such.
However, unlike his previous investigators, Sciascia’s final protagonist is not
defeated upon the novel’s conclusion. The brigadier of A Straightforward Tale
represents a radical departure from the fate of his predecessors as he is the son of a
laborer from a Sicilian farming village. He represents hope for the future of Sicilian
society, for he is an average citizen of exceptional moral character who struggles to
discover the truth and impose justice. This is Sciascia’s lasting message that the future
struggle against the Mafia rests in the hands of those who are adversely affected by it.
Although he is falsely accused of the “accidental” murder of his superior, which was
clearly an act of self-defense, the fact that he survives an attempt on his life is significant.
The highly esteemed qualities possessed by Captain Bellodi in The Day of the Owl, his
courage, his desire to make changes that will positively affect others, and his willingness
to make personal sacrifices, more than twenty years later, are embodied by a native
Sicilian. This may be the single most important factor to defeating organized crime.
This seemingly insignificant evolution of the figure of the inspector is crucial to
understanding Sciascia’s belief in the possibility for change. Sharing Antonio Gramsci’s
ideology that revolution must come from within the existing system, Sciascia implies that
a social revolution is required to dismantle the Mafia. However, Sicilians (everyone in
Sicily is in someway indirectly if not directly affected by organized crime) must make the
sacrifices required to create a just society in which people are held responsible for their
actions and in-action and punished accordingly if all individuals are to be granted equal
protection by the official system of justice. Their silence in the face of organized crime
must end if they ever wish to see it eradicated.
Sciascia's Cultural Legacy and Message of Hope
Lacking the tone of disillusionment and frustration that pervades Death and the
Knight, Sciascia’s last literary effort, A Straightforward Tale conveys his lasting message
of hope for the future and for social justice. The title eloquently conveys Sciascia’s
conviction that nothing in life is ever as straightforward as it may appear on the surface.
One must continually question the official version of events in the quest for a just and fair
society. Everyone should feel as deeply disturbed by the social iniquities that abound, as
Sciascia did when standing in front of a classroom of hungry and tired elementary
schoolchildren. Until society develops a collective moral consciousness, it will continue
to accept these inequities as an inevitable part of the status quo. Sciascia’s final
protagonist reflects his own endless quest for the truth and his belief in the ability of good
to prevail, the driving force behind his lifelong literary contribution and the hopeful
message with which he chose to seal his literary expression. Natale Tedesco writes: “In
the story entitled A Straightforward Tale, published in this terrible November of 1989,
Sciascia wanted to defeat desperation yet again with an offer of hope with which his
research concludes, that of his last “paisan,” conveyor of truth, “He continued singing
along the path towards home” (71).37
“… nel racconto Una storia semplice, pubblicato in questo terribile novembre 1989, egli ha voluto
sconfiggere ancora una volta la disperazione, con quell’offerta di speranza con cui si chiude la ricerca del
suo ultimo, ‘paesano’, portatore di verità: <<Riprese cantando la strada di casa.>>”
The exceptional moral qualities possessed by Sciascia’s protagonists make them
unique. In the overwhelming presence of corruption and greed, they are alone in their
pursuit of the truth and in their desire to see official justice imposed, for they regard
justice and liberty as the basis of civil society. In a sense, Sciascia’s protagonists are
autobiographical, for they share certain traits with their author. Sciascia was a serious
and pensive individual, a reclusive figure who used words sparingly and chose each word
he wrote with deliberate intention. The increasing cynicism of his protagonists is
reflective of his personal frustration with the lack of concrete change during his career
and the unwillingness of politicians to serve the interests of those they represent by
making the necessary sacrifices to defeat the Mafia.
Sciascia’s growing sense of despondency and disillusionment is conveyed in the
protagonists’ increasingly challenging task of uncovering the truth. The books his
protagonists read, their reflections upon justice and civic duties are Sciascia’s own;
through his investigators-protagonists Sciascia makes his pleas public. The words and
suggestions of his protagonists are often his own, such as his call for politicians to
conduct a fiscal review of the banking system; the system that too easily accommodates
organized crime by handling the illegally obtained proceeds of Mafia activity as reflects
Captain Bellodi in The Day of the Owl.
The narrative mechanisms of Sciascia’s detective novels appear subversive on
various levels: formal, thematic and metaphorical. At the onset of Sciascia’s detective
novels the reader is immediately thrust into the action of the narration. There is
practically no attention devoted to the physical setting or to details not connected with the
criminal investigation that lies at the crux of the narration. In a sense the protagonists are
Sciascia's only developed characters, for their thoughts are revealed as they contemplate
the evidence of a case, philosophize about human nature, social history and the possible
factors that motivated a crime. Interestingly, nothing is known about the investigators
outside the realm of their work expect for perhaps their origin; there is no mention of
their private lives other than some cultural references they make about literary works they
have read or the visual arts they prefer.
Sciascia’s protagonists are defined through their actions and thoughts in reference
to the crimes at hand, as well as their reflections on history, politics, justice and civic
duty. As little is revealed of their personal lives, they appear two dimensional and in this
manner Sciascia conveys his conviction that an individual’s merit is defined within the
greater context of society. Actions have merit in terms of how they contribute to society
and affect others.
Through his focus on actions, Sciascia’s aim is clear, to communicate a specific
message and to not detract attention from it with superfluous details. He personally holds
individuals accountable for their actions or in-action and demonstrates the consequences
of either path. Sciascia challenges that all members of a civil society have the duty and
obligation to protect their fellow citizens but no individual has a greater moral obligation
than members of the judicial system and the Church. Antonio Di Grado refers to the
complex articulation (also Pirandellian) of Justice as a predominate theme in Sciascia’s
works (11).38 In the words of Antonio Di Grado: “By that ‘context,’ testimonial and
responsible and that bloody inquisition imply a more complex articulation of a theme that
is central in Sciascia: Justice.”
“Ma quel ‘contesto’ omologante e corresponsabilizzante, e quella inquisizione cruenta, implicano pure
una più complessa articolazione (anche questa pirandelliana) d’un tema che è centrale in Sciascia: la
The direct narrative style and clarity of Sciascia’s language give his social
denouncements a poignant force that effectively communicates his social condemnation.
His use of dialect is nominal, so as not to obfuscate the connections he wishes to
highlight between organized crime, corrupt politicians, industry leaders and the Church,
and to ensure a wide readership throughout Italy and abroad. In the preface to Salt in the
Wound Sciascia writes:
I have not had any problems with expression, with form if not subordinated to
the demands of rationally arranging the known more than the recognizable and
to document and to recount with good technique (for which, for example, it is
more important to me to follow the evolution of the detective novel than the
course of aesthetic theories). (11)39
Through the genre of the detective novel he creates a window into the Sicilian
reality in which he was raised and his intellectual creativity had its cultural roots.
Sciascia shares his personal vision with readers through the thoughts and words of his
protagonists in their quest for the truth. The investigator’s struggle to unveil the truth in
Sciascia’s detective novels is analogous to the author’s existential search for absolute
truths regarding justice and civic duty. As had the French Illuminists such as Voltaire
and Stendhal, whose writings were fundamental to Sciascia’s literary formation, Sciascia
has repeated his belief in human reason and in the liberty and justice that rise from it on
multiple occasions.
The detective novel has often been regarded as an ideal genre for postmodern
expression. For example, Carol Lazzaro-Weis interprets Sciascia’s mystery novels in a
Postmodern key referring to the tension created between what is rational and what is not
“…da allora non ho mai avuto problemi di espressione, di forma, se non subordinati all’esigenza di
ordinare razionalmente il conosciuto più che il conoscibile e di documentare e raccontare con buona tecnica
(per cui, ad esempio, mi importa più seguire l’evoluzione del romanzo poliziesco che il corso delle teorie
as a “mockery of extreme rationality”(49) and Michael Holquist claims that
Postmodernism defeats the ‘mechanical certainty, the hyper-logic of the classical
detective story’ to prove that not everything can be rationalized (148). Yet Sciascia
preferred the genre for its tendency to follow reason and logic. Sciascia’s attitude
concerning the importance of content over aesthetics is summarized in the quote by
Georges Bernanos he chose for the preface of A futura memoria: “I prefer to lose readers
rather than deceive them” (11).40
Interested with neither the “entertainment value” of his literary contribution nor
its commercial success- instead, Sciascia insisted that literature had value only in terms of
its social impact; in its ability to stimulate debate and raise awareness of social ills. He
had faith in the power of literature to effectively communicate the human experience and
to serve as a catalyst for an enhanced awareness of the Sicilian reality that he regarded as
a metaphor for all of humanity. Sciascia, as had Pirandello, struggled with life and form.
In Black on Black Sciascia writes: “And so what is literature? Perhaps a system of
‘internal objects’ (I use Professor Whitehead’s expression with impertinence) that
variably, alternatively, unexpectedly shine, eclipse, shine and eclipse- and so on –
towards the light of the truth, As if to say: a solar system” (254).41 According to Antonio
Here is the crux that can reveal the sense of his works to us; his placing himself
in front of the word not as an aesthete, but with the profound conscience that
creating literature is the work of science, of history; with the conviction that
literature is the artifice that does not investigate the world of metaphysical
“Preferisco perdere dei lettori, piuttosto che ingannarli.”
“E allora che cosa è la letteratura? Forse un sistema di ‘oggetti interni’ (e uso con impertinenza questa
espressione del professor Whitehead) che variamente, alternativamente, imprevedibilmente splendono, si
eclissano, tornano a splendere e ad eclissarsi – e così via – alla luce della verità. Come dire: un sistema
certainties but of the realities when the bitterness of doubt grows more than the
nice hopes. (393)42
One of Italy’s most socially engaged authors of the Twentieth Century, Leonardo
Sciascia’s literary contributions are considered by some critics to contain a universal
message destined to transcend temporal and geographical boundaries and for which
Sciascia’s works will find their niche in the cannon of classic literature. While his
mystery novels are innovative, their irresolvability and failure to restore logic breaks
from the tradition of the genre, they may be read as a metaphor of the malice that plagues
all societies. His literary production is a testament to the strength and importance of the
individual will and of the civic responsibility to which all members of society have a
moral obligation to uphold. In an article entitled “The Friend of the Defeated- Sciascia
and Verga,” Claude Ambroise refers to the Sciascian truth as the denouncement of a
writer committed to a battle against the ideas that dictate life in his society (“L’amico del
vinto-Sciascia e Verga.” Conferenza su Leonardo Sciascia e la tradizione dei siciliani
Perhaps more interesting than his detective novels themselves are Sciascia’s
reflections upon the role his literary contribution played in effecting change within Italian
society. In an article published in L’Espresso in 1983 and later included in To Future
Memory, Sciascia writes:
Twenty-five years ago, when stumbling upon a news story based on a meeting
of the Chamber of Deputies that I had attended, I had the idea to write The Day
of the Owl. What a Sicilian from the western provinces of a certain shrewdness
and awareness knew about the Mafia was not little. In every town, in every
“Qui è il nodo che può svelarci il senso della sua opera; il suo porsi di fronte alla parola non da esteta, ma
con la coscienza profonda che fare opera letteraria è fare opera di scienza, di storia; con il suo essere
convinto che la letteratura è artificio e che non indaga il mondo delle metafisiche certezze, ma quello delle
effettualità dove l’acido del dubbio cresce più delle belle speranze.”
neighborhood of the town Mafia bosses were known as were the commanders
and the officers of the Carabinieri (military police). It was known which
politicians these men “carried” or supported (that they recommended to the
voters basically) and from which they were in turn supported in their illegal
systems of profiting. (To Future Memory 67)43
In an article written for Il Corriere della Sera, January 26, 1987, and later
included in To Future Memory, Sciascia reflects on the ineffectiveness of politicians in
their organized campaign to combat the Mafia. While the government presented the
public with a façade of progress in the war against organized crime, the intention to fully
dismantle this vastly complex network was dubious given the corruption involved within
both the law enforcement and justice systems. He states: “The processions, the round
tables, the debates on the Mafia, in a country in which rhetoric and falsification are
behind every corner, serve to appease and create an illusion of doing something and
especially when nothing concrete is being done” (To Future Memory 143).44
Sciascia states that no one was willing, nor prepared to confront the issue of the
Mafia in the early sixties upon the publication of The Day of the Owl. The entire
Antimafia squad that was subsequently created to dismantle the organization known as
the Mafia simply provided a superficial mask to look as though the Mafia was being dealt
with when in reality a few cases were completely blown out of proportion and highly
publicized to create the appearance of a solidified and serious effort to combat organized
crime. This bitter revelation is perhaps best captured in his reflection on the case of Enzo
“Venticinque anni fa, quando, innestandosi su un fatto di cronaca, una seduta cui avevo assistito alla
Camera dei deputati, mi venne l’idea di scrivere Il giorno della civetta, quel che della mafia poteva
conoscere un siciliano delle province occidentali, di una certa sensibilità e perspicacia, non era poco. In
ogni paese, in ogni quartiere cittadino, capi e gregari erano conosciuti quanto i comandanti le stazioni
carabinieri e I carabinieri; conosciuti erano gli uomini politici che loro “portavano” (che raccomandavano,
cioè, all’elettorato) e dai quali erano in effetti portati; conosciuti i loro sistemi di illecito arricchimento, per
lo più consistenti in mediazioni imposte e qualche volta, ad evitare l’imposizione, richieste.”
“I cortei, le tavole rotonde, i dibattiti sulla mafia, in un paese in cui retorica e falsificazione stanno dietro
ogni angolo, servono a dare l’illusione e l’acquietamento di far qualcosa: e specialmente quando nulla di
concreto si fa.”
Tortora,45 of whose innocence Sciascia was convinced. The irony Sciascia wishes to
highlight is that Tortora is finally arrested for a crime that he did not commit whereas on
each occasion in which he had been acquitted he was in fact guilty (To Future Memory
38). Sciascia contends this example was analogous to the overall inefficiency of the
Antimafia force.
He reflects upon the precious opportunity lost during the 1960s when it was
possible to eradicate the mafia during a crucial phase of its evolution, its transformation
from an agrarian-based and insularly confined phenomenon into a complex global
organization that involves the production and trafficking of drugs and weapons. In fact,
this transition together with significant technological advances completely altered the
nature of organized crime; the substantial amount of money and power produced by the
Mafia’s new activities make it an evermore violent and ruthless organization with
increasingly global ramifications and its perpetrators evermore difficult to trace. In the
appendix to a later edition of The Day of the Owl, Sciascia writes:
I wrote this story in the summer of 1960. Back then the government was not
only uninterested in the phenomenon of the Mafia, but it explicitly denied its
existence. The session of the Chamber of Deputies represented in these pages is
fundamentally the response of the government to an interrogation of public
order in Sicily. It seems unbelievable considering that just three years after a
parliamentary commission to investigate the Mafia was ordered. (135)46
He argues that it was inexcusable for members of the government to deny the existence
of organized crime in the sixties where there was plenty of evidence in circulation that
Enzo Tortora was a popular anchorman on national RAI television, who was falsely accused of being a
member of the Camorra and drug trafficking. He became an icon of injustice and a reminder of one of the
gravest miscarriages of justice of the Italian judiciary system. 23 Aug. 2009.
“Ho scritto questo racconto nell’estate del 1960. Allora il governo non solo si disinteresssava del
fenomeno della mafia, ma esplicitamente lo negava. La seduta alla Camera dei Deputati, rappresentata in
queste pagine, è sostanzialmente, nella risposta del Governo ad una interrogazione sull’ordine pubblico in
Sicilia, vera. E sembra incredibile: considerando che appena tre anni dopo entrava in funzione una
commissione parlamentare d’inchiesta sulla mafia.”
documented mafia activity, i.e. the parliamentary inquiry on the economic and social
conditions in Sicily written in 1875, that of Leopold Franchetti and Sidney Sonnino from
1906 and 1910 as well as the memoirs of the ex-prefect Cesare Mori who was sent to
Sicily by the Fascist government to repress all Mafia activity with unlimited power.
Sciascia frequently wrote opinion columns for La Repubblica and other major
newspapers. He stated that the only way to eradicate the problem of the Mafia is to open
up bank records and to conduct fiscal reviews. When first published his mystery novels
served to effectively stimulate a public discourse. In fact, one of the Antimafia
magistrates later assassinated by the Mafia, Giovanni Falcone, told Saverio Lodato in an
interview that members of his generation were greatly influenced by Sciascia’s first
novels, the writer with the merit of providing Italians with an introduction to the
phenomenon (i.e., The Mafia) otherwise literally silenced, ignored, denied” (Lodato 9).47
Sciascia was not interested in creating entertaining literature but rather in
reflecting a social reality that is fraught with injustice and criminality. He maintained
that Justice is not an esoteric concept to be applied ad hoc; it is the inalienable right of
every individual and the pillar of civil society. Sicilian governing and spiritual
institutions have failed in their responsibility to exemplify the highest standards of moral
and ethical behavior, depriving countless individuals of Justice over the centuries. It is
through this lens that Sciascia viewed the world, that of Sicily as a microcosm for social
ills that plague Italy and beyond. The profound impact of Sciascia’s literary contribution
in the fight for social justice should not be marginalized; his courageous denouncement
“Una volta Falcone, in un’intervista mi disse che quelli della sua generazione si erano formati sui primi
romanzi di Leonardo Sciascia, scrittore che aveva avuto il merito- osservava- di dare a tutti gli italiani
almeno l’infarinatura di un fenomeno altrimenti letteralmente taciuto, ignorato, rimosso.”
of social ills through the genre of the mystery novel incited continued social debate about
one of Italy’s most complex social problems: that of the Mafia.
Dialect in the Mystery Novel of Andrea Camilleri: The Crossroads of
Theatrics and Social Engagement
The fight against Mafia, which is the first problem to solve in
our unfortunate and beautiful land, must be not only a cold
repressive action, but a moral and cultural movement,
involving everyone, especially younger generations, the most
fit to feel the beauty of the fresh taste of freedom that sweeps
away the foulness of moral compromise, of indifference, of
contiguity and, hence, of complicity.
—Paolo Borsellino
Educated by priests at a boarding school, Andrea Camilleri vividly recounts a
formative experience from that education, a game known as “accipe” which enforced the
use of Standard Italian language over dialect and had a marked effect on him. “Accipe”,
a Latin verb meaning, “to take” or “to receive”, was a game played with a small wooden
stick. The game rules dictated that when a student said a word in dialect, whoever held
the stick would hand it to that student and say “Accipe (You take it)”. The receiver of the
stick had to hold it until another student uttered a word in dialect, and this could take
days. At night, the child in possession of the stick had to kneel for two hours while the
others immediately went to sleep. In retrospect Camilleri says it was a very useful
exercise for writing and that after having been the recipient of the stick a few times he
was extremely cautious not to speak in dialect. Camilleri later observed: “Perhaps I write
books full of Sicilian dialect as a way to vindicate myself from the torture I suffered
during my youth.” (Lodato 72)48
Andrea Camilleri, Italy’s most widely published author of the Twentieth Century
(Lodato 53) has led an interesting and artistically prolific life. He was born to Carmella
and Giuseppe Camilleri in 1925 in the small Sicilian town of Porto Empedocle, in the
province of Agrigento, one of the poorest provinces in Italy. He was born on September
6, on The Feast of San Calogero which occurs the first Sunday of September, the saint to
whom his mother prayed when she was pregnant, and was therefore baptized, Andrea
Calogero. His mother had given birth to two children before him, a son who died at a
few months and a daughter who died of an infection when she was two years old. As a
result, Camilleri’s parents were very protective of him, often not allowing him outside to
play with other children. He was often surrounded by adults, many of whom were avid
readers; and as a result, he began to read and write at a very young age.
Camilleri’s maternal grandmother Elvira was a very influential figure in his life
who encouraged his sense of wonder and imagination and fostered his interest in
literature. His paternal grandfather, one of the wealthiest men in the province of
Agrigento, ran the family business of sulfur mining, like the Pirandello family. In fact,
his paternal grandmother was a first cousin of Luigi Pirandello; she was married into the
Camilleri family as a means of consolidating the sulfur industry into the hands of few
For secondary school Camilleri attended the Ginnasio-Liceo Empedocle,
frequented decades earlier by Luigi Pirandello. Indeed, one of his close friends, Gaspare
Giudice, would later become one of Pirandello’s best-known biographers. In 1941, at the
“forse scrivo ‘sti libri, pieni di dialetto siciliano, per vendicarmi delle torture subite in gioventù.”
age of sixteen, Camilleri crossed the Straits of Messina for the first time, to attend an
international rally of young fascists in Florence where he had been invited to present his
report on an ideal theatrical repertory for fascist youth along with a comedy “The
Mountains” (“Le montagne”) by Giuseppe Romualdi that he had produced and for which
he won second place in the competition.
By the age of twenty Camilleri had participated in several important poetry
competitions such as the Saint-Vincent (named after the location in which it is held), that
had the famous Italian poet, Giuseppe Ungaretti as the president of its jury. Camilleri’s
entry was a finalist, and Ungaretti included his work in the anthology entitled, The Poets
of Saint-Vincent (I poeti di Saint-Vincent) which was published in the prestigious series
by Mondadori, “The Mirror” (“Lo Specchio”). In another competition held in Lugano,
Switzerland, that had Carlo Bo and Gianfranco Contini as members of the jury, Camilleri
was selected as one of fifteen finalists from more than 300 participants. Other finalists
included Andrea Zanzotto, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Danilo Dolci, Maria Corti and David
Maria Turoldo.
Like Leonardo Sciascia, Camilleri was a teenager during the Second World War
and has vivid memories of the hardships they endured, the occupying forces and the
socio-cultural transformations that occurred after the war. He recalls the liberation as he
experienced it in Serradifalco in the province of Caltanisetta, where he hid with his
family, except for his father who was working as vice commander of the Port in Porto
Empedocle. Reflecting upon the American landing, which occurred during the night of
July 9 and the morning of July 10, 1943, Camilleri recalls that it was the first time in
months that he heard the birds sing as he awoke to silence after a night that lacked the
usual sounds of trucks, artillery and aerial bombardments. Although he cried upon seeing
American tanks and jeeps, in addition to the feeling of liberation he experienced, he
sensed a new sort of occupation. Initially embarrassed by his tears, he later read with
empathy that Leonardo Sciascia had also cried on that historic day. Camilleri’s
hometown of Porto Empedocle was obliterated by the Allied forces; when the young
Camilleri returned to look for his father once the fighting stopped, he could no longer
recognize the town in which he grew up.
After the liberation by American forces, his father went to work with the Azienda
Siciliana di Transporti/Sicilian Transport Company in Enna, and the rest of the family
followed. It was not possible for Camilleri to pursue his dream of studying literature at
the University of Florence, for although Sicily had been liberated by the Allied forces,
Florence remained under German occupation until the fall of 1944. So instead, he
enrolled at the University of Palermo in Modern Literature with a specialization in
philology. Camilleri’s desire to teach abroad was thwarted by a low grade he received on
an Italian exam after an argument with the proctor; an unfortunate incident that destroyed
any desire he had to teach in Sicily. It was not until decades later, at the National
Academy of Dramatic Arts, that he would discover the joys of teaching.
In the aftermath of the Second World War there was a debate about the possibility
of Sicily ceding from Italy. Camilleri rejected the separatist movement and felt that if
Sicily should separate from Italy, it would risk facing the domination by landowners and
pro-monarchy sectors (proprietari terrieri, agrari, monarchici), the very economic,
social and political block that had controlled and suffocated the island for centuries.
Camilleri and his friends rebelled against the separatist movement and during this time
they collaborated on a newspaper entitled Baciamo le mani alla libertà (We Kiss the
Hands of Freedom). The only edition to be printed included editorials in which they
addressed the occupying American authorities with pleas such as: “Do you want to help
us out? There are worse Fascists than those you have arrested and you still have not
realized this. We are ready to give first and last names” (Lodato 138). Shortly following
the publication of the first edition, their office was raided during which a cache of
weapons and portraits of Mussolini were discovered in a hallow wall. Camilleri and his
friends, who had no knowledge of the weapons or the portraits, were arrested and beaten
during interrogations about their source. While no formal charges were brought against
them, this incident would later compromise Camilleri’s employment opportunities.
Ironically, it was an anonymous letter that had alerted authorities to the presence of the
cache of weapons and thus, Camilleri personally experienced the destructive
consequences that result from the eagerness of authorities to accept the contents of an
anonymous letter as the undisputed truth.
In 1948 Alba De Cespedes published Camilleri’s first poems in the prestigious
political and literary magazine entitled Mercury (Mercurio) while other poems appeared
in a magazine run by young communists entitled Patrol (Pattuglia) and in a magazine by
Bompiani known as Fishbowl (Pesci rossi). That same year Camilleri wrote his only
comedy entitled, Judgement at Midnight (Giudizio a mezzanotte), which won first place
at a competition in Florence whose panel of judges included important figures from
Italian theater, such as Silvio d’Amico. Camilleri traveled to Florence to accept his prize
during an award ceremony held at the Palazzo Vecchio and he was asked to give a speech
on the cultural situation in Sicily. On this occasion he met some of the most important
Italian literary figures of the day: Montale, De Robertis, Luporini, Pratolini and others.
Afterwards he joined Nicolò Gallo and others at the famous literary café Le Giubbe
At the end of 1948, Silvio D’Amico, the Director of the National Academy of
Dramatic Arts in Rome, was attempting to reestablish the academy with greater
participation by people involved in theater. He invited Camilleri to take the entrance
exam for directors and to present his thesis on Così è (se vi pare) [Right You Are (If You
Think You Are)] by Luigi Pirandello,49 which included a critical textual analysis as well
as ideas on how to direct it, costumes, lighting and scenography. In 1949 Camilleri won
a highly coveted scholarship that paid 30,000 Liras per year for three years to study at the
academy under the guidance of Orazio Costa, one of Italy’s most acclaimed theatrical
Although theater was not his first passion, Camilleri was fascinated by Costa’s
genius in teaching how to read a theatrical text, to analyze it and to realize it on stage.
They met every morning from eight o’clock until noon and Costa explained to him that
there was no difference between literature and theater, that theater was, in fact, great
literature. Camilleri refers to learning from Costa during his first year at the academy as
a tremendously formative experience, and refers to Costa as the only true maestro of
contemporary Italian theater.
To his dismay Camilleri was expelled from the academy after his first year.
While they were staging a production in the Tuscan town of San Miniato, Camilleri and
his friends would sneak into the convent of the Clarisse (Poor Clares) where the female
Luigi Pirandello was the recipient of the 1934 Nobel Prize in Literature, “For his bold and ingenious
revival of dramatic and scenic art.” 14 Sept. 2009.
students were housed to spend the evenings with their girlfriends. One morning
Camilleri and his girlfriend overslept and were discovered by a nun who came to wake up
the girl and fainted upon seeing the two in bed together. This prompted a huge scandal
and when Silvio D’Amico was asked to take action Camilleri lost his scholarship and was
expelled. Orazio Costa was unable to intervene on Camilleri’s behalf because Camilleri
had argued with Silvio D’Amico. Offended by something Camilleri had said, D’Amico
burst out: “You are disgusting, foul, vulgar, terrible, like all Sicilians!” When Camilleri
challenged, “Because you have known many?” D’Amico’s response was, “No. Just one,
Luigi Pirandello. And that was enough” (Lodato 198).50
After his disgraceful exit from the Academy, Camilleri worked odd jobs until
Costa offered him a job as assistant director at Rome’s Repertory Theater and D’Amico’s
son hired Camilleri as an editor for the Encyclopedia of Theater, for which he contributed
pieces on contemporary French and Italian theater and compiled a film bibliography.
After difficult years of making ends meet, Camilleri finally got his break in 1953
when he directed We Made a Journey (Abbiamo fatto un viaggio) by Raul Maria De
Angelis. This production was warmly received and Silvio D’Amico gave it a positive
review that read, “With this production Andrea Camilleri has duly paid and earned his
entrance into the world of theater” (Lodato 203).51
Camilleri never truly aspired to a career in established theater but preferred lesserknown, more avant-garde theater. He directed Arthur Adamov, was the first in Italy to
direct, Endgame (Finale di partita) by Samuel Beckett, and was involved in less popular
“Lei è uno schifoso, turpe, vile, orrendo come tutti i siciliani”, “Perche lei ne ha conosciuti molti?” “No.
Uno solo: Luigi Pirandello. E mi è bastato.”
“Andrea Camilleri esordisce con questo spettacolo e devo dire in coscienza che paga – alla grande – il
suo biglietto d’ingresso nel mondo del teatro.”
forms of theater such as “Teatro dei satiri” and “Teatro Pirandello.” Always on the
fringes of “official” theater (similar to his later literary production), he did what he liked,
and was indifferent to theater aimed at mass consumption.
In 1953 he met his future wife Rosetta, a graduate of the University of Milan, who
was living in Rome and had volunteered as an assistant for a Camilleri production. They
married in 1957. He then took the entrance exams for RAI, the Italian Radio and
Television Corporation— exams also taken by the academic Umberto Eco and journalist
Bruno Vespa. Out of 3,000 applicants, Camilleri was one of the 100 applicants to be
admitted to the final oral examinations. Although he was told that he would be one of the
final candidates admitted, he never received the “official” call to confirm his
appointment. He later discovered from an inside contact that the RAI selection officials
had received unfavorable political information about him that dated to his collaboration
on the newspaper We Kiss the Hands of Freedom. The information the marshal of the
military police in Porto Empedocle shared with RAI destroyed Camilleri’s chance for
employment at RAI and made him a victim of political ostracism.
At the end of 1958, after the political denunciation against him had been
discredited, Camilleri was offered a job on RAI’s third radio program, which broadcast
classical music, poetry and other cultural programs. He later transferred to RAI Due
(Channel Two) to direct televised broadcasts. In 1964 he produced eight comedies by
Eduardo De Filippo and The Inquiries of Commissioner Maigret (Le inchieste del
commissario Maigret) by Simenon with Gino Cervi. He also taught at the Center for
Experimental Cinematography from 1958 to 1965 and from 1968 to 1970.
In 1974, when Orazio Costa left the Academy of Dramatic Arts, he encouraged
Camilleri to apply for his post. Thus ironically, Camilleri entered the Academy, from
which he had been expelled twenty years earlier, as a Professor of Theater Direction, a
position he held from 1974 to 1997. Prior to the literary success that he would enjoy later
in life, Camilleri was best known professionally as a stage director (not only for theater
but also for television on various RAI channels), as a professor at the Academy of
Dramatic Arts, and as a poet. He directed some 110 works for the theater, more than a
thousand radio broadcasts and approximately eighty performances on television.
In 1967 and 1968 Camilleri spent much time in a clinic with his sick and elderly
father; an experience that triggered a personal journey of the memory, in which he
searched for his Sicilian roots, as well as his cultural and human identity. These
reflections prompted his desire to recount certain life experiences in his first novel, The
Way Things Go (Il corso delle cose), which he dedicated to his father. The title of this
novel is insightful for it is based on an observation by the French philosopher MerleauPonty from his novel Sense and Nonsense, “…the way of things is sinuous.”
(“…il corso delle cose è sinuoso”) that is to say, things are not straightforward and they
often are not what they seem. Ruggero Jacobbi, one of the first critics to comment on
this novel observed:
This sentence perfectly describes a certain Sicilian reality that we have become
familiar with, from Capuana to Pirandello, from Brancati to Sciascia, that seems
to escape from the hands of the observer, tangled as it is in simple yet dark
human movements, of ceremonial gestures that allude to a second nature, a
hypothesis of man that is cannot be measured according to the parameters of
logic. (Camilleri The Way Things Go Preface) 52
“Il titolo del romanzo prende lo spunto da una frase di Merleau-Ponty, ‘Il corso delle cose è sinuoso.’
Frase che si attaglia perfettamente a certa realtà siciliana che abbiamo imparato a conoscere da Capuana a
Pirandello, da Brancati a Sciascia. Questa realtà sembra sfuggire tra le mani dell’osservatore, tutta
Camilleri felt the need to publish as he sought to share his stories with an
audience. Although he wrote his first novel The Way Things Go in 1967-68, he did not
find a willing publisher until eleven years later in 1978. His difficulty in publishing this
novel was in part the result of its Sicilian-based language that was deemed too provincial,
too dialectical and difficult to understand. In 1978, a friend of Camilleri’s at RAI
suggested that they adapt his unpublished novel, The Way Things Go for television. It
was not until they were working to serialize the novel on television, that a small
publishing house named Lalli approached Camilleri with an offer to publish his work.
They agreed to publish The Way Things Go free of charge, if the name of their publishing
house were included at the end of the title on the television production. Thus, Camilleri’s
first novel was finally published in 1978 as a result of its connection to television.
Camilleri’s second novel, A Thread of Smoke (Un filo di fumo) was published in
1980 by Garzanti publishing house and unlike The Way Things Go, it enjoyed national
distribution. That same year Camilleri uncovered documents that shed light on a littleknown massacre of 114 Sicilians that took place in his birth town of Porto Empedocle in
1848. He approached Leonardo Sciascia53 with the documents he had found and
proposed that Sciascia write a book about it (he had already written a historical essay
entitled, On Behalf of the Infidels [Dalla parte degli infedeli]). Sciascia was not
interested in undertaking the project but promised Camilleri that if he wrote it himself he
would have it published by the Palermitan publishing house Sellerio. From 1980 to 1984
Camilleri wrote the historical novel, The Forgotten Massacre (La strage dimenticata)
intessuta com’è di moventi umani elementari ma oscuri, di gesti cerimoniali che alludono a una seconda
natura, a un’ipostesi dell’uomo non misurabile secondo i parametri della logica.”
Camilleri first met Sciascia in Rome in the late 1950’s when he wanted to adapt the Notarbartolo Crime
(Delitto Notarbartolo) as a script for television (which Sciascia refused to do) and again in 1962 as he
directed Sciascia’s, The Day of the Owl for the Teatro Stabile in Catania with Giancarlo Sbragia.
which recounts in astonishing detail the events that occurred nearly 150 years earlier. As
promised, it was published in 1984 by Elvira Sellerio who would later become
Camilleri’s principal editor.
Eight years passed before Camilleri, who claims to have undergone a crisis in
writing, published another novel. However, his most productive years in theater direction
occurred during this period from 1984 to 1992 and he concluded his directional career
with his best productions, including two of Pirandello’s plays, The Mountain Giants (I
giganti della montagna) and The Fable of the Substitute Son (La favola del figlio
cambiato). Years later in 2001 Camilleri would write a biography on Pirandello entitled
Biography of the Substitute Son (Biografia del figlio cambiato). Giorgio Prosperi, an
important critic noted that “Andrea Camilleri is a director who has studied Pirandello for
a very long time” (Sorgi 69).54
In 1992 Camilleri published Hunting Season (La stagione della caccia), a
historical novel that grew from the voluminous documents contained in the 1875
parliamentary inquiry on the conditions in Sicily. The novel Hunting Season was born
from a joke contained in these documents that reads: “The president of the parliamentary
commission asked the mayor of a small town from Sicily’s interior if any violent crimes
had occurred recently in his town, to which he responded, ‘No, your Honor, absolutely
not. Except for the pharmacist who killed seven people for love.’”
Although Elvira Sellerio was disturbed by Camilleri’s style of writing, Hunting
Season became his second publication with Sellerio in 1992 and was included with The
Forgotten Massacre in the “Notebooks from the Sicilian Library of History and
“Andrea Camilleri è un registra che ha lunghissimamente studiato Pirandello.”
Literature” (“Quaderni della biblioteca siciliana di storia e letteratura”), a series dedicated
to historical documents and Sicilian narrative. Upon reading the novel Leonardo Sciascia
criticized Camilleri’s use of dialect, “Andrè, there are too many Sicilian words. You
wrote a beautiful book, A Thread of Smoke. Be careful: excessive dialect reduces the
comprehension. I’m not speaking from a commercial point of view, but from the point of
view of transmitting an idea” (Lodato 239).55 For Sciascia, the distinction between an
essay and a novel was a very important one, and it was necessary to modify the language
Camilleri states that his novel Hunting Season was pivotal in terms of technique,
“For me as a writer an important fact occurred: I passed from the somewhat theatrical
corality of a novel such as A Thread of Smoke, to an attempt to define the characters in
search of a protagonist. This is my most bitter novel” (Sorgi 72).56 The novel sold well;
a second edition was published and two years later it was transferred to “The Memory”
(“La memoria”) series, a collection of narrative works.
Between 1992 and 1993 Camilleri wrote the historical novel The Seal of
Agreement (La bolla di componenda) based on documents that referred to the widespread
dispensation of a “special” stamp by ecclesiastical powers in Sicily. This stamp was
radical as it granted recipients absolution from future crimes they intended to commit.
The word “componenda” signifies an accord or compromise reached, that is intended to
resolve a contentious issue between two parties.
“Andrè, troppe parole siciliane ci sono. Tu hai scritto ’sto bellissimo libro che è Un filo di fumo. Stai
attento, eccedendo in dialetto ti tagli comprensione. Non lo dico dal punto di vista commerciale, lo dico dal
punto di vista della trasmissione di un’idea.”
“…a me come scrittore succedeva un fatto importante: passavo dalla coralità un po’teatrale di un
romanzo come Un filo di fumo a un tentativo di definizione dei personaggi, alla ricerca del protagonista. È
il mio libro più amaro.”
As Camilleri continued to focus on his writing technique he became conscious of
the manner in which he created his stories, starting with a single fact that had impressed
him and writing the story around the fact, as if in concentric circles. As he gradually felt
the need to rationally plan his writing, he followed the advice that Sciascia had given him
years earlier to consider writing mystery novels, the genre that Sciascia felt offered
writers the truest form of expression (Sorgi 73). In 1994 Camilleri published his first
mystery novel with Sellerio: The Shape of Water (La forma dell’acqua). Admittedly
unable to create a plot from scratch, Camilleri begins with a fact or conjecture upon
which he builds his story. With regards to The Shape of Water he states:
I do not know how to invent stories out of thin air; I need a source of truth. Then
I remembered an episode that occurred years ago in Lazio when they found a
local notary dead. Poor thing, it’s not that he wanted to frequent prostitutes, but
he died in his lover’s house and they left him there, in the woods, with his pants
pulled down. It was an episode that seemed intentionally staged to encourage
people to invent their own conjectures. That’s how the murder of the engineer
Luparello occurs in my novel, The Shape of Water, at the bottom of a series of
canals and connections that are Vigàta’s committee of political-mafia affairs that
Inspector Montalbano investigates for the first time. (Sorgi 74)57
The novel’s protagonist, Commissioner Salvo Montalbano would inspire Camilleri as an
author and catapult him from relative obscurity onto the national literary stage to become
Italy’s most published author of the Twentieth Century.
As Camilleri felt Montalbano was not a completely developed character in The
Shape of Water he wrote The Terra-Cotta Dog (Il cane di terracotta), a novel intended as
an exercise to better develop his protagonist. Published in 1996, The Terra-Cotta Dog
“Io le storie non me le so inventare di sana pianta; ho bisogno di una spinta di verità. Allora mi è venuto
in mente un episodio accaduto anni fa nel Lazio, quando trovarono un notabile locale morto. Poveraccio,
quello non è che si voleva sputtanare, ma era morto in casa dell’amante e l’avevano buttato lì, in un bosco,
con l’aggiunta dei pantaloni calati. Era un episodio che sembrava fatto apposta per costruirci su delle
congetture. Così, accade nel mio romanzo per l’assassinio dell’ingegner Luparello, sullo sfondo di quella
serie di canali e collegamenti che dà forma, La forma dell’acqua appunto, al comitato d’affari politicomafioso di Vigàta, su cui per la prima volta indaga il commissario Montalbano”.
marks the true birth of the Inspector Montalbano; the character who would unexpectedly
fuel Camilleri’s fame and the mass appeal of his mystery novels, an occurrence referred
to by Saverio Lodato as the “Camilleri phenomenon” (“Il Caso Camilleri”).
The Mystery Novel and Inspector Montalbano
This research examines the first seven of Camilleri’s mystery novels to feature the
Inspector Montalbano.
The Shape of Water
Published by Sellerio in 1994, Camilleri’s first mystery novel The Shape of Water
is set in Vigàta, a fictional small Sicilian town in the southwest province of Agrigento,
“An imaginary center of the most typical Sicily” (Camilleri The Snack Thief 247).58 The
novel opens with the discovery of a dead body, that of the Engineer Luparello, an
influential political and the newly elected head of the local Christian Democratic
coalition. Although the engineer is highly respected and considered a morally upstanding
citizen, his half-naked body is discovered in a car by two trash collectors at the Mànnara
(the name of a rural location that is the scene of drug use and prostitution). An autopsy
reveals that he died of natural causes and yet Montalbano is reluctant to close the
investigation. He perseveres to uncover the true circumstances of the politician’s death
and learns why his body was discovered in such a sordid location, most unexpected of a
man known for his calculated behavior.
“Il centro più inventato della Sicilia più tipica.”
Montalbano’s investigation reveals that Luparello’s secretary and closest political
advisor, the lawyer Rizzo, a man widely known to have ties to the local Mafia, gave the
order to move Luparello’s dead body to the Mànnara to ensure that the scandalous
circumstances of his death posthumously scar his impeccable reputation. In doing so,
Rizzo embroils Luparello’s faction of the Christian Democratic Party in a scandal
intended to shame its members into submission so they will accept a leader from the rival
faction to succeed Luparello as party president. Thus, the honorable Cusumano from the
opposing faction is named head of the Christian Democratic Party and in an unexpected
move, he appoints the lawyer Rizzo as party secretary.
The mechanization of corruption becomes apparent when powerful individuals
such as judges and bishops anxiously question Montalbano’s motives for prolonging the
investigation. Luparello’s political allies are eager to put an end to the rumors
surrounding his death-- to protect his memory as a highly respected member of the
Christian Democratic Party and their own political futures. At one point a bishop
expresses his gratitude for Montalbano’s “Christian charity” and discretion in barring
media access to photos of the dead minister in his car with his pants around his knees.
Yet Montalbano gave this order prior to learning the identity of the deceased; he would
do the same for anyone, powerful politician or otherwise. The bishop also sends the
message to Montalbano to be “prudent” in his investigation, implying that he should not
prolong his investigation, nor should he uncover evidence that would reveal the
politician’s compromising behavior.
When the lawyer Rizzo is later found dead people are quick to conclude that he
was killed by the Mafia. However, Montalbano discovers that it was, in fact, Luparello’s
young lover and nephew, Giorgio, who killed Rizzo as retribution for tarnishing his
uncle’s memory and then took his own life out of desperation. In an ironic twist,
Luparello’s murder is a true “crime of passion”59 that the public believes to be a Mafiarelated crime. Upon the novel’s conclusion Montalbano solves the mysteries yet only
after the characters have imposed extrajudicial justice.
The Terra-Cotta Dog
Camilleri’s second detective novel to feature Commissioner Montalbano, The
Terra-Cotta Dog (Il cane di terracotta), was published by Sellerio in 1996. Set in
Vigàta, the novel opens as Montalbano’s childhood friend Gegè Gillottu, boss of the
criminal district the Mànnara, asks to meet with Montalbano. Gegè explains to
Montalbano that he has always paid a monthly “pizzo” (a percentage of his earnings as
protection) for his prostitution racket to the infamous crime boss, Gaetano Bennici
(nicknamed Tanu u Grecu, “the Greek”) who covertly controls all prostitution in Sicily.
Tanu, who is accused of multiple homicides and has been in hiding for many years, asks
Gegè to arrange for a private, unofficial meeting between himself and Montalbano.
Montalbano disregards official protocols and agrees to a secret meeting with
Tanu, informing no one of their encounter, not even the chief of police. At this meeting
Tanu asks Montalbano to stage his arrest but to make it appear as if he has been arrested
against his will. Tanu explains to Montalbano how the changing times have adversely
affected organized crime using the analogy of an old-fashioned cart driven by “men of
The “crime of passion” defense is a motive to justify murder that is commonly used by the Mafia to
disguise the true nature of crimes. A homicides that is ruled a “crime of passion” typically carry a lighter
sentence than a homicide motivated by any other reason.
honor.” The cart has wheels that must be constantly greased through bribes to politicians,
judges, union leaders, banks and company owners. Some of the “men of honor” of
Tanu’s generation questioned the organization’s need to grease the wheels and as a result
different carts appeared. Some thought that carts were too slow and upgraded to cars
whose young drivers studied law and economics in Germany and the United States. This
new mentality and advances in technology have transformed organized crime: from a
network of personal connections, in which codes of honor are respected and the Mafia
has a social function (that of settling agrarian disputes and providing “protection”), into
an increasingly violent and impersonal organization devoid of an “honor code”.
Tanu turns to Montalbano because he respects him and considers him “one who
understands things” (“Perché lei, e me lo sta dimostrando, è uno che le cose le capisce”)
(25) and therefore can appreciate Tanu’s need to save face (“…mi necessita tanticchia di
triatro per salvare la faccia”) (24). Therefore, one night with a few of his trusted men,
Montalbano heads out to arrest Tanu in accordance with their plan. The arrest of this
long-wanted crime boss generates tremendous publicity and prompts the Antimafia squad
in Palermo to demand Tanu’s transfer to their custody.
While Montalbano reluctantly takes part in a news conference, the Antimafia
squad is transferring Tanu to an undisclosed site when their vehicle is riddled with
bullets, killing the escorts and critically injuring Tanu. Just before he dies, Tanu tells
Montalbano the location of a hidden cave, where a trafficking operation stores its
weapons cache and other black market goods. With this revelation Tanu rewards
Montalbano for having orchestrated his arrest.
The same evening that Tanu is arrested, an armed robbery of a large grocery store
outside of Vigàta takes place and is later connected to the trafficking operation revealed
by Tanu. The only witness able to implicate the store owner in the robbery is killed in a
car crash (the brake cables were severed), the night before he is supposed to meet with
Montalbano to reveal an important detail he witnessed the night of the robbery. Luckily,
the man had sent a letter to Montalbano detailing what he witnessed, in the event that he
should not be able to keep his appointment with the commissioner. The store owner
(believed to play a vital role in the trafficking operation) is assassinated shortly after
Montalbano’s deputy Mimi Augello places him under surveillance, without Montalbano’s
authorization. The commissioner is clearly frustrated with Augello’s naiveté in thinking
he could place an individual suspected of Mafia activity under surveillance, without the
Mafia’s knowledge. While the store owner is merely a low-ranking member of the
trafficking operation, he is a vital link to the more powerful members that Montalbano
wishes to pursue. As in Sciascia’s mystery novels, the trail that leads to the powerful
bosses of this illegal operation abruptly ends when a grocery wholesaler in Catania,
believed to be the boss of the assassinated store owner, is killed by a bomb when he
opens the door to his villa.
Following a press conference about the discovery of the cave and the trafficking
operation, Montalbano receives an anonymous phone call; the caller condemns
Montalbano’s role in the “theatrical performance” (the staging of Tanu’s arrest) and
promises that Montalbano will pay for it. When Montalbano receives a frantic call from
Gegè asking to meet with him somewhere safe, the stage is set for the attack that ensues
on a dark, deserted beach where Gegè and Montalbano are sprayed by gunfire that kills
Gegè and leaves Montalbano for dead.
Upon Montalbano’s release from the hospital, he abandons the investigation into
the arms trafficking operation to solve the mystery of a murder that occurred decades
earlier. Inside the cave where the smuggled weapons are discovered, Montalbano
uncovers an inner chamber containing the corpses of two young murder victims whose
bodies were placed there during World War II. His pursuit of this decades-old mystery
reveals a story of violence and murder whose perpetrators have long since died. The
novel ends with a meeting between Montalbano and the elderly man who orchestrated the
cave burial of the bodies fifty years earlier and then migrated to northern Italy to start a
new life. Ironically, it is easier to discover the truth surrounding a murder that occurred
fifty years earlier than it is to uncover the truth in contemporary cases that involve the
The Snack Thief
The Snack Thief (Il ladro di merendine) is Camilleri’s third mystery to feature the
Commissioner Montalbano. Published in 1996, the novel opens with the murder of a
Tunisian day laborer who boards a boat to join a nocturnal fishing expedition and is
gunned down by another boat in international waters near the port of Vigàta. Although
the official investigation is conducted by the town of Mazzarà, the port of departure,
Montalbano becomes involved (albeit “unofficially”) when he discovers a connection
between this murder and that of a retired local businessman, Mr. Lapecora, who was
stabbed to death in the elevator of his apartment building.
Montalbano’s investigation reveals that Mr. Lapecora was blackmailed to reopen
an import-export business that served as the cover for a Tunisian drug smuggling
operation. He learns that the man murdered on the fishing boat was Tunisia’s most
wanted drug and arms dealer and the organizer of the smuggling operation that used Mr.
Lapecora’s business as a cover.
Surprisingly, Mr. Lapecora’s death did not have a direct connection to the drug
smuggling operation. He was killed by his wife, not out of jealously (she knew that he
was having an extramarital affair) but out of greed, because he was spending exorbitant
amounts of money that she feared would lead to their financial ruin. Mr. Lapecora was
having an affair with a Tunisian woman named Karima, who provided cleaning services
and sexual favors to retired local men. When Karima (who is also the sister of the
renowned Tunisian drug smuggler) is later murdered by the Italian Secret Services,
Montalbano hides her young son François, the only witness to his mother’s death, to save
his life.
Montalbano asks a friend at a local television station to publicize various details
of Karima’s murder during a broadcast, a move that forces the Italian Secret Service to
arrange a meeting between Montalbano and the Secret Service agent, Colonel Perin
Longherin. During this meeting the Colonel discusses the murder of the Tunisian drug
dealer, his sister Karima and another witness and explains why they had to eliminate
certain individuals. In exchange for his silence, Montalbano blackmails the Colonel so
that he will exhume Karima’s body (vital to securing her son’s financial future) and block
Montalbano’s pending promotion to vice-chief of police (Montalbano fears a promotion
will mean more bureaucracy and less investigating). Although Montalbano solves the
mystery surrounding the deaths of Mr. Lapecora and the Tunisian drug lord, the results of
his latter, unofficial investigation will never be made public because of the involvement
of the Italian Secret Services. Not unlike the cases that involve Mafia activity, the
presence of the Italian Secret Services also ensures that official justice will not be
Voice of the Violin
Sellerio published Camilleri’s fourth novel to feature Salvo Montalbano, Voice of
the Violin (La voce del violino) in 1997. This novel represents a distinct change in
Montalbano’s attitude toward the law which is manifested in his investigative techniques
and interactions with the new chief of police. The former police chief whom Montalbano
greatly respected and considered a fatherly figure (much like Camilleri viewed Leonardo
Sciascia), retires at the end of Montalbano’s third investigation, The Snack Thief. This
change of authority creates a crisis for Montalbano-- the new Chief of Police BonettiAlderighi, a northern Italian whose disparaging attitude toward southern Italians and lack
of cultural understanding make it impossible for Montalbano to respect him.
As the novel opens, Montalbano discovers a crime scene by pure chance when he
drives by an isolated villa and intuitively senses that a crime has been committed there.
With no legal grounds on which to investigate, he picks the lock to illegally enter the
villa where he discovers the naked corpse of Michaela Licalzi. Unable to open an
investigation based on his illegal discovery, he asks a friend to make an anonymous
phone call to the police to prompt a search of the villa.
When Montalbano uses a bathrobe to cover the nude murder victim, a forensic
scientist accuses him of contaminating the crime scene. As a result, the new chief of
police (who strongly dislikes Montalbano) transfers the investigation from his command
to the ambitious Commissioner Panzacchi, a fellow northerner and friend of the police
chief. Commissioner Panzacchi’s investigation has devastating consequences for the
pursuit of justice. As his team looks for someone to blame, they immediately bring the
engineer Di Blasi to the station for questioning. Di Blasi has a mentally handicapped son
Maurizio, who is known to be obsessed with the deceased victim and yet no one believes
him capable of such a crime. While the father is being questioned at the station,
Panzacchi and some of his men search for Maurizio in the vicinity of the family’s country
house. When spotted by Panzacchi’s team Maurizio runs into a cave to hide. When he
finally emerges he is waving a shoe in his defense, which the officers mistake for a
weapon and respond with lethal force.
In a panic, those involved in the wrongful death of Maurizio Di Blasi conspire to
frame him and his father. They claim that Maurizio threatened them with a hand grenade
and that they fired in self-defense. To support their story they steal the hand grenade
from Di Blasi’s villa and place it at the crime scene, whereby implicating Mr. Di Blasi in
the aiding and abetting of murder. Guattardaro, a prominent defense lawyer who
represents members of the local Mafia, asks the journalist Nicolò Zito to arrange for his
meeting with Montalbano. During the meeting, Guattardaro presents Montalbano and
Zito with a videotape of the murder of Maurizio DiBlasi, filmed by some of his
“acquaintances”. Montalbano ironically reflects that in this rare instance in which
Guattardaro and his cohorts could serve as witnesses for a crime that does not involve the
Mafia, they are most eager to perform their civic duty, especially if it sheds light on the
corrupt behavior of public officials. Montalbano refuses to use the videotape, as he does
not wish to involve himself with the lawyer and the men he represents. Through other
means Montalbano and his team make the truth surrounding the circumstances of
Maurizio’s death and Panzacchi’s illegal actions known to the public. Amid an uproar of
public indignation Panzacchi is forced to resign and Montalbano and his team resume
their “unofficial” investigation into the death of Michaela Licalzi.
Montalbano’s persistence is crucial to solving the murder of Michaela Licalzi. He
learns that her lover, Guido Serravalle, an antiques dealer from Bologna with substantial
gambling debts, killed her to steal an antique violin she possessed worth millions of
Euros. As Montalbano questions Guido in his hotel room, Guido suddenly pulls out a
gun and fatally shoots himself. The clue that led Montalbano to Serravalle was a plane
ticket under the passenger seat of Licalzi’s car – a car that should have been thoroughly
searched at the beginning of the investigation. Had Montalbano not been removed from
the case, a search of the car likely would have revealed this invaluable clue, averting the
wrongful death of Maurizio Di Blasi and the suicide of Guido Serravalle.
Excursion to Tindari
Montalbano’s fifth appearance occurs in Excursion to Tindari (La gita a Tindari)
published in 2000. In this mystery of cyber-crimes, Montalbano’s aversion to technology
and the internet are reinforced and he begins to show his age (he is approaching fifty)
through his reluctance to embrace the changing times.
The novel opens with the murder of Nenè Sanfilippo, a twenty-year-old, shot in
the face in front of his apartment building, the same building from which an elderly
couple named Griffo is reported missing. While those investigating the murder of
Sanfilippo think it is a coincidence that the missing couple is from the same apartment
building, Montalbano is convinced there is a connection between the two. The missing
couple is found executed in an abandoned stable in the countryside. Montalbano learns
that they had rented the place to Sanfilippo who used it as an office to operate his
internet-based, global mafia activities that include: drug smuggling, organ trafficking and
At first glance, Sanfilippo’s murder appears to be a “crime of passion”. He was
having an affair with the wife of a world-renowned surgeon, Dr. Ingrò, who therefore had
a motive to kill Sanfilippo. In fact, the truth is far more complex. Montalbano learns
through a friend of Dr. Ingrò’s wife that Dr. Ingrò and Sanfilippo knew each other, as
they were both involved in the same organ trafficking operation organized by the Sinagra
Mafia family. Dr. Ingrò operates an exclusive private clinic in Sicily and is known to
perform surgery on wealthy individuals from around the world. A compulsive art
collector, Dr. Ingrò accumulates tremendous debt by acquiring works of art he cannot
afford. One day the Mafia approaches him with a solution to his financial woes-- if he
agrees to perform illegal organ transplants, they will pay him incredibly well. Through
its global network, the Mafia provides the wealthy transplant recipients and the organs,
which are taken against the will of defenseless victims that include: prisoners, refugees
and children.
In an ongoing crusade the police chief has stripped Montalbano and his team of
their investigative powers; instead they must investigate petty crimes while the squad in
the neighboring town of Montelusa oversees all homicide investigations. Montalbano has
strict orders to investigate only disappearance of the elderly couple and not the murder of
Sanfilippo but when he discovers a connection between their murders he cannot resist.
As in the novel The Terra-Cotta Dog, Montalbano has a personal encounter with
the head of a local Mafia family, Don Balduccio Sinagra. Summoned to his personal
residence, Montalbano meets with Don Balduccio who asks him to arrest his grandson
Japichinu, who is hiding from the law, and discloses his location. Like Tanu u Grecu,
Balduccio contemplates the advent of the new Mafia and how the “code of honor” by
which the Mafia has abided for generations is no longer respected. Ironically the head of
the Sinagra family shares Montalbano’s feelings of being overwhelmed by advancing
technology, more sophisticated weaponry, and an indiscriminate attitude towards killing.
Surprisingly, Don Balduccio Sinagra is not truly concerned about his grandson’s wellbeing, but instead gave the order to have him killed; the grandson had strong ties to the
new mafia and was able to dispose of his elderly grandfather whenever he wished.
When Montalbano and his men go to arrest Japichinu, they find him dead, likely
killed by his grandfather’s bodyguard. In that moment Montalbano understands that
Sinagra had hoped they would make the discovery public whereby providing Sinagra
with an alibi. Montalbano refuses to do the Mafia’s bidding-- instead he tells his men to
walk away from the scene, as if they had never seen it. Montalbano will not reveal this
discovery, nor will he make his findings public in the murder investigations of Nenè
Sanfilippo and the elderly Griffo couple; for he is conducting underground, unofficial
investigations. He does, however, ask his friend, the journalist Nicolò Zito to publicize
the story of Dr. Ingrò and the organ trafficking operation so that these horrendous crimes
may be known and stopped.
The Smell of the Night
The Smell of the Night (L’odore della notte), Montalbano’s sixth appearance
published in 2001, is the mystery of a talented and charismatic accountant, Emanuele
Gargano, who suddenly disappears after cheating numerous people out of their life
savings with an elaborate financial scheme. Initially, Montalbano says he does not
understand finance and entrusts to his deputy, but later becomes involved in the
investigation when he meets some of the elderly victims and feels morally obligated to
bring the accountant to justice.
While some individuals assert that the Mafia is involved in Gargano’s
disappearance and that he is likely dead, Montalbano is of the opinion that the accountant
is living comfortably on an exotic island. When one of the accountant’s assistants,
Giacomo Pellegrino, is reported missing, Montalbano learns of the romantic involvement
between Gargano and Pellegrino, who likely blackmailed his boss after discovering his
scam. When Montalbano finds Gargano’s car submerged in the sea along with
Pellegrino’s body and motor scooter, he makes an anonymous phone call to the police
chief to alert officials of the discovery.
Montalbano’s relationship with the chief of police further deteriorates when the
chief questions him about an old case (The Snack Thief) in which he took possession of
the bank book of a murder victim, implying that Montalbano is corrupt. In reality,
Montalbano had entrusted the bank book to a notary and stipulated that its contents be
distributed to the victim’s son on his eighteenth birthday. Montalbano’s diminishing
respect for his direct superior has a direct correlation to his increasingly unorthodox
behavior. When he discovers that his favorite olive tree60 has been uprooted to make way
for the construction of a villa, he smashes all of the villa’s windows along with statuettes
of the seven dwarfs and sprays “JERK” (STRONZO) in green spray paint on one of its
The novel ends with Montalbano’s discovery that it was another assistant of
Gargano’s, Mariastella, who killed Giacomo and submerged the car with his body and
scooter inside. Mariastella was obsessed with Gargano and with protecting his
reputation. At the end of the novel, Montalbano walks through her house as if he is
living the plot of the Faulkner novel, Homage to Emily (Omaggio a Emilia). To his
horror he discovers Gargano’s lifeless body wrapped in nylon and lying in the guest
bedroom. Mariastella appears to have suffered a nervous breakdown and shot Gargano in
the heart (out of love – to save him from scandal and dishonor), then she placed his body
in her guest bedroom and carried on as if nothing had happened. Every morning she
returns to the office where she patiently awaits for her true love Gargano to walk through
the door. Out of his compassion for Mariastella and the tragic life she has led
The symbol of the olive tree and its significance to Pirandello warrants further study. Sciascia writes in
Alfabeto Pirandelliano that as Pirandello was dying he told his son, in reference to his final unfinished
comedy, The MountainGiants (I giganti della montagna), that he had resolved “everything” with the
presence of a large, Saracen olive tree in the middle of the stage. Sciascia interprets the Saracen olive tree
to symbolize memory (50).
Montalbano considers not making his discovery public, to allow people to continue to
believe that the deaths were committed by the Mafia. In the end his actions are dictated
by his loyalty towards his profession and the justice the victims deserve.
Rounding the Mark
Rounding the Mark (Il giro di boa) published in 2003 is Camilleri’s seventh and
most important mystery to feature Montalbano. It is unique as it is based on an inquiry of
child-trafficking and the illegal immigration of minors to Italy conducted by Carmelo
Abbate and Paola Ciccioli and published by Panorama on September 19, 2002.
The novel opens with an extremely agitated Montalbano commenting to his
girlfriend Livia on the events surrounding the G8 summit held in Genoa61 and his disgust
with the behavior of law enforcement in Genoa and Naples, “Livia, I don’t feel betrayed,
I have been betrayed; it is not a question of feelings. I have always conducted my job
with honesty, as a gentleman. If I gave my word to a delinquent, I kept it. That is why I
am respected. That has been my strength, do you understand?” (12). 62
The mystery begins as Montalbano swims in the sea in front of his home and
collides with a decomposing corpse. The only thing evident from the corpse is that the
The Genoa Group of Eight Summit protest, from July 18 to July 22, 2001, was a dramatic protest,
drawing an estimated 200,000 demonstrators. Dozens were hospitalized following clashes with police and
night raids by security forces on two schools housing activists and independent journalists. People taken
into custody after the raids have alleged severe abuse at the hands of police. On July 20, a 23-year-old
activist Carlo Giuliani of Genoa, was shot dead by Mario Placanica, a Carabinieri officer, during clashes
with police. Images show him throwing a fire extinguisher at the carabinieri's vehicle before he was shot
and then run over twice by the Land Rover. Placanica was acquitted from any wrong-doing, as judges
determined he fired in self-defense. 14 Sept. 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/27th_G8_summit/>.
“Livia, io non mi sento tradito. Io sono stato tradito. Non si tratta di sensazioni. Ho sempre fatto il mio
mestiere con onestà. Da galantomo. Se davo la mia parola a un delinquente, la rispettavo. E perciò sono
rispettato. È stata la mia forza, lo capisci?”
wrists and ankles had been bound with steel cord. A local fisherman explains to
Montalbano that given the currents along the coastline the corpse came from a relatively
short distance, despite the advanced state of decomposition. A photo of the victim,
generated with facial reconstruction techniques, bears an uncanny resemblance to a man
in their database; a man from the mainland, who was reported deceased years earlier.
A fellow inspector asks Montalbano to meet him at the port as he needs a favor
and there Montalbano observes the Coast Guard as it guides a boat of illegal immigrants
safely to shore. The port inspector tells Montalbano this is a daily occurrence, and that
many less fortunate boats do not make it to shore: numerous lives are lost as people
attempt to reach Sicily in search of better living conditions in Italy or elsewhere in
As the passengers disembark and are guided towards immigration services,
Montalbano observes a little boy run off and hide. A woman Montalbano assumes to be
the mother, is hysterically calling and running after the child when she falls and injures
her leg. Montalbano persuades the boy to come out of his hiding spot and then he and his
mother are promptly whisked away in an ambulance. As Montalbano replays the
sequence of events in his mind, he is certain that there was more to the child’s fear than
he had understood. When Montalbano looks for the child at the hospital he is surprised
to find that there is no record of him and his mother being admitted. When he learns that
the little boy has been struck and killed by an automobile on an isolated rural road, he
vows to investigate the disappearance of this child and mother to find those responsible
for this boy’s death. Montalbano’s fellow investigator is not surprised to learn of the
disappearance of this mother and child. He tells Montalbano that most evenings there is
at least one boat that arrives from North Africa or elsewhere with as many as one hundred
and fifty illegal immigrants aboard and that illegal immigration in Sicily is a grave social
problem that government officials in Rome have done nothing to remediate.
Thus, when Montalbano is approached by a journalist who has written extensively
on the complex network of child trafficking, he begins a private investigation into this
growing global phenomenon. The journalist explains the severity of the problem: “Only
last year, and I am relaying official statistics, just under 15,000 minors unaccompanied by
an adult were detained in Italy…almost 4,000 a nice percentage, no? came from Albania,
the others from Romania, Yugoslavia, Moldavia. You must include the 1,500 from
Morocco and those from Algeria, Turkey, Iraq, Bangladesh and other countries. Is the
picture clear?” (205).63 The journalist tells Montalbano that these children are killed for
their organs, sold into slave labor or prostitution, sold to pedophiles and on occasion, are
intentionally maimed so that they will earn more when begging on the streets.
Montalbano learns that some paramedics and ambulance drivers transport newly
arrived illegal immigrants to the hospital where they are met by a third party and
disappear without a trace, instead of being admitted to the hospital. In the case of the
young boy killed, the woman was not his mother but a stranger who accompanied the
child on the journey in exchange for a reduced fare. The paramedic responsible for
transporting the woman and child to the hospital, Mr. Marzilla, became involved in the
trafficking operation to solve his financial woes. His wife owned a local gift shop in
“Solo l’anno scorso, e le riferisco dati ufficiali, sono stati rintracciati in Italia poco meno di quindicimila
minori non accompagnati da un parente”. “…quasi quattromila, una bella percentuale, eh, provenivano
dall’Albania, gli altri dalla Romania, dalla Jugoslavia, dalla Moldavia. Nel conto sono da mettere i mille e
cinquecento dal Marocco e poi quelli dall’Algeria, dalla Turchia, dall’Iraq, dal Bangladesh e da altri paesi.
È chiaro il quadro?” (The statistics quoted are taken from Abbate, Carmelo, and Ciccioli, Paolo. “Bambini,
la grande caccia.” Panorama. 19 September 2002: 47-53. Print.)
town and when they refused to pay the “pizzo,” or protection to the local Mafia, the shop
was burned to the ground and the family went into substantial debt in order to rebuild.
Marzilla was approached by the Mafia and told they would reduce his debt, if he agreed
to partake in their child trafficking operation. His job was to ensure that certain illegal
immigrants, mostly children, were not checked in at the hospital but instead delivered to a
third party awaiting their arrival. When Montalbano interrogates this paramedic and
discovers that he sedated the child, who was later killed when he attempted to escape, he
becomes enraged and strikes Marzilla (similar to his assault on Colonel Perin Longherin
in The Snack Thief). Marzilla reveals the Mafia member who organized the child
trafficking operation, Don Pepe Aguglia, a local contractor suspected of usury and agrees
to keep Montalbano abreast of future arrivals in which he is scheduled to take part.
The commissioner discovers that the dead body he encountered while swimming
is that of a man involved in the child trafficking operation he is investigating. Wanted by
law enforcement officials elsewhere in Italy for smuggling, he killed someone in his
place to avoid capture. Once he was officially declared deceased, he relocated to Sicily,
to work in the child trafficking operation until he was disposed of by the ruthless
The novel ends as Montalbano and his team bust up this trafficking organization.
One evening four boats suspected of carrying clandestine immigrants head for various
points along the southern Sicilian shore, completely occupying the Coast Guard’s
attention. Montalbano learned beforehand that these boats are diversions to detract
attention from the target of the child trafficking ring, a boat with seven young children
aboard, that approaches the coast unnoticed and enters a hidden grotto that lies below a
remote rural villa. As his men surround the villa, Montalbano enters the grotto to engage
in a fatal shoot-out with the notorious Tunisian ringleader, Jamil Zarzis that leaves Zarzis
dead and the commissioner critically injured.
The title of this novel, Rounding the Mark, was inspired by a boat race that
Montalbano witnessed in which one of the contenders refused to circle the buoy and
return to the finish line as the rules dictate. Instead, the boat continued straight ahead
crashing into the judges’ boat- an apt metaphor for Montalbano’s increasingly obstinate
behavior in the face of evermore horrific crimes and ineffective official investigations.
Analysis of Montalbano Mysteries
Leonardo Sciascia encouraged Camilleri to consider writing novels in the mystery
genre; but while their mystery novels share some affinities in terms of content,
Camilleri’s mysteries differ tremendously in their development of characters, treatment
of the Mafia, the complexities of the crimes investigated, and prose style. These
differences reflect the social evolution that has occurred in Sicily during the decades
since Sciascia first published The Day of the Owl in 1961.
At first glance, their novels appear to have much in common: many of their plots
are set in Sicily, the Mafia is omnipresent, and not a single one of their mysteries
concludes with the victory of official justice. However, upon closer examination, it is
clear that some of the seemingly subtle factors that differentiate their novels mirror
significant societal changes that have occurred in Sicily since the 1960s.
Sciascia’s mysteries are set in different locations across Sicily and northern Italy
and while each novel features a different protagonist, his investigators are committed to
uncovering the truth and imparting official justice. By contrast, Camilleri’s crime novels
all take place in the small Sicilian town of Vigàta, an imaginary town that serves as a
metaphor for a typical Sicilian town, and they feature a sole protagonist, the
Commissioner Salvo Montalbano. Camilleri named his protagonist Salvo Montalbano as
homage to his close friend, the Catalan mystery novelist Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
(1939-2003). In The Terra-Cotta Dog, Montalbano is portrayed as reading a mystery by
Montalbán that features his detective Pepe Carvalho, a middle-aged man whose
unorthodox investigative techniques and gastronomic passion are reminiscent of Salvo
Montalbano’s. Camilleri’s use of a sole protagonist establishes continuity from one
novel to the next as it serves to humanize the protagonist; Montalbano’s personality
evolves64 as he ages, together with his audience. The presence of a lone investigator
conveys Camilleri’s conviction that the admirable qualities Montalbano possesses are
unusual—his incorruptibility and unwavering passion for the pursuit of truth and justice
is an anomaly in present-day Sicilian law enforcement.
Montalbano the Protagonist
The fact that Montalbano is Sicilian is crucial to his success as an inspector. His
command of local communicative codes and cultural nuances allows him to gain the trust
Giovanni Capecchi, in the first study dedicated to Camilleri, comments on the evolution of Montalbano’s
character. Unlike George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret who is immutable, Montalbano is a protagonist
who evolves from investigative enthusiasm to tiredness. (Andrea Camilleri, 68).
of Sicilians-- victims, witnesses, colleagues and mafiosi alike. His refined ability to
interpret the subtle messages contained in spoken and (more importantly) unspoken
communication is his greatest strength. He is frequently called upon by members of the
community to investigate an incident they find suspicious. For example, Nicolò Zito, a
friend and television journalist appeals directly to Montalbano in a broadcast in The
Terra-Cotta Dog, urging him to investigate a crime that the public feels is being covered
up. Mrs. Luparello, the widow of a murder victim in The Shape of Water, pleads with
Montalbano to investigate obscure details of her husband’s death – details that she is
convinced prove that political forces acted to posthumously destroy her husband’s
reputation. Even Montalbano’s detectives encourage him to unofficially investigate a
case in The Voice of the Violin: when people seek the truth, they turn to Montalbano.
Montalbano is a detective by nature, an instinctual hunter spurred by an innate
sense of justice. He is a morally upstanding individual who refuses to compromise and
believes that citizens should take their civic duties seriously and help less fortunate
individuals. He frequently displays a cantankerous disposition and shuns what he
perceives to be meaningless bureaucratic and social conventions. Montalbano is a highly
introspective individual who appreciates life’s simple pleasures such as: swimming in the
sea by his beachfront, good food and wine, good company, literature and the arts. He has
great esteem for Sicilian artists that include the painter, Renato Guttuso, the dramatist
Luigi Pirandello and the author Leonardo Sciascia.
Relentless in the pursuit of justice, Montalbano continues to investigate cases that
have been officially closed when he does not agree with the official verdict. Just as
Leonardo Sciascia was relentless in bringing the phenomenon of the Mafia to the public’s
attention, Camilleri’s protagonist will not be deterred from his quest to uncover the truth
and to see justice served. Although the chief of police reprimands Montalbano in The
Shape of Water for frequently complicating affairs, he expresses total confidence in
Montalbano’s judgment and abilities as an investigator. Indeed, he considers him a
friend whose “intelligence, keenness and depth of perception and above all civility in
human relationships are incredibly rare in this day and age” (154).65 To the police chief’s
dismay, Montalbano is not interested in professional advancement; he refuses promotions
that would mean increased administrative responsibilities and less time for investigating.
Despite the creation of an Antimafia squad in the 1960s, Sicilian law enforcement
has been infiltrated by the Mafia on various occasions. Montalbano is hesitant to
collaborate with other precincts for fear his investigations would be compromised if their
details were intercepted by corrupt officers. He is respected for this keen ability to
perceive reality as it is. In The Terra-Cotta Dog, the journalist Pretia describes
Montalbano as an exceptional figure: “His ingenious intuitions make the Investigator
Salvo Montalbano of Vigàta perhaps a singular figure in the panorama of investigators on
the island and, why not? In all of Italy” (125).66
Like the presence of the Mafia, the mistrust and defiance that average citizens
harbor towards law enforcement in Sciascia’s novels is still present in Montalbano’s
investigations. At one point in The Voice of the Violin, Montalbano questions a
housekeeper in a hotel who asks, “Are you cops?” which prompts Montalbano to reflect:
“How many centuries of abusive police were responsible for Sicilian women fine-tuning
“intelligenza, l’acume, e sopratutto una civiltà nei rapporti umani assai rara al giorno d’oggi.”
“una delle intuizioni geniali che fanno, del commissario Salvo Montalbano di Vigàta, una figura forse
unica nel panorama degli investigatori dell’isola e, perchè no? dell’Italia tutta.”
the ability to detect a cop in an instant?” (46).67 In The Shape of Water, the men who
discover a dead body at the Mànnara (the name of a rural location that is the scene of
drug use and prostitution) head straight to Montalbano’s office to report their discovery
(after they first alert the Mafia); they can confide in Montalbano and he will not treat
them as suspects:
They headed towards town, straight to police headquarters. The idea of going to
the Carabinieri had not crossed their minds; there, a Milanese lieutenant was in
charge. The investigator, Salvo Montalbano, instead, was from Catania and
when he wanted to understand something, he understood it. (17)68
Just as Sciascia underscored the importance of Sicilian investigators in his novels
(witness the only investigator who is not killed, a Sicilian in Sciascia’s final mystery
novel A Straightforward Tale), the fact that Camilleri’s inspector is Sicilian is crucial to
solving the mysteries. Decades after Sciascia’s writings, there is still a lack of trust
towards outsiders, in particular northerners, many of whom neither appreciate nor
understand Sicilian culture and possess a disparaging attitude towards Sicilians. In
Camilleri’s fifth mystery Excursion to Tindari, the new police chief Bonetti-Alderighi, a
northern Italian, speaks with contempt of the Sicilians’ intuition and their conspiratorial
code of silence (omertà), acknowledging that his inability to decipher Sicilian non-verbal
communication is a professional disadvantage. Whereas the previous chief of police was
a man Montalbano deeply respected and worked well with, his successor BonettiAlderighi fails to understand local customs and is suspicious of Montalbano and his
colleagues. When Montalbano’s deputy Mimi Augello requests a transfer to a precinct
“Sbirri siete?” “Al commissario venne da ridere. Quanti secoli di soprusi polizieschi c’erano voluti per
affinare in una fìmmina siciliana una così fulminea capacità d’individuazione di uno sbirro?”
“Si avviarono verso il paese, diretti al commissariato. Di andare dai carabinieri manco gli era passato per
l’anticamera del cervello, li comandava un tenente milanese. Il commissario invece era di Catania, di nome
faceva Salvo Montalbano, e quando voleva capire una cosa, la capiva.”
outside of Sicily, the chief of police comments that the time has come to eliminate the
Mafia clique in the precinct of Vigàta. Montalbano’s interactions with Bonetti-Alderighi
are contrived and fraught with subtle irony when Montalbano speaks in standard Italian,
the communicative mode he regards as the evasive and superficial language of
bureaucracy, in contrast with the local Sicilian dialect that he considers expressive and
Unorthodox behavior
In response to the new police chief’s attitude of superiority, Montalbano’s
behavior becomes increasingly defiant and unorthodox under his command. For
example, although he had previously entered suspects’ houses under false pretenses, he
now illegally enters villas without a warrant when he suspects that a crime has been
committed. He destroys private property, strikes a suspect during an interrogation, and
physically assaults an Italian secret service agent. The increasingly extreme nature of his
behavior mirrors the escalation of organized criminal activity that resorts to abuses of the
most basic human rights.
In fact, Montalbano’s success as an investigator is largely a result of his
unorthodox behavior. For example, he is willing to speak directly with Mafia members
and maintains contact with unsavory characters, such as his childhood friend Gegè who
manages the Mànnara. He believes that, although these individuals have chosen paths in
life that are at odds with the law, they are still human beings worthy of respect. In later
novels such as Rounding the Mark, Montalbano grows increasingly irritated with the
behavior of law enforcement officials in Sicily and Italy, and he loses respect for his
profession owing to their use of excessive force and abuse of power, especially after the
mistreatment of protesters at the G8 summit in Genoa in July of 2001.
Communist Ideology
Montalbano’s actions consistently reveal his communist ideology. He is a
champion of the weak and the powerless, and he frequently defends the less fortunate as
in The Shape of Water when he intervenes to help a trash collector who plans to sell a
valuable necklace he found at the Mànnara to pay for his child’s medical expenses.
Montalbano negotiates a deal with him to return the jewelry, thus protecting him and his
family from the Mafia, which is trying to recover it, and he simultaneously ensures that
the man receives a substantial finder’s fee. In The Terra-Cotta Dog Montalbano helps
his friend Ingrid to escape the unwanted advances of her father-in-law by threatening to
expose his behavior with compromising photographs. In The Shape of Water,
Montalbano bars journalists from photographing a dead body found in a compromising
position, to spare the family members of the deceased pain and embarrassment. When
officials commend Montalbano for his discretion regarding the high-profile victim,
Montalbano responds that he would have done the same for any victim, regardless of
their political and social connections. In an interview with the journalist Saverio Lodato,
Camilleri states:
An aspect of Montalbano which I have not mentioned that should be considered
is his relationship with popular manifestation. When his men tell him,
‘Investigator, you are a hell-bent communist,’ it is because he has an idea about
social relationships that is not widely accepted. When laid off workers protest
in front of a factory and the director calls the police, Montalbano’s deputy Mimì
Augello is injured by a flying rock and Montalbano comments: ‘It’s good for
him.’ ‘What do you mean, it’s good for him?’ And he responds, ‘Call the
Carabinieri. In these instances, we don’t go. Because,’ he says harshly, ‘the
workers are laid off and the director continues to receive his salary. And I have
to go defend the director? I am on the side of the laid-off workers. We can say
to them: ‘People, let’s try to use some common sense,’ but we cannot defend the
director.’ This is the idea of Montalbano. (Lodato 384)69
In Montalbano’s later investigations, his cultural sensitivity acts as a detriment; as
the nature of crimes and their context grows increasingly elusive and technologically
advanced, he can no longer exploit the same cultural tools and this creates a crisis for
him. Accordingly to Camilleri:
He is a true cop, a true sleuth that never conducts an abstract investigation. He
always conducts investigations in an ‘environment’ that he seeks to understand.
It can be a town, a district, a neighborhood, a family inside any of these in
which a crime has occurred. He wants to understand. He wants to interpret the
codes of conduct of that family, of that district, of that town, because otherwise
he cannot solve the investigation. (Lodato 376)70
Camilleri portrays the effects of technological advancements and globalization on
organized crime. Increasingly complex and heinous crimes are planned and perpetrated
over the internet; rendering the criminals and their victims faceless as they are stripped of
any local character that could reveal their identity. In one instance, Camilleri imagines
his hero refusing to participate as the protagonist of a short story, “Montalbano Refuses”
“C’è un aspetto di Montalbano che va considerato e che non ho detto: il suo rapporto con la
manifestazione popolare. Quando i suoi gli dicono: “Comissario, ma vossia è comunista arraggiato”, è
perche lui ha un’idea dei rapporti sociali che non è precisamente d’ordine. Quando gli operai mandati in
cassa integrazione protestano davanti alla fabbrica e il direttore chiama la polizia, viene mandato Mimì
Augello che rimane ferito da una sassata e allora Montalbano commenta: “Ben gli sta”. “Come, ben gli
sta?” E lui risponde: “Voi chiamate I carabinierei. In questi casi, noi non andiamo. Perche” dice
brutalmente, “gli operai sono in cassa integrazione, il direttore continue ad avere lo stipendio. E io devo
andare a difendere il direttore? Sto dalla parte dei lavoratori lincenziati. Possiamo dire loro: Ragazzi,
cerchiamo di avere un po’ di buonsenso”, ma non possiamo difendere il direttore”. Questa è l’idea di
“È un poliziotto vero, uno sbirro vero che non fa mai un’indagine astratta. Conduce sempre un’indagine
sul “territorio” che cerca di conoscere. Può essere un paese, un rione, un quartiere, una famiglia dentro la
quale si è svolto un determinato fatto di sangue. Vuole capire. Vuole interpretare i codici di
comportamento di quella famiglia, di quel rione, di quel paese, perche altrimenti l’indagine non gli riesce.”
(“Montalbano si rifiuta”), which pokes fun at the Cannibal Authors (Gli autori cannibali).
He writes, “The only time I spoke with Montalbano was when he called me refusing to
participate in the story that I was writing. ‘If you want to write a story of this type’ he
said, ‘take me out of it because I don’t want to have anything to do with these stories’”
(Lodato 375).71
Recurrent Themes – The Mafia
Camilleri’s novels no longer need to draw attention to the Mafia, by now a
publicly acknowledged phenomenon (in large part thanks to Sciascia), whose
omnipresence in Sicilian society is reflected in the obscure nature of the crimes
Montalbano investigates. In fact, Camilleri says referring to the assassination of the
Antimafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino, “It was an exceptional awakening of
consciouness for a country that needed heroes…the death of those two magistrates
signaled the point of no return… It was no longer possible to pretend not to see what the
Mafia was. One had to realize” (Lodato 272).72 While Sciascia’s goal was to bring the
parasitic and socially destructive nature of the Mafia to the public’s attention, Camilleri
merely alludes to the organization, simultaneously reflecting the evasive nature of the
organization and refusing to glorify it. Camilleri tells Saverio Lodato:
I never truly wanted to write about the Mafia, I used it as a background; its
existence cannot be denied, it is a component that must be included. The Mafia
“L’unica volta che ho parlato con Montalbano fu quando mi telefonò rifiutandosi di partecipare al
racconto che stavo scrivendo. Se tu vuoi scrivere un racconto di questo tipo – mi disse – tirami fuori,
perche io non ci voglio avere a che fare con queste storie.
“Fu una presa di coscienza eccezionale per un paese che aveva bisogno di eroi.” “La morte di quei due
magistrati segnò il punto di svolta totale… Non si poteva più fingere di non vedere che cosa fosse la mafia.
Tutti dovettero prenderne coscienza.”
is always included in my stories because it is inevitable but I have never written
a book about the Mafia. (24)73
Camilleri uses the phenomenon of the Mafia as a lens to familiarize his readers
with Sicilian culture, to draw attention to this serious social ill that plagues the island and
has far reaching global consequences. Since the publication of Sciascia’s first mystery
novel, the phenomenon has become ubiquitous and infiltrated so many facets of daily life
on the island that its existence is often ignored with cynical resignation. In fact, the
public is so resigned to the constant presence of Mafia crime that they attribute crimes to
Mafia activity that are totally unrelated as in The Shape of Water, when the murder of the
lawyer Rizzo is assumed to be a Mafia hit but is instead a “crime of passion”. As Rizzo
is widely known to be the link between powerful politicians and the Mafia, everyone
assumes his death was ordered by the Mafia. In fact, in the same novel the two trash
collectors who find the dead body of a renowned politician state that they first notified
the Mafia lawyer Rizzo of their discovery, to remain in his good graces and later collect
on a favor (perhaps employment as surveyors, for which they have been professionally
trained). A trash collector justifies his behavior to Montalbano by quoting a Sicilian
proverb that underscores the vital importance of favors to economic survival and social
advancement, “Investigator, you know better than I, that if one does not find the wind in
his favor, he does not sail” (70).74
Inspector Montalbano’s dialogues with the Mafia bosses Tanu u Grecu and Don
Balduccio Sinagra are reminiscent of Captain Bellodi’s meeting with Don Arena in
“Io non ho mai voluto scrivere veramente di mafia, l’ho adoperata sempre come sfondo; non se ne può
negare l’esistenza, è una delle componenti e io ce la devo mettere. Il mafioso è sempre presente nei miei
racconti, perche è inevitabile. Però, un libro sulla mafia non l’ho mai scritto.”
“Commissario, lei u sapi megliu di mia, se uno non trova ventu a favuri, nun naviga.”
Sciascia’s The Day of the Owl and yet, the dynamics of the meetings differ radically.
While Captain Bellodi had summoned Don Arena to his office to question him about
potential Mafia activity (no one had been able to prove anything prior to that point), Tanu
u Grecu and Don Balduccio (both accused of multiple homicides and the former has a
warrant out for his arrest), reach out to Montalbano through their associates to request an
unofficial meeting with him outside of the precinct. During these encounters, they
discuss the new direction of the Mafia, they lament that the code by which “men of
honor” live is no longer respected, and they ask Montalbano for his help. As the rules of
engagement change, they too, like Montalbano, find it difficult to adapt to the changing
times. In Excursion to Tindari, Don Balduccio explains to Montalbano that the members
of the “new Mafia,” who are technologically savvy, possess sophisticated weaponry and
do not abide by a common code of conduct, will soon replace the families in Vigàta that
historically controlled criminal activity.
Since Sciascia published The Day of the Owl in 1961, the Italian national
government has created Antimafia squads to combat organized criminal activity. As a
reaction to these squads the act of “repenting” or turning state witness has become
popular among Mafia members. Montalbano expresses skepticism towards “the
repentants” (i pentiti) and refers disparagingly to the act of repenting in Excursion to
Tindari as a fashionable trend: “Everyone, from the Pope to the last Mafia member seeks
penance for something” (66).75 The mention of the Pope and the Mafia in the same
sentence underscores Camilleri’s belief that the Mafia could not exist without the tacit
acceptance of the Catholic Church. Referring to the phenomenon of repenting Camilleri
says, “For me the term is wrong. I have always said, it is useless to repeat it, these are
“Tutti, dal Papa all’ultimo mafioso, si pentivano di qualche cosa.”
not ‘repentants’. In fact, these feel so little repentance that they contextually can continue
to kill. Repentance is a moral occurrence, a state of the soul”(Lodato 281).76
Montalbano doubts the effectiveness of the Antimafia squads, for they too are not
only infiltrated by the Mafia, they are governed by politicians who have ascended to
power within a system of corruption. He questions how corrupt judges, politicians and
law enforcement officials-- men directly involved in or complicit with organized crime-could possibly combat the illicit activities from which they benefit and to which some
owe their appointments. In The Shape of Water, Montalbano makes the following
observation in reference to the engineer Luparello who rose to power in the ranks of the
Christian Democratic Party:
And in the shadows and silence for nearly twenty years he served until one day,
strengthened by all that he had clearly seen from the shadows he made his own
servants, above all the honorable Cusumano. Then the livery had encouraged
him to make Portolano a senator and Tricomi a deputy (the newspapers called
them ‘brotherly friends’ and ‘devoted followers’). In short, the entire party in
Montelusa and the province passed through his hands as did eighty percent of
all public and private contracts. Not even the earthquake set off by some
Milanese judges [reference to Mani Pulite77] that shook up the political party in
power for 50 years had touched him: rather having always stood in the
background now he could emerge from the shadows to lambaste the corruption
of his fellow party members. In the course of a little less than a year he had
become the bishop [of the chessboard sort] of renewal and by the acclaim of the
party members [i.e., those who were ‘signed’ up], provincial secretary:
unfortunately, only three days stood between the triumphant nomination and
death. (32)78
Per me il termine è sbagliato. L’ho sempre detto, è inutile riperterlo: questi non son “pentiti.” Infatti,
sono così poco pentiti che contestualmente possono continuare ad ammazzare. Il pentimento è un fatto
morale, un fatto dell’anima.”
This is a reference to Mani pulite (Italian for clean hands) a nationwide Italian judicial investigation into
political corruption held in the 1990s, following the scandal of Banco Ambrosiano in 1982, which
implicated mafia, Vatican Bank and P2, and the Maxi Trial of the mid-1980s. Mani pulite led to the demise
of the so-called First Republic, resulting in the disappearance of many parties. Some politicians and
industry leaders committed suicide after their crimes were exposed. The corruption system that was
uncovered by these investigations was usually referred to as Tangentopoli, or "bribeville." 11 Sept. 2009.
“E in ombra e in silenzio per quasi vent’anni aveva servito, finché un giorno, forte di tutto ciò che
nell’ombra aveva visto con occhi acutissimi si era fatto a sua volta dei servi, primo fra tutti l’onorevole
Cusumano. Quindi la livrea l’aveva fatta mettere al senatore Portolano e al deputato Tricomi (ma i giornali
Like the detectives in Sciascia’s novels, who are warned not to question
individuals considered “beyond suspicion”, at least one of Camilleri’s detectives (a friend
of Montalbano’s from another precinct) is transferred when he dares to investigate
individuals whose reputations and social standing are expected to protect their actions
from scrutiny. In The Shape of Water, it is rumored that the lawyer Rizzo formed the link
between the engineer Luparello and the Mafia, and yet all attempts to investigate this
relationship are blocked:
Rizzo was rumored to be the bridge between the engineer and the mafia and on
this precise argument the inspector had had an opportunity on the sly to see a
confidential report that mentioned currency trafficking and laundering dirty
money. Suspicions, of course, and nothing more, because those suspicions had
never had the opportunity to be verified: every request for authorization to
investigate was lost in the meandering hall of justice that the engineer’s own
father had designed and constructed. (33)79
In reality, those who seek to eradicate organized crime often fall victim to it:
witness the violent fates of the two Antimafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo
Borsellino80, who were assassinated in separate incidents in the early 1990s. In
li chiamavano ‘fraterni amici’, ‘devoti seguaci’). In breve tutto il partito, a Montelusa e provincial, era
passato nelle sue mani, così come l’ottanta per cento di tutti gli appalti pubblici e private. Nemmeno il
terremoto scatenato da alcuni giudici milanesi, che aveva sconvolto la classe politica al potere da
cinquant’anni, l’aveva sfiorato: anzi, essendo sempre stato in secondo piano, ora poteva uscire allo
scoperto, mettersi in luce, tuonare contro la corruzione dei suoi compagni di partito. Nel giro di un anno o
poco meno era diventato, come alfiere del rinnovamento, e a furor d’iscritti, segretario provinciale:
purtroppo, tra la trionfale nomina e la morte erano passati solo tre giorni.”
“Si diceva magari che Rizzo fosse il ponte tra l’ingengere e la mafia e proprio su questo argomento il
commissario aveva avuto modo di vedere di straforo un rapporto riservato che parlava di traffico di valuta e
riciclaggio di denaro sporco. Sospetti, certo, e niente di più, perché quei sospetti mai avevano avuto modo
di farsi concreti: ogni richiesta di autorizzazione alle indagini si era persa nei meandri di quello stesso
palazzo di giustizia che il padre dell’ingegnere aveva progetato e costruito.”
Giovanni Falcone was killed with his wife Francesca Morvillo (herself a magistrate) and three
policemen: Rocco Di Cillo, Antonio Montinaro, Vito Schifani, near Capaci on the motorway between
Palermo International Airport and the city of Palermo, May 23, 1992. The armored Fiat Croma in which he
was traveling was blown up by a bomb (350 kg of explosives) that had been placed in trenches dug by the
side of the road. 11 Sept. 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovanni_Falcone/>.
In 1992, Paolo Borsellino was killed by a car bomb in Via D'Amelio, Palermo, less than two months after
the death of his good friend Giovanni Falcone. 11 Sept. 2009.
Excursion to Tindari Montalbano reflects on the pleasure that their deaths would have
given the mafioso Don Balduccio Sinagra:
Dazed and agitated by this absolutely stunning offensive of justice, after
decades of languid repose, Don Balduccio, who felt rejuvenated by thirty years
with the news of the assassination of the island’s two most valiant magistrates,
was suddenly assailed by the aches and pains of old age when he learned that he
who would take over as the head of the prosecution was of the worst possible
sort: from Piedmont and possibly a communist. (111)81
While Sciascia’s mysteries highlight the relationship between politicians and
members of the judicial branch, Camilleri focuses instead on the general population and
the idea of “decent people” (“gente per bene”). He underscores that the widely accepted
attitude “I saw nothing, I know nothing,” is largely to blame for perpetuating Mafia
activity. Camilleri’s mysteries expose the decades-old mentality that accepted and
encouraged the notion of “decent people,” and that they should mind their own business
and not become involved in matters that do not concern them. For generations, people
refused to talk about crimes they had witnessed; they justified their behavior by reasoning
that it did not involve them, even though these crimes may have involved other innocent
people. In an interview referring to “decent people” Camilleri says:
The same people who closed the window, the good middle classes, you
understand, if they needed anything that they were not able to obtain legally,
they turned to the Mafia. The Mafia existed only when it was convenient and
this meant that the middle classes enabled it to exist and prosper. (Lodato 29)82
“Frastornato e squieto per questa assolutamente inedita offensiva della giustizia, dopo decenni di
languido sonno, don Balduccio, che si era sentito ringiovanire di trent’anni alla notizia dell’assassinio dei
due più valorosi magistrate dell’isola, era ripiombato di colpo negli acciacchi dell’età quando aveva saputo
che a capo della Procura era venuto uno che era il peggio che ci potesse essere: piemontese e in odore di
“Però gli stessi che chiudevano la finestra- la buona borghesia, per intenderci-, se avevano bisogno di
qualche cosa che non poteavano ottenere attraverso la legge, si rivolgevano al mafioso. Il mafioso esisteva
solo quando faceva comodo. E questo significava che la buona borghesia gli dava il visto per l’assistenza e
la sopravvivenza.”
While Captain Bellodi resigns himself to the impossibility of prosecuting the
Mafia in Sciascia’s The Day of the Owl (“It is useless to try and prosecute someone like
this [referring to Don Arena]: there will never be sufficient evidence: the silence of the
honest and the dishonest will always protect him” [107].83), Camilleri’s mysteries
highlight the evolution of a collective moral consciousness and a changing attitude
towards organized crime that has occurred in Sicily since 1961.
In Montalbano’s opinion, the Mafia could not exist without the unspoken
complicity of everyday citizens, as well as the rampant corruption of government and law
enforcement officials and members of the church. In The Terra-Cotta Dog, a reference is
made to the head of a Mafia family who had been at large for decades in Sicily and
resembles the real-life “boss of bosses”, Bernardo Provenzano, known to have undergone
surgery in various clinics across the island where doctors ignored his identity. Older
characters in Camilleri’s novels comment on the fact that for previous generations it was
taboo to mention the Mafia. In that same novel an elderly gentleman, Mr. Burgio, says of
a friend’s father who was known to be involved in black-market smuggling:
In our house you did not talk about Stefano Moscato… he had been in trouble
with the law, … in those times, in civilized and decent families, one did not talk
about such people. It was like talking about shit, excuse me. (203)84
This attitude is confirmed by Montalbano’s elderly friend Mrs. Cozzo in The Snack Thief.
A woman Montalbano says he would have liked for a mother, he has great respect for
Mrs. Cozzo and regards her as an exemplary citizen for her conviction that an individual
has a moral obligation to become involved when he/she has witnessed a crime, regardless
“È inutile tentare di incastrare nel penale un uomo come costui: non ci saranno mai prove sufficienti, il
silenzio degli onesti e dei disonesti lo proteggerà sempre.”
“In casa nostra non si parlava di Stefano Moscato…aveva avuto guai con la giustizia, … in quei tempi,
nelle famiglie delle persone civili, perbene, non si discoreva di questa gente…”
of the consequences. When Mrs. Cozzo observes suspicious activity at a warehouse she
contacts Montalbano and tells him:
For decades ‘decent people’ from here have done nothing but repeat that the
Mafia did not concern them, that it was not their business. But I taught my
students that the attitude of ‘nenti vitti, nenti sacciu’ ‘I saw nothing, I know
nothing’ was the worst of the mortal sins. (61)85
Even if diminished since the decades in which Sciascia wrote, this centuries-old
Sicilian diffidence and lack of trust in law enforcement still exists, and Camilleri’s
mysteries depict Sicilians as suspicious of law enforcement and cynical about its power
to affect change. While many citizens are still unwilling to become officially involved in
criminal investigations by volunteering information about what they have witnessed, they
are more inclined to reveal what they “know” in an anonymous letter. In Sicily the use of
such letters is commonplace, and it is mentioned in nearly every mystery novel written by
both Sciascia and Camilleri. However, neither the content nor the veracity of such letters
makes them important, but rather their social impact: recipients of anonymous letters
immediately become the subject of gossip and scrutiny. They are often used as decoys,
like the anonymous letter sent to the pharmacist in Sciascia’s To Each His Own: the letter
arouses the postman’s curiosity and soon everyone in town knows of its existence. After
the pharmacist and his friend are killed, the letter is thought to contain the motive, when
in fact it was written to divert officials from the true motive for the crime. Anonymous
letters provide easy solutions to complex crimes- typically at the expense of innocent
“Per decenni la gente perbene di qua non ha fatto altro che ripetere che la mafia non la riguardava, erano
cose loro. Ma io, ai miei scolari, insegnavo che il ‘nenti vitti, nenti sacciu’ era il peggiore dei peccati
In Camilleri’s mysteries anonymous letters are increasingly creative and popular,
as are anonymous phone calls. In The Snack Thief, Mrs. Lapecora receives anonymous
letters announcing that her husband frequents a prostitute three times a week. In fact, Mr.
Lapecora is being blackmailed, but instead of turning to the authorities for help, he alerts
the wife by means of anonymous letters, in the hopes that she will intervene. Ironically,
Mrs. Lapecora responds to her husband’s desperate pleas by killing him, not because of
the affair, but to put an end to his reckless spending. In Rounding the Mark, a concerned
citizen sends an anonymous letter to Montalbano with a newspaper clipping that contains
a clue in an ongoing investigation. And in The Voice of the Violin, a local Mafia member
makes an anonymous call to the journalist Nicolò Zito to reveal that the events of a fatal
police shooting did not occur in the manner in which police claim. Spurred by his
unorthodox behavior, Montalbano himself uses anonymous phone calls to alert officials
of discoveries he makes in his unofficial investigations. For example, in The Scent of the
Night, he makes an anonymous call to the police to report the discovery of a car
containing a dead body. In The Voice of the Violin, Montalbano asks a friend to make an
anonymous phone call to alert officials that she suspects a crime has occurred, whereby
prompting an official investigation of a crime that Montalbano has discovered
Through Montalbano and his colleagues a window into contemporary society is
created when they comment on recent criminal activity in their province, emphasizing
that the crimes they investigate are not anomalies. In The Shape of Water, Montalbano
asks the coroner when he can expect autopsy results and the coroner describes the victims
that he must examine before Montalbano’s cadaver, all of whom suffered gruesome and
violent deaths. Again in The Shape of Water, upon learning of a death by natural causes,
the police chief comments ironically on how nice it is to know that someone in their
lovely province actually died of natural causes, because it sets a good example.
Montalbano reflects on the contemporary news that he reads, such as the unemployment
rate reaching astronomical levels in the south, or the proposed secession from Italy by the
northern political party the Lega Nord (Northern League).86 He laments that there is
barely enough water at his house to take a shower as the town provides water every three
days and reflects on the irony of Sicilians being surrounded by water yet rarely having
enough for their daily needs. In The Snack Thief, Montalbano observes the condition of
the roads in Sicily: some of which seem to lead nowhere and others that have guardrails
painted red to memorialize the death of a prosecutor, judge or policeman, as in the case of
Giovanni Falcone.
Camilleri’s novels highlight a myriad of social problems amongst which the
seriousness of illegal immigration is emphasized. In The Shape of Water, Montalbano
sadly considers the illegal activities that take place at the Mànnara and the newly arrived
immigrants who work there:
At the Mànnara Gegè could inaugurate his market specialized in fresh meat and
a rich variety of light drugs. The majority of the fresh meat came from eastern
countries, finally liberated from the communist yoke that, as everyone knows,
deprived humans of all dignity: at nighttime between the bushes and the sandy
dunes of the Mànnara that reconquered dignity returned to shine. There was no
lack of women from the third-world, transvestites, transsexuals, Neapolitan shemales and passive Brazilian queens; there was someone for all tastes, luxury,
festivity. And business flourished, to the great satisfaction of the military,
Lega Nord (North League for the Independence of Padania) is a political party that advocates greater
regional autonomy, especially for the Northern regions and has at times advocated secession. 11 Sept.
2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lega_Nord/>.
Gegè, and those whom had granted Gegè permission for the right percentage.
During one investigation Montalbano is surprised to learn that areas of western Sicily
inhabited by the Arabs centuries ago are now home to schools (some illegal) that cater to
the children of Arab-speaking immigrants from Tunisia and Morocco.
Camilleri’s novels are examples of social denouncement-- it is clear that his
opinions are synonymous with those of Montalbano88 and that these novels are intended
as a forum to highlight destructive social ills. Camilleri’s greatest attribute is to expose
his readers to the new and dehumanized face of the Mafia. Rounding the Mark is
Camilleri’s most important mystery, as it calls attention to a growing problem present in
Sicily, Italy and around the globe today: that of child trafficking. This mystery is unique,
as it is based on an inquiry into child-trafficking and the illegal immigration of minors
conducted by Carmelo Abbate and Paola Ciccioli entitled “Children, The Great Hunt”
(“Bambini, la grande caccia”) published by Panorama on September 19, 2002. This
article contains chilling statistics; for example, nearly 15,000 children arrived in Italy
unaccompanied by a parent between July of 2000 and November of 2001. These children
ranged in age from newborns to 17 years and originated from countries around the globe.
They are frequently accompanied by adults who pretend to be the legal guardians in
“Gegè pote inaugurare alla mànnara il suo mercato specializzato in carne fresca e ricca varietà di droghe
sempre leggere. La carne fresca in maggioranza proveniva dai paesi dell’est, finalmente liberati dal giogo
comunista che, come ognun sa, negava ogni dignità alla persona umana: tra i cespugli e l’arenile della
mànnara , nottetempo, quella riconquistata dignità tornava a risplendere. Non mancavano però femmine
del terzo mondo, travestiti, transessuali, femminelli napoletani e viados brasiliani, ce ne’erano per tutti i
gusti, uno scialo, una festa. E il commercio fiorì, con grande soddisfazione dei militari, di Gegè, e di chi a
Gegè aveva accordato i permessi ricavandone giuste percentuali.”
Camilleri said in an interview, “Montalbano shared my words, from A to Z.” (“E Montalbano
condivise le mie parole dalla a alla zeta.”) Lodato, Saverio. La Linea Della Palma: Saverio Lodato
fa raccontare Andrea Camilleri, Milano: Rizzoli, 2002.
return for a reduced fare on the passage to Italy. Once these children have arrived in
Italy, they are incredibly difficult to track and are often exported to other countries.
Commonly forced to beg on the streets, some children are intentionally crippled so that
they will earn more, while others are forced into slavery, child pornography or
prostitution or even killed for their organs. The authors of this inquiry tell the story of
women whose situations are so hopeless that they become pregnant with the intention to
sell their newborn infants.
Camilleri’s treatment of the media is very different from that in Sciascia’s novels.
Montalbano has valuable connections to local journalists that allow him to diffuse
information (sometimes false) to prompt those involved in a crime to come forward. His
good friend Nicolò Zito, a journalist with the private television network Retelibera, is
often ready and willing to help Montalbano in any way. At one point Zito comments,
“Come on, what do you want me to say or do on the news? That is why you are here,
aren’t you? By now you are my hidden director” (The Voice of the Violin 120).89 On one
occasion Zito implores Montalbano during a live broadcast to investigate an unresolved
incident he feels has been left unanswered by officials; and on a different occasion
Montalbano gives Zito a list of specific questions to ask a police commissioner during a
news conference. Unlike Sciascia’s characters that are manipulated by the media,
Captain Bellodi’s words are deliberately taken out of context to generate a sensationalist
headline for a local newspaper-- Montalbano manipulates the media as an investigative
tool to further his inquiries.
“Avanti, che vuoi che faccia o dica al telegiornale? Sei qua per questo, no? Tu ormai sei il mio
While Sciascia’s mysteries are relentlessly serious, Camilleri’s novels are rife
with humor that derives from the actions and language employed by his characters. With
the exception of Montalbano, Camilleri’s characters are not well-developed as many
appear in only one novel. Those present in multiple novels: Livia, Montalbano’s
girlfriend from Genova, his colleagues and his friends Ingrid and Nicolò Zito, resemble
stock characters from the Commedia dell’Arte, stereotyped characters devoid of
psychological development whose actions follow a predictable pattern.90 Camilleri’s
strength lies in his theatrical fortitude: his experience as a stage director charges his
characters and their dialogues with a dynamic quality that permeates the pages of his
novels to create a highly entertaining literature. For example, when Montalbano
interviews the residents of an apartment building about the death of their neighbor, the
reader can visualize the neighbors on various floors as they poke their heads out of their
doors to eavesdrop as the inspector questions other tenants. The synchronicity of their
actions gives the scene a dramatic effect and the expressive nature of their daily drama
serves as a continual source of humor.
Camilleri renders his characters’ concerns as petty and pathetic when contrasted
with the terrible crimes he investigates; often, their lack of regard for others gives them a
grotesque quality. For example, after Mr. Lapecora is found dead in the elevator of his
apartment building, in The Snack Thief, Montalbano interviews Lapecora’s neighbors to
retrace the elevator’s stops and determine when he was last seen alive. The behavior of
some residents is shockingly callous. One woman is very upset, not that there has been a
murder, but that she is forced to take the stairs because the elevator is out of order when
A form of improvisational theater popular during the 16th and 17th centuries that included standardized
situations and stock characters whose particular mask and costume dictated their role.
she returns from shopping. Montalbano describes her as mad as a bull with her nostril
flaring. Another tenant rode in the elevator with the dead body because he has a bad leg
and did not want to take the stairs. He is unashamed about his actions and instead is
concerned with retrieving a bottle of wine that he forgot in the elevator that has
subsequently be classified as evidence. His sole preoccupation is his wife’s reaction,
should she discover he lost a bottle of wine; he has no remorse for his actions and shows
no respect for the dead. While this man justifies his actions to Montalbano, others are not
as forthcoming about their unexemplary behavior. That morning Mrs. Piccirillo and her
daughter were the first to discover Mr. Lapecora’s dead body on their way out. Yet
rather than notify the authorities, they return to their apartment and pretend that nothing
had happened. When an agitated Montalbano confronts them about their deplorable
indifference, they reply that they are “decent people”, and they did not want to announce
such a discovery and become the center of gossip, so instead they did nothing, which
prompts Montalbano to think:
And those two decent people had left the cadaver to be discovered by someone
else, perhaps less decent? And if Lapecora was agonizing? They did not care
about him in order to save…What? What thing? (27)91
In Montalbano’s mind, their failure to uphold their civic duty- to offer assistance and to
notify authorities is inexcusable, and he has them arrested for failure to give assistance
(omissione di soccorso.) Not only are they arrested, Montalbano tells an officer to make
the arrest as loudly as possible so that everyone in the apartment building would hear it.
“E quelle due persone per bene avevano lasciato che il cadavere venisse scoperto da qualcun altro,
magari meno per bene? E se Lapecora agonizzava? Se ne erano fottute di lui per salvare…Che? Che
As a result of their desire to escape scrutiny they become the center of far more gossip
than they could have had imagined.
One of the most fascinating and novel elements of Camilleri’s mysteries, is the
language he employs. Unlike Sciascia, whose succinct prose and use of standard Italian
language is intended to communicate with the widest possible audience and facilitate the
comprehension of his ideas, Camilleri’s novels are best characterized by their unusual
language, a mixture of words and expressions from Sicilian dialect and standard Italian.
His stories evoke events that take place in a small town in Sicily; and he believes that
only with the use of dialectal words and expressions can his readers capture the essence
of the daily situations that unfold on the island. Camilleri writes to share contemporary
Sicilian culture and its social ills with his readers; that is his message. He asserts that
only through an understanding of the local culture as expressed in its language and
linguistic idioms can one grasp the essence of Sicilian society and the context in which
his mysteries unfold. Camilleri challenges readers to embrace his dialectal creation and
in doing so they engage in a pact with the author (cognizant of the pact or not) - to trust
that what is initially unclear will be explained by the context. Language is what makes
Montalbano such a dynamic character and a successful investigator. His ability to easily
adapt to any environment by using the appropriate register to communicate puts others at
ease and makes them more willing to cooperate with the investigation. He is masterful in
his use of bureaucratic rhetoric as well when using the standard Italian language to meet
with the chief of police, in news conferences and when speaking with non-Sicilians.
The language employed in Camilleri’s novels is fascinating. When the novels are
read in chronological order, Camilleri’s increasing use of dialect is apparent. In
successive novels the reader encounters dialectal words that they learned in an earlier
novel and that are now left un-translated. The expectation is that the reader has learned
the word previously from context and can recall its significance. Montalbano often
guides the reader through the recognition process of dialectal words as in this example
from The Terra-Cotta Dog, in which Mr. Rizzitano returns to Sicily after an absence of
several decades. When Mr. Rizzitano asks Montalbano, “Can you set the table for me
here?”(“…Può conzarmi qui?”), he uses the Sicilian verb that prompts Montalbano to
think: “Conzare, apparecchiare.” (Set the table [Sicilian verb], set the table [standard
Italian verb], respectively). “Rizzitano said that Sicilian verb like a foreigner who forced
himself to speak the local language” (263).92 In The Shape of Water Montalbano uses a
Sicilian verb and then its meaning is explained, “Now I am going to ‘tambasiàre’, he
thought as soon as he arrived home. Tambasiàre was a verb he liked, it signified to
wander aimlessly from room to room with no direction, occupying oneself with things of
no importance”(151).93
Camilleri’s teaching of dialect is artful in its subtleness; initially an Italian word is
used to be later substituted with its Sicilian equivalent, when it is clear from the context
that two words have the same meaning, as in the case of “polpette” and “purpiteddri” (the
“Conzare, apparecchiare. Rizzitano disse quel verbo siciliano come uno straniero che si sforzasse di
parlare la lingua del posto.”
“Ora mi metto a tambasiàre” pensò appena arrivato a casa. Tambasiàre era un verbo che gli piaceva,
significava mettersi a girellare di stanza in stanza senza uno scopo preciso, anzi occupandosi di cose futili.”
Italian and Sicilian words, respectively, for meatballs). Occasionally entire sentences are
uttered in dialect and no translation is offered; as in Rounding the Mark when
Montalbano asks a farmer “viddrano” who witnessed the death of a young boy killed in a
hit and run, whether or not he felt it was an accident. The farmer responds in his local
dialect, “Iu nun pensu, signuri miu. Iu nun vogliu cchiù pinsari. Troppu tintu è
addivintatu lu munnu.” (“I don’t think anything about it sir. I don’t want to think
anymore. The world has become too evil.”) Montalbano reflects upon the farmer’s
comments as he simultaneously deciphers the meaning for the reader: “The last sentence
was decisive. It was clear that the farmer had formed an exact opinion of the events. The
young boy had been intentionally run over; slaughtered for a reason beyond
comprehension. But afterwards the farmer had wanted to cancel that opinion of the
events. The world had become too evil. It was better not to think about it” (112).
Camilleri uses language as a source of welcome comic relief, in contrast with the
horrific and serious nature of the crimes depicted in his novels. For instance, one evening
while enjoying a glass of whiskey on Montalbano’s balcony, Augello tells his friend and
boss Montalbano that he has decided to get married. Instead of using the Sicilian
expression (“maritarsi”) he uses the standard Italian expression (“sposarsi”) and
Montalbano confuses this word with the similar sounding (“spararsi”) which means to
shoot oneself. Rather than congratulate his vice-deputy, Montalbano slaps him across the
face in an attempt to make him come to his senses and to prevent him from shooting
himself (Excursion to Tindari 49). Expressions that are commonly used in Sicily are
explained by Montalbano as well. In Rounding the Mark offensive graffiti that contains
the word ‘cornuto’ (cuckold) is sprayed on the police station wall and Montalbano muses,
“Imagine in Sicily an offensive saying that did not contain the word cuckold. That word
was a registered trademark, a typical mode of expression of a so-called Sicilian attitude”
Another important aspect of communication in Camilleri’s detective novels is the
unspoken word and the critical messages that are transmitted non-orally. Without his
fine-tuned ability to perceive subtle unspoken clues, Montalbano would not be able to
successfully solve mysteries. In Excursion to Tindari when Montalbano meets with Don
Balduccio Sinagra, the elderly head of the Sinagra Mafia family, two subtle messages are
communicated to him. In order to decipher these messages he must replay the
conversation in his head, word by word and silence by silence. Later, Montalbano
receives a phone call from Don Balduccio’s lawyer who asks Montalbano a series of
questions; their meanings are entirely implicit, alluded to and non-literal. A non-Sicilian
investigator very likely would not be able to decipher such a subtle code. As Montalbano
has been asked for a favor he does not wish to grant he carefully communicates his
decision by responding, “And what do I have to do with it?” To which the surprised
lawyer responds “nothing” and then adds slowly and with a particular cadence to send a
specific message, “You have absolutely nothing to do with it” (Excursion to Tindari 120)
These words form a code to communicate to Montalbano that they understand that he has
declined to do them a favor.
Circumlocution is a favorite tool of the Mafia for avoiding self-incrimination.
Frequently the actual message is not what is verbally communicated. For example, Don
Balduccio once wished to construct a house in the countryside in a secluded location
“Figurarsi se in Sicilia, in una scritta offensive, poteva mancare la parola cornuto! Quella parola era un
marchio doc, un modo tipico d’espressione della cosiddetta sicilitudine.”
where he would be at a great distance from neighbors and difficult for his enemies to
attack. As he wanted to pave a driveway that was a few miles long and would need to cut
through other peoples’ property, he asked the individuals for their permission but did so
in an indirect way so as not to reveal why he needed such seclusion: “Through
metaphors, proverbs and anecdotes, he had made them understand how much of an
insufferable bother the presence of strangers in the nearby area caused him” (Excursion
to Tindari 110).95 All of his neighbors, despite the inconvenience, allow Don Balduccio
to pave his driveway through their property, for they understand the real reason for his
request for solitude; they are acting when they agree to accept the verbal discourse as
being the sole discourse.
Fare tiatro
Another communicative phenomenon frequently referenced in Camilleri’s
mystery novels is that of “fare tiatro” (role-playing). It is used in a wide variety of
situations when one does not wish to reveal his true intentions or motive. In The Shape of
Water the widow Mrs. Luparello describes her “tiatro” to Montalbano – she pretended to
faint during her husband’s funeral mass and left the church immediately for she feared
the large presence of politicians and hypocrites to be the perfect target for a bomb.
Montalbano is a maestro at “fare tiatro” and it is one of his invaluable investigative
techniques. On one occasion he enters a suspect’s house under false pretenses; invited in
by the suspect’s mother he has a quick look around while the suspect is out. The
“Attraverso metafore, proverbi, aneddoti, aveva loro fatto intendere quanto la vicinanza di strànei gli
portasse insopportabile fastiddio.”
individual under suspicion later calls Montalbano to ask why he had gone to his house to
“fare tiatro”, whereby revealing the common nature of such theatricality in a small
Sicilian town. In The Terra-Cotta Dog Tanu u Grecu, a wanted Mafia member, seeks to
turn himself in but he must save face and make it appear as if he is arrested (“mi necessita
tanticchia di triatro per salvare la faccia”) so Montalbano arrests Tanu, to create the
appearance that he has been taken by surprise. However, Tanu’s enemies, likely skilled
in the art of role-playing themselves, are not amused, as a threatening phone call to
Montalbano demonstrates: “This is your death speaking. I want to tell you that you won’t
get off easily, you cuckold of an actor! Who did you think you were fooling with that
comedy you pulled off with your friend Tano? You’ll pay for this, for having tried to
pull one over on me” (71).96
Camilleri and the Sicilian Tradition of Social Denouncement
Camilleri’s use of the mystery genre to critique contemporary Sicilian and Italian
society is best appreciated and understood in the context of Leonardo Sciascia’s mystery
novels. Through the genre of the mystery novel, Camilleri continues the Sicilian
tradition of social denouncement, as embraced by Sciascia. Sciascia’s mysteries are the
key to understanding the evolution of a Sicilian moral consciousness, which is exposed
through a chronological reading of Camilleri’s mystery novels.
“La to’ morti, parla. Ti voglio dire che non te la passerai liscia, cornuto d’un tragediatore! A chi credevi
di pigliare per fissa con tutto quel triatro che hai fatto col tuo amico Tano? E per questo pagherai, pi aviri
circato di pigliàrinni po culu.”
The chief of police featured in Camilleri’s first three mystery novels, a man who
is never referred to by name and is highly-respected by Montalbano is, in effect, a
caricature of Sciascia. He is a highly-cultured, intelligent and reserved individual who
contemplates social injustice and has fought his entire career against organized crime.
His relationship with Montalbano is of a paternal nature; he offers Montalbano advice
and collaborates with him on his cases. Indeed, at times he asks Montalbano for
translations of dialectal words, reminiscent of the occasions in which Sciascia
discouraged Camilleri from the use of dialect in his novels. The police chief’s decision to
leave Sicily (occurs at the end of The Snack Thief, the third novel to feature Montalbano)
is significant: it serves as a metaphor for the disappearance of the initial protagonists in
the fight against organized crime; men such as Sciascia, Falcone and Borsellino, who
possessed the desire and cultural tools necessary to defeat the Mafia.
This change of command marks a turning point for Montalbano’s investigative
methods; they become increasingly unorthodox under the police chief’s successor, the
northerner Bonetti-Alderighi. Montalbano’s lack of respect for his new superior reflects
the disappointment and frustration Camilleri and Sciascia felt regarding the government’s
Antimafia squad and its failure to affect change. Montalbano is an official investigator, a
representative of the State who conducts “unofficial investigations” to solve his mysteries
in response to the government’s inability to defeat organized crime. Official justice
seems nonexistent; together with the truth, justice has gone underground.
Sadly, the window of opportunity to successfully combat the Mafia has passed in
Sicily and the transformation from the old to the new Mafia has occurred, as reflected in
Camilleri’s novels. The result is a technologically savvy, highly violent, global operation
that is evermore difficult to defeat. Saverio Lodato asked Camilleri in an interview at
what stage in the fight against the Mafia, Italy is at today and Camilleri’s responded:
I believe that today we face an even more difficult situation. The victories won
against the Mafia, in the line of Falcone-Borsellino – this list of deaths that we
cited before, this monument that we are all of part of- those victories, I was
saying produced a fruit. They prompted a change in stragegy as the Mafia has
rediscovered the value of underwater navigation with a periscope. (Lodato
He adds, “Imagine that I was rereading, as I often do with Sciascia’s novels, The Day of
the Owl. It seems like that novel was written a century ago, owing to the acceleration of
the Mafia’s violence as such that today he wouldn’t know how to create a character like
Don Mariano Arena, except for in a historical novel about the Mafia” (Lodato 309). 98
The historical novels of Sciascia and Camilleri are of paramount importance for
understanding their contemporary mysteries, as they examine the social injustice that has
plagued the island for centuries. It was in response to intense social inequity that the
Mafia was born and grew to play an important role in Sicilian society.
“Credo che oggi siamo di fronte a una situazione ancora più difficile. Le vittorie contro la mafia
ottenute, nella linea Falcone-Borsellino- questo elenco di morti che facevamo prima, questo monumento
nel quale ci mettiamo tutti – quelle vittorie, dicevo, hanno prodotto un frutto. Hanno portato a un
cambiamento di strategia della mafia che ha riscoperto il valore del navigare in immersione col periscopio.”
“Pensa che rileggevo, come faccio spesso con I libri di Leonardo, Il giorno della civetta,. Sembra un
libro scritto un secolo fa, perche l’accelerazione della violenza della mafia è stata tale che oggi lui, un
personaggio come don Mariano Arena, non saprebbe crearlo, se non in un romanzo storico sulla mafia. Il
giorno della civetta è il primo romanzo contemporaneo nel quale compare la mafia.”
History as Key to Modern Social Injustices: The Historical Novels of
Leonardo Sciascia and Andrea Camilleri
3.1 Historical Novels
Sciascia and Camilleri’s historical novels and essays provide an invaluable key to
understanding the Sicilian culture portrayed in their modern detective novels. Both
authors have devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to their research of occult
events in Sicilian history. They would argue that it is impossible to understand modern
Sicilian culture without a critical examination of the island’s history. Their historical
novels examine social injustice in Sicily and the powerful forces responsible for it:
foreign domination, the feudal system, the State, the Church and the Mafia.
The novels highlighted in this chapter trace the connection between institutions
such as the State, the Church and the Mafia, whereby revealing an array of cultural
phenomena that exist to perpetuate this imbalance of power. Recurrent phenomena
throughout their novels include: the ubiquitous men’s social club known as “the circle,”99
the notion of being “beyond suspicion” “incensurato” (which has evolved into the
modern-day notion of “gente per bene”), Mafia symbolism, the importance of non-verbal
communication, cuckolding/crimes of passion and anonymous letters.
(i.e., the noble’s club or a club of culture and progress: (il circolo dei nobili or il circolo di cultura e
progresso) frequented by nobles, clergy members of the professional community and mafia that either
pertain or not to these categories.
3.2 Historical Novels of Leonardo Sciascia
3.2.1 On Behalf of the Unfaithful
Sciascia’s historical essay On behalf of the Unfaithful (Dalle parti degli infedeli)
published in 1979 is based on the true story of Monsignor Angelo Ficarra, the Bishop of
Patti, a small town in Western Sicily. Following the 1946 and 1949 defeat of the
Christian Democratic Party in Patti’s local administrative elections, Monsignor Ficarra
was persecuted by his superiors for his refusal to become politically active and influence
the votes of parishioners. The decennial attempts of church officials to force him to
renounce his position as the Bishop of Patti were unsuccessful; their refusal to site the
real reasons they sought his expulsion prompted his rebellion to defend the truth and
Interestingly, Sciascia wrote this novel, based on the true story of Monsignor
Ficarra who receives an anonymous letter accompanied by an article from the Catholic
weekly newspaper The Roman Observer (l’Osservatore romano), a paper read
exclusively by clergymen, fourteen years after the publication of To Each His Own
(1965) in which an anonymous letter is traced back to that very newspaper. The letter
sent to Monsignor Ficarra is clearly written by a priest and the article that accompanies it
extols the virtues of a deceased bishop with whom, the author laments, Monsignor
Ficarra had too little in common.
In addition to numerous letters received from Cardinals throughout the novel,
Monsignor receives a letter from the head of the local Christian Democratic Party in
which he is reprimanded for having officiated the marriage of a communist. The head of
the DC reminds him that all communists are supposed to be excommunicated by the
church. Sciascia writes, “When one really thinks about it, there is always in Italian
things, tragedy, drama, comedy or farce a <<marriage that should not take place>>” (The
Betrothed, Chapter 1) (30).100
In 1957 Monsignor Ficarra is finally stripped of his title as the Bishop of Patti and
named the Archbishop of Leontopoli, what appears to be a non-existent town.101 That
same year an article in the weekly newspaper The Express (L’Espresso) questions the
discharging of bishops and makes a reference to the bishop of Patti stating that the church
tribunal (congregazione concistoriale) was alarmed by his manuscript entitled
Religiousness in Sicily (Religiosità in Sicilia) that contained explosive material
documenting the phenomenon of superstition on the island and recommended the criteria
and methods to extract it. Additionally it was said to highlight the moral and cultural
deficiencies of the Sicilian clergy and the parishioners’ lack of adherence to a life of
Christian morals. However, the true reason he was forced from his position as bishop
was his refusal to become politically involved and influence his parishioners as he had
been asked to do. This novel clearly highlights the complicity of the church in the
Sicilian electoral process.
Sciascia states that he related with this character and his unwavering faith in truth
and justice. In the notes he writes, “…I never would have believed that at a certain point
in my life I would find myself telling the story of a bishop (Sicilian and in charge of a
diocese in Sicily) apologetically and ex abundantia cordis: without detachment, without
“A pensarci bene, c’è sempre nelle cose italiane – tragedia, dramma, commedia o farsa che siano – un
‘matrimonio che non s’ha da fare’(I promessi sposi, capitolo 1).”
Interestingly Sciascia could find no reference to Leontopoli, outside of the Catholic Encyclopedia which
states such a town existed 30 kilometers outside of Cairo and was home to a Jewish temple.
irony, without aversion…. that having followed “bad” priests for so many years and in so
many books that inevitably I bumped into a “good” priest” (67).102
3.2.2 Death of the Inquisitor
In 1967 Sciascia published Death of the Inquisitor (Morte dell’inquisitore), a
historical essay that examines the death of Friar Diego La Matina of Racalmuto, Sicily
(Sciascia’s home town) who was burned at the stake by the Holy Inquisition in Sicily,
known as the Sant’Uffizio, in 1658. Sciascia contends that history has intentionally
forgotten the fate of Friar Diego and much of the Inquisition that occurred in Sicily. Of
his numerous works Sciascia stated that this essay was the most important to him and it
was the only one that he continued to reread and ponder as he felt it was unfinished (7).
Although Sciascia read everything he could find written on the Inquisition in Sicily, he
was unable to find a single document that explained to Friar Diego’s heresy; instead he
found a single reference made to the book the Friar had written that purportedly
contained heretical ideas. What prompted his continual imprisonment, torture and
eventual death by the Inquisition is a mystery. While imprisoned for a fourth time in
1657, Friar Diego killed the inquisitor Don Juan Lopez de Cisneros, in one of the two
recorded occasions in which an inquisitor died at the hands of a prisoner.
While in Spain attempting to research the Inquisition in the 1960s, Sciascia
learned from book sellers that it was suspect to talk about the Inquisition and to ask about
books written on the subject. He writes:
“Ma non avrei mai creduto che ad un certo punto della vita mi sarei trovato a raccontare la storia di un
vescovo (siciliano e titolare di una diocese in Sicilia) apologeticamente ed ex abundantia cordis: senza
distacco, senza ironia, senza avversione. … che l’avere per tanti anni e in tanti libri inseguito i preti
‘cattivi’ inveitabilmente mi ha portato ad imbattermi in un prete ‘buono’.”
...but in terms of the Inquisition it was necessary to be cautious. And it appears
that it is necessary to be cautious also in Italy and anywhere, on the subject of
the inquisition (lower case i); there are people and institutions that are sensitive,
pertinent ways of saying, thinking of the nice flames of a time. And it brings to
mind the passage from The Betrothed when the sacristan, upon the invocation of
Don Abbondio, begins to ring the bells to alert the countryside and each one of
the good people that was hiding in Lucia’s house, <<they seemed to hear their
given names, last names and nicknames in those rings. >> That is what happens
at the very mention of the Inquisition: many gentlemen hear themselves being
called by their given name, last name and card number of their party
registration. And I am not speaking, evidently, of only Catholic gentlemen.
Humanity has suffered and still suffers other inquisitions; therefore, as the Pole
Stanislaw Jerzy Lec says, prudence requests that you do not speak of the rope
neither in the house of the hanged nor in the house of the hangman. The effect
therefore that Death of the Inquisitor has had upon these gentlemen, the
sufficiency with which they have either spoken about it or not spoken about it,
is the other reason why this work is so important to me.” (8)103
Prior to Friar Diego’s death, a public notary from Racalmuto was persecuted by
the Inquisition, allegedly for professing Lutheran opinions. Sciascia doubts that the
notary had truly professed Lutheran ideas and ironically asserts that it would have been
easy to formulate accusations of Lutheranism against anyone without taking into account
the fundamental indifference of Sicilians towards religion. Sciascia contends that there
was no heresy to combat but rather, the irreligiousness of the Sicilian population (34, 35).
He writes:
It is still easy today, speaking about things of the Catholic religion with a
farmer, a sulfur miner, and also a gentleman, to isolate as Lutheran propositions
“…ma in quanto all’Inquisizione bisognava andar cauti. E a quanto pare bisogna andar cauti anche in
Italia e dovunque, in fatto di inquizione (con iniziale minuscola), ci sono persone e istituti che hanno la
coda di paglia o il carbone bagnato: modi di dire senz’altro pertinenti, pensando ai bei fuochi di un tempo.
E viene da pensare a quel passo dei Pomessi sposi quando il sagrestano, alle invocazioni di don Abbondio,
attacca a suonare ad allarme la campana e a ciascuno dei bravi che stanno agguatati in casa di Lucia ‘parve
di sentire in que’tocchi il suo nome, cognome e soprannome.’ Così succede appena si dà di tocco
all’Inquisizione: molti galantuomini si sentono chiamare per nome, cognome e numero di tessera del partito
cui sono iscritti. E non parlo, evidentemente, soltanto di galantuomini cattolici. Altre inquisizioni
l’umanità ha sofferto e soffre tuttora; per cui, come dice il polacco Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, prudenza vuole che
non si parli di corda né in casa dell’impiccato né in casa del boia. L’effetto, dunque, che Morte
dell’inquisitore ha fatto su questi galantuomini, la sufficienza con cui ne hanno parlato o ne hanno taciuto,
è l’altro motivo per cui tengo a questo lavoro.”
certain judgments on the sacraments, on the salvation of the soul, the ministry of
priests; without speaking of judgments on worldly interests and the worldly
behavior of priests. But, in effect, those judgments cannot be vaguely
considered heretical propositions; they are, in relation to religion, something
more and even worse: they move from a total and absolute repulsion to the
metaphysical, to mystery, to the invisible revelation; from the ancient
materialism of the Sicilian population. With regards to confession, for example,
there was no need for Luther to arouse the diffidence and repugnance of
Sicilians: this sacrament has always been regarded as an excogitation, let’s say,
licentious; a contrived manner by a socially privileged category, that is to say of
priests, to enjoy sexual liberty on others’ territory, and in the act itself of
censuring such a liberty for the unprivileged; that the privilege for a Sicilian,
more than in the liberty of enjoying certain things, consists of the pleasure of
prohibiting them to others. The celibacy of priests ended up looking like a trick,
a fraud: to not descend to arms on the treacherous soil where women dispose of
men’s honor, to assure themselves invulnerability. And the veto that husbands,
fathers, brothers enforced on their women relative to confession descended from
this conviction. In terms of confessing themselves, they did not feel it was
appropriate for a man to confess his feelings, his weaknesses, his secret actions
and intentions to another man; nor that a man such as priest was invested with
the power by God to excuse? their sins, nor that their sins truly existed. The
only notion that a Sicilian man had about sin could be condensed in this
proverb: Cu havi la cummidità e nun si nni servi, mancu lu confissuri cci
l’assorvi; which is exactly the ironic reversal not only of the sacrament of
confession but the fundamental principal of Christianity: he who does not know
how to take advantage of each comfort and occasion in which the possessions
and in particular women of others are offered to him will not be absolved by the
confessor.” (32)104
“È ancor oggi facile, parlando di cose della religione cattolica con un contadino, con uno zolfataro, ed
anche con un galantuomo, isolare come proposizioni luterane certi loro giudizi sui sacramenti, sulla
salvazione dell’anima, sul ministero sacerdotale; senza dire dei giudizi sugli interessi temporali e sul
mondano comportamento dei preti. Ma effettualmente tali giudizi non si possono nemmeno vagamente
considerare come proposizioni ereticali; sono, in rapporto alla religione, qualcosa di più e di peggio:
muovono da una totale ed assoluta refrattarietà alla metafisica, al mistero, all’invisibile rivelazione;
dall’antico materialismo del popolo siciliano. Nei riguardi della confessione, per esempio, non c’era
bisogno di Lutero per suscitare la diffidenza e repugnanza del siciliano: sempre questo sacramento è stato
considerato come una escogitazione, per così dire, boccaccesca; un modo escogitato da una categoria
socialmente privilegiata, cioè quella dei preti, per godere di libertà sessuale sul terreno altrui, e nell’atto
stesso di censurare una tal libertà nei non privilegiati; ché il privilegio, per il siciliano, consiste, più che
nella libertà di godere certe cose, nel gusto di vietarle agli altri. E lo stesso celibate dei preti finiva con
l’apparire come una specie di astuzia, di frode: per non scendere ad armi pari sull’infido terreno dove le
donne dispongono dell’onore degli uomini, per assicurarsi invulnerabilità. E da questa convinzione
discendeva il veto che i mariti, i padri, i fratelli ponevano alle loro donne relativamente alla confessione. In
quanto al confessarsi essi stessi, non ritenevano fosse cosa da uomini il confessare ad un altro uomo i loro
sentimenti, le loro debolezze, le loro occulte azioni e intenzioni; né che un uomo come loro fosse investito
da Dio del potere di rimetter loro i peccati; né che i peccati esistano davvero. La sola nozione che l’uomo
siciliano ha del peccato, si può considerare condensate in questo proverbio: Cu havi la cummidità e nun si
nni servi, mancu lu confissuri cci l’assorvi; che è appunto l’ironico rovesciamento non solo del sacramento
della confessione ma del principio fondamentale del cristianesimo: non sarà assolto dal confessore colui
The evening before Friar Diego was burned alive he was subject to a brutal
interrogation by nine members of the Inquisition that lasted the entire night, a scene that
Sciascia summarizes:
It is one of the most atrocious and incredible scenes of human intolerance ever
represented. And how these nine men full of theological and moral doctrine,
who vented their rage on the condemned (but that every so often went to reenergize in the warden’s apartment), they remain in the history of human
dishonor, Diego La Matina affirms the dignity and the honor of man, the
strength of thought, the tenacity of will and the victory of liberty. (71)105
Unfortunately, Diego La Matina’s book and the recorded proceedings from his trial were
burned in the courtyard of the Steri Palace in 1783, along with all of the denouncements,
the trial documents, the books and other writings pertaining to the inquisitorial archives.
Of the event an aristocratic reporter wrote: “It encountered common applause, being that
if such memories, with God’s will, happened to come out, it would have been the same as
painting a black note on many families of Palermo and the entire kingdom, such was it
with the noble ranks, thus was it with the honest and refined ones [ranks]” (83).106
Sciascia notes that evidently the reporter was more concerned with the names of the
denounced rather than the inquisitors. He concludes:
…it should be noted that it would have been difficult for the royal notary (of the
court) to dare to break, and in the ceremonial register, that code of silence
(omertà) that surrounds the case of Friar Diego to which even the diarists,
che non saprà profittare di ogni comodità ed occassione che gli si offe, della roba altrui, e della donna altrui
in particolare.
“È una delle più atroci e allucinanti scene che l’intolleranza umana abbia mai rappresentato. E come
questi nove uomini pieni di dottrina teologica e morale, che si arrovellano intorno al condannato (ma ogni
tanto vanno a ristorarsi nell’appartamento dell’alcaide), restano nella storia del disonore umano, Diego La
Matina afferma la dignità e l’onore dell’uomo, la forza del pensiero, la tenacia della volontà, la vittoria
della libertà.”
“Incontrò il comune applause, stanteché se tali memorie, che Dio liberi, fosser per avventura venute
fuori, sarebbe stato lo stesso che macchiare di nere note molte e molte famiglie di Palermo e del regno
tutto, così del rango de’nobili, che delle oneste e civili.”
complied. Because, unusual behavior relative to the facts that touch upon
religion and aristocracy (it is not superfluous to recall the case of the Baroness
of Carini), that of the authors of chronicles and daily publications is a real and
true form of silence: a unanimous confirmation of the official version of things,
of the familiar mystifications… (86)107
3.2.3. The Council of Egypt
In 1963 Sciascia published the historical novel The Council of Egypt (Il consiglio
d’Egitto). Set in Palermo in 1782, it recounts the story of a complex fraud conceived by
a Benedictine chaplain who originated from Malta named Don Giuseppe Vella.
When the Moroccan ambassador to the King of Naples is shipwrecked off the
coast of Sicily, Vella is asked by the Viceroy of Palermo to act as his interpreter. When
the Bishop Monsignor Airoldi asks the ambassador to review an ancient Arabic text,
known as the Codex of San Martino, to ascertain its contents, Vella schemes a clever plot
that will put him in good standing with the crown. Although the ambassador replies that
the codex is merely one of numerous accounts of the life of the prophet, Vella interprets
the ambassador’s message as a confirmation that indeed, the codex is a rare and precious
document that details the Arab conquest of Sicily and the history of Arab rule on the
“E infine c’è da notare che difficilmente il protonotaro del Regno si sarebbe azzardato a rompere, e sul
registro del cerimoniale, quell’omertà intorno al caso di fra Diego cui persino I diaristi, nel segreto del loro
scrittorio, si erano attenuti. Perché, non inconsueto comportamento relativamente a fatti che toccano la
religione e l’aristocrazia (e non è superfluo ricordare il caso della baronessa di Carini), quella degli autori
di cronache o diari è una vera e propria forma di omertà: a solidale confermazione delle versioni ufficiali o
ufficiose, delle mistificazioni familiari…”
As the only individual in Palermo who understands both Italian and Arabic, the
chaplain conceives of an elaborate scheme to translate the “precious codex” into Italian, a
document that contests baronial privilege and demonstrates that the nobles’ land belongs
to the crown. Overnight Vella is catapulted from a social position of relative obscurity to
that of a socially prominent, powerful individual; he gains instant notoriety with the
Palermitan nobles who are nervous the contents of the codex will reveal that their land
was acquired through usurpation. Vella is showered with invitations and lavish gifts by
those who seek to influence his translation of the codex, to reflect their family fortunes in
a favorable light.
This novel is set in the context of the Enlightenment and portrays the Sicilian
nobles, who ordinarily follow French fashion and literature, as fearful of enlightened
philosophy and the social reforms the Viceroy of Palermo threatens to impose. Reputed
to have imprisoned a prince for giving hospitality and protection to a pair of assassins, the
nobles (who refer to themselves as the “salt of earth of Sicily”) are scandalized by the
Viceroy’s protection of the Jansenists; social radicals who propose that the nobles should
pay tax on their estates just like the bourgeois. The nobles’ power is undermined as the
use of titles falls out of regard and the crown is forcing them to repay their creditors
Representatives of the church benefit from the social inequalities as much as the
nobles do. Together they commiserate as many prelatures have been relieved of their
notable stipends. Like the nobles who manipulate legal codes to ensure their power and
position within society, the Church too abuses its power as it seeks to perpetuate the
status quo from which it benefits. In reference to the daunting task of translating the
codex, a Marque ironically asks the Monsignor Airoldi where scholars will turn when it
is time for them to write on the Holy Inquisition in Sicily. This is an inference to the
destruction of the official archives of the Holy Inquisition in Sicily that bear testament to
the centuries of activity by the Inquisition on the island. Additionally, the symbol and
motto of the Inquisition are chiseled off the façade of its headquarters in the Steri Palace,
as if the Inquisition never happened.
When revolution abroad prompts the crown to relax its pressure on the Sicilian
barons, the Viceroy abandons his attack on Sicilian feudalism and leaves the island in
defeat. Having come to Sicily from Paris he states that he was sent, “from the citadel of
reason to the hic sunt leones, to a desert where the sands of an irrational tradition bury the
trail of any forward-moving spirit.” (80) The story concludes with the discovery of Don
Vella’s fraud (now referred to as his Excellency Giuseppe Vella Abbot of San Pancrazio),
and the brutal torture and death by guillotine of a young lawyer whose planned Jacobin
revolt is revealed by a would-be participant during confession. Saddened to hear that the
young lawyer he had befriended will be executed Vella reflects:
The cruelty of the law, the practice of torture, and the atrocious executions,
several of which he had witnessed in the past, had never disturbed him: he had
assigned such things to the category of natural phenomena or, to be more
precise, had thought of them as natural corrective measures, not unlike pruning
vines or trees, and just as necessary. He knew that there was a book by
someone called Beccaria that opposed torture and the death penalty: he knew of
it because Monsignor López had only recently ordered any copies of it to be
sequestered. (189)
Upon learning of his friend Vella’s fraud, the lawyer comments, “Every society produces
the particular kind of imposture that suits it best, so to speak. Our society is a fraud, a
judicial, literary, human fraud- yes, I would say human too, for it is fraudulent in its very
essence” (144). I would argue that of all of Sciascia’s writings The Council of Egypt
most eloquently elucidates his thoughts on the centuries’ old social injustice in Sicily.
Historical Novels by Andrea Camilleri
The Way Things Go
The Way Things Go (Il corso delle cose) Camilleri’s first novel written in 19671968, was published for the first time in 1978 by the publishing house Lalli di Poggibonsi
(after being rejected by Mondadori, Marsilio, Bompiani, Garzanti, Feltrinelli and
Riuniti…). In an interview Camilleri told Marcello Sorgi, “I believe the reason why the
text was refused was its language” (Sorgi 62).108
The story begins as the Carabinieri Tognin and Police Marshall Corbo interrogate
an illiterate farmer about the discovery of a murdered shepherd whose body is found on
his property. The farmer is clearly uncomfortable in the presence of the police and curses
his bad luck that the assassin chose his property to dump the body on. He knows that his
unwitting involvement in the case will end badly for him and cites a proverb to describe
his unfortunate situation: “Jump the fence and screw the farmer” (“Salta il tronzo e va in
culo all’ortolano”) (14). Carabinieri Tognin (from Venice) questions the farmer about
the significance of a pair of shoes placed on the victim’s chest, a non-verbal message that
the victim tried to escape from the Mafia (15). The ironic tone the farmer uses to explain
the symbolism conveys his belief that the man was naïve to think that he could escape the
“Credo che la ragione per cui il testo [Il corso delle cose] veniva rifiutato fosse proprio il mio
Mafia alive. Although initially the farmer is reluctant to talk, an overnight stay in the
police station persuades him to divulge that he found the body with a note attached to it.
Written in upper-case, block characters (stampatello), indicative of anonymous letters; it
was read to the illiterate farmer by his eight-year-old son. It warned not to contact the
police for three days.
Alluding to the brutality that was frequently attributed to Sicilian law
enforcement, the Marshal Corbo frightens the farmer into talking by assuring him that he
is nothing like the infamous Marshal Cangemi. “The one from the special squad of
Mazzara – whose methods for giving voice to the deaf and dumb were legendary – but
that upon polite request, he could easily become like Marshal Cangemi and worse”
In a seemingly unrelated event, shots are fired at the story’s protagonist Don Vito
Macaluso as he enters his apartment building one evening. Clearly the gunman fired as a
warning, intentionally missing an easy target. Vito is enraged by the silence that lingers
after the shots are fired and the fear and apathy it implies. No one dares to ask if Vito is
alright. The streets are eerily silent; they clearly prefer not to be connected to Vito or this
apparent attempt on his life. This event prompts Vito to exam his conscience, yet as he
reflects on his life, his actions and relationships he cannot imagine why someone would
want to hurt him and he is unsure of how to react.
After the shots are fired, Marshal Corbo heads to the town’s main square, which is
oddly deserted; even the stray dogs are in hiding, as apathetic as the humans. Although
everyone in this small town is clearly aware of the shooting, the following day people
“quello del nucleo speciale di Masàra- I cui sistemi per ridare la parola ai sordomuti spaziavano in
dimensioni da leggenda – ma che, a gentile richiesta, poteva benissimo diventare come e peggio di
react with surprise when someone in the local café dares to comment on the shooting,
“Someone was shooting?” (Hanno sparato?) This same comment is repeated in
Sciascia’s twentieth-century detective novels.110 This attitude of ‘I saw nothing. I know
nothing’ is less prevalent in Camilleri’s contemporary mysteries owing to the rise of a
collective moral consciousness and awareness of the mafia that Camilleri claims
everyone gained when Falcone and Borsellino were assassinated.
Vito is a man who avoids conflicts and has lived with his hands over his eyes,
refusing to acknowledge things as they are. Vito’s father had left a monthly sum of
money in his will to an elderly man known as Mammarosa who used to work in his
factory. Every month Vito delivers this sum to Mammarosa (which resembles a monthly
pizzo) and Mammarosa asks Vito if there is anything Vito needs. Vito refuses to
understand that this man clearly has some sorts of connections that he could use to help
him; instead, Vito wonders how Mammarosa, who lives in a tiny, dirt-floor, one-room
hut, could possibly help him. Although it is implied that this man has connections that
would allow him to help Vito, Vito is obstinate in his refusal to acknowledge the obvious.
This scene beautifully captures the dark, obscure nature of the Mafia. Likely there was
some connection between Vito’s father and Mammarosa that explains this pizzo: Vito
could be paying the monthly pizzo for his own business operations without realizing what
that monthly sum signifies… There is a connection, a network that surrounds Vito that he
is unaware of or that he chooses not to acknowledge.
Vito remembers that the previous evening when the shots were fired his next door
neighbor, the widow Tripepi, was sitting on her couch with the balcony doors open. To
In Sciascia’s The Day of the Owl, The food vendor asks, “Someone was shooting?” (“Perché” domando
il panellaro, meravigliato e curioso “hanno sparato?”.) Sciascia, Leonardo. Il giorno della civetta. Milano:
Gli Adelphi. 2002. 14.
determine whether those shots could have been intended for her, he knocks on her door
yet a mere glance at her face reveals that she was not the intended target- an instance of
how Sicilians communicate without using words. Camilleri comments:
There is a legend that goes two Sicilians accused of an unknown crime in a
foreign country, were put into separate cells so that they cannot communicate
prior to interrogation. As they are taken to the foreign king the following day
they exchange a quick glance. Your majesty! One of the guards screamed who
was also Sicilian, by now it is futile. They spoke! (44)111
The shooting is discussed in local cafes, at the barber shop and at the social club
“il circolo” (where men of elevated social status meet to discuss politics, literature, local
events and women). While one man attributes the crime to the Mafia, another uses an
interesting logic to insist that the Mafia does not operate in their town:
A Mafia crime? Are you serious? Our town has always been a foolish country,
a stupid one, here one can count the homicides from the past ten years on one
hand and always they had to do with some cuckold, personal matters, a hotheaded drunkard. But all private, personal matters. (44)112
In response the other asks about a bomb that exploded the previous week and the
Mercedes that recently blew up, were those not Mafia crimes? Prompting the reply, Yes,
those were Mafia crimes but they happened in the neighborhood that is inhabited by
newly settled immigrants from the Sicilian town of Comisini; they imported their Mafia,
and therefore it cannot be considered a Mafia crime of Vigàta. He continues:
“I told the mayor that the new electricity generating station, the chemical plant,
and the cement factory would not have brought any benefit to our town, on the
contrary!… He who leaves the old path for the new...” the other responds,
“Exactly. And in conclusion our youth continue to leave for America and
Germany while workers from the north arrive here and others from the interior
“Racconta una leggenda che due siciliani, accusati in un paese straniero di non si sa quale reato, fossero
stati messi in celle separate perche fra loro non comunicassero prima dell’interrogatorio. Portati l’indomani
davanti al re straniero, si erano rapidamente scambiata una taliàta. – Maestà- aveva allora gridato una
guardia, siciliano anch’esso- oramai è tutto inutile. Parlarono!”
“- Delitto di mafia? Vogliamo scherzare? Il nostro è sempre stato un paese babbo, un paese stupido, qui
gli omicidi, in dieci anni, si contano sulle dita di una mano sola, e sempre si è trattato di qualche cornuto
risentito, di interessi, di qualche ubriaco di cervello caldo. Ma tutti fatti private, personali.”
with whom it is better not to get involved.” (46)113 [This reference to the
workers from the north alludes to the common occurrence of the national
government to transfer individuals to Sicily as punishment; individuals who
were guilty of extortion or other abuses of power, a mover that exacerbated the
existing problem of corruption and Mafia activity on the island.]
Some speculate that the attempt on Vito’s life involved the Mafia and others point
to Peppi Monacu, a farmer whose wife had an affair with Vito for years; perhaps he
suddenly felt the need to avenge his honor, a common and widely accepted explanation
for murder. Vito’s friend encourages him to go and talk with Peppi to resolve the matter
saying, “And what do you know about the brilliant ideas a patient cuckold might have?
One day his horns itch more than usual, and he picks up a gun and shoots” (66).114 At
one point Marshal Corbo comments that he is not surprised that this old story between
Vito and Peppi’s wife has resurfaced as a possible motive for the attempt on Vito’s life; it
is the perfect theory to deflect attention from the real perpetrator (98, 105).
Marshal Corbo is paid a secretive visit by a northern official from the Treasury
Department, who tells him that the dead shepherd was purportedly involved in a drug
trafficking operation and that he suspects a connection between the shepherd’s death and
the attempt on Vito’s life. He asks Corbo what the shoes left on top of the victim’s chest
signify and Corbo explains:
You see Captain here we not only like to kill, but to kill with an explanation. I
kill you this way or that way because you did this or that to me. If you spoke
when you were not supposed to, I will put a plug in your mouth; if you caused
me a great disappointment that merits death, I place the leaf of a prickly pear on
your chest so that you may enjoy the thorns that you gave me. If you want to
“Io glielo dissi al sindaco che la nuova centrale elettrica, la Montecatini e il cementificio non avrebbero
portanto nessun beneficio al nostro paese. Anzi.” “Chi lascia la via vecchia per la nuova…” “Appunto. E
in conclusione I nostri giovani continuano ad andarsene chi in America e chi in Germania e qui arrivano
questi operai del Nord o gente dell’interno con la quale è meglio impastare la pane a parte.”
“E che ne sai tu che alzata d’ingegno può avere un cornuto paziente? Un giorno che le corna gli
prudono più del solito, piglia e spara.”
escape, I take the shoes off your feet and I say to you: do you see that you are
barefoot? Where will you escape to now? (68)115
Asked about Vito Macaluso, Corbo answers that he has a spotless criminal record
(incensurato) to which the captain, cynical of spotless records ironically retorts:
Last year, a person who has been on our radar for fifteen years, who between
’33 and ’40 was convicted of theft, forgery, receiving stolen goods and again for
theft, and who was signaled to us by Interpol and the Narcotics Bureau as a
frequent drug trafficker, was recently declared to be of good civil, political and
moral conduct and he obtained a weapon’s permit. With that said, what do you
have to tell me, seriously, about your spotless record? (69)116
Speculating about the death of the shepherd, the Captain tells Corbo that the shepherd
had no way out; he was forced to choose between the law and the Mafia. The Mafia had
no choice but to eliminate him because he posed a threat as a weak link in the chain that
connects the most remote trafficker to the last drug user. When a link in the chain is
exposed, as in the case of the shepherd; the chain can be traced link by link to the big
players in Tangers or Beirut (71).
In the Captain’s mind it is a foregone conclusion that the Mafia is behind both the
shots fired at Vito and the shepherd’s death. The reader learns of potential Mafia
involvement through scenes such as that in which the evening news report is read aloud
to Don Pietro. The evening news reports that officials are of the opinion that the
shepherd’s death was motivated by a question of interests among shepherds and it is clear
“Vede, signor capitano, da noi hanno il gusto non solo di ammazzare, ma di ammazzare con la
spiegazione. Io ti ammazzo così e così perche tu hai fatto questo e quest’altro. Se hai parlato, e non
dovevi, io ti metto un tappo in bocca; se mi hai dato un dispiacere che merita morte, ti metto sul petto una
pala di ficodindia, e così ti godi tu le spine che hai dato a me; di conseguenza, se tu vuoi scappare, ti levo le
scarpe dai piedi e ti dico: hai visto che sei ridotto a piedi nudi? Dove te ne scappi, ora?”
“L’anno scorso- una persona che teniamo da quindici anni, che fra il ’33 e il ’40 è stata condannata per
furto, falso e ricettazione e poi nuovamente per furto, che è stata segnalata da noi, dall’Interpol e dal
Narcotic Bureau come abituale trasportatore di droga, in questi giorni è stata dichiarata di buona condotta
morale, civile e politica e ha ottenuto il porto d’armi. Ciò premesso, che ha da dirmi- sul serio- circa il suo
from the context that this opinion is pleasing to Don Pietro, who obviously is very
interested in the investigation of the shepherd’s death and likely ordered it to happen
At the novel’s conclusion Vito learns that his close friend Masino was not only
involved in the shepherd’s murder but in the attempt on his life as well. Overwhelmed by
this sudden realization, he shouts at Masino that Masino is not his friend. Masino
counters that, on the contrary, he asked that Vito be given another three days to live, an
opportunity to change his behavior and avoid being killed. If it were not for him, Vito
would have been killed the evening the warning shots were fired. With his final gesture
Vito pulls out a gun and he and Masino shoot and kill each other (135).
The story concludes as two townspeople hypothesize about Vito’s death. As
Masino broke Vito’s jaw and knocked out his front teeth, they conclude their brutal
struggle was about a woman, it was a crime of passion, as if jealousy were the only
motive for such a violent death. The novel’s final sentence is an ironic comment that
alludes to the Sicilian tendency to explain Mafia murders as crimes of passion, “How do
you want to explain it? I told you, it seems, the other day. Here in our parts, people only
die from cuckoldry” (138).117 This quote perfectly captures the sense of hopeless
resignation that resonates throughout the novel.
3.3.2. A Thread of Smoke
In 1980 Garzanti agreed to publish Camilleri’s historical novel A Thread of Smoke
(Un filo di fumo), with the condition that Camilleri include a Sicilian glossary. By the
“Come la vuoi mettere? Glielo dissi, mi pare, l’altro giorno. Qua da noi, si muore solo di corna.”
time this novel was republished with Sellerio in 1997 the glossary had become
superfluous owing to the increased exposure of his readers to Sicilian dialect. Set in the
imaginary town of Vigàta in 1890, this story was inspired by documents that belonged to
Camilleri’s grandfather (the owner of a sulfur mining business), which warned against a
dishonest sulfur merchant.
The novel begins as the son of a dishonest sulfur merchant called Whitebeard
(Barbabianca)118 goes door to door to ask competing sulfur merchants whether they have
sulfur for sale. Whitebeard must immediately gather sulfur to fulfill an order promised to
a Russian client, or he would be forced to close his company, Salvatore Whitebeard and
Sons (Ditta Salvatore Barbabianca e Figli). It is clear the merchants of Vigàta have
conspired to ensure Whitebeard’s ruin for they stand in solidarity in their refusal to sell
him sulfur. It is the delayed delivery of a telegram that puts their plan in motion:
Whitebeard learns of the Russian order for sulfur the morning their ship approaches
Vigàta to fulfill the order. At a meeting of the local social club the Circle of Nobles, the
postmaster’s complicity in the plot is revealed when he asks whether the others are happy
with his performance (i.e., the delay of the telegram).
Residents of Vigàta anxiously await the sight of smoke on the horizon which
signifies the arrival of the Russian ship and Whitebeard’s downfall. They refer
disparagingly to Whitebeard as a “self-made man” (23) as he rose from the working,
lower-class to become a powerful merchant in the socially rigid society of late
nineteenth-century Sicily. However, the smoke on the horizon can also signify the social
change that looms on the horizon in Sicily during 1890 and his advancement threatens the
Whitebeard is a pejorative nickname that was given to Salvatore Romeres when he moved to Vigàta. A
potter by trade, his beard was often dirty with chalk and clay. When he later became a powerful sulfur
merchant the locals referred to him as Whitebeard to recall his lower-class origin.
security of men whose social status is derived from birthright, as opposed to merit.
Whitebeard is despised for both his social advancement and his unscrupulous business
practices, which have forced a number of companies to fail. It is implied that it would be
impossible for an honest man to enter the sulfur business and make a profit.
Interestingly, Father Imborbone speaks of Whitebeard with more contempt than
those who have been forced into ruin by his business practices, “That man has done more
damage than a shark in a tuna net. Because Whitebeard is the wave of this new society
that teaches not to respect anyone” (23).119 More than the nobles whose titles are falling
into disuse and whose baronial privileges and protection are in jeopardy, the priest feels
threatened by this new lack of respect for the existing social order that Whitebeard
represents. Clearly Father Imborbone enjoys a powerful position in local society and
would be adversely affected should the lower classes refuse to accept their condition as
exploited laborers. The hypocrisy of the church, the nobles and the bourgeoisie is
exposed: they condemn corrupt business practices only when they are committed by
those of a lower social class. When an outsider such as Whitebeard forces his way into
their to their industry, they complain he does not abide by the same “honor code”, much
like members of the “Old Mafia” generations later complain to Montalbano about the
advent of a “New Mafia” in which their code of honor is no longer respected.
Numerous recurrent themes of Camilleri’s novels are present in A Thread of
Smoke such as play-acting (fare il teatro). As Whitebeard’s son knocks upon each door to
ask for sulfur, the merchants revel in the act of telling him they do not have any sulfur
when in fact they do. Cognizant of the delight these merchants experience as they turn
“È un uomo che da noi ha fatto più danno d’una fera, ed era giusto. Perche Barbabianca è la schiuma di
questa nuova società che insegna a non aver rispetto di nessuno.”
him away, he comments on the play-acting that is revealed through subtle gestures and a
glimmer in their eyes. The engineer Lemonier (an outsider from Turin) plays an
important role, as he comments on the Sicilian customs that are foreign to him such as the
powerful use of nonverbal communication. As he describes the engineer Camilleri
…during his two years of living in Vigàta he had learned to understand
something about Sicilians. The engineer was convinced that it was not the
words that they said nor the gestures they made; instead it was necessary to pay
attention to how they said those words and how they made those gestures.
Nuances, rippled wavelets, imperceptible changes of rhythm and intonation:
these were the things that mattered. (20)120
Through his depiction of Father Imborbone, the local priest who is anything but
devout and sets a terrible moral example, Camilleri comments on the history of corrupt
church officials in Sicily. Father Imborbone’s interest in maintaining the existing social
order that allows a small percentage of the population to benefit at the expense of the
masses is underscored. When Lemonier asks about the unfolding of current events,
Father Imborbone exclaims with delight, “Romeres is screwed!” (S’è fottuto Romeres!),
and tells the story of Romeres’ rise to power and how he came to be called Whitebeard.
To which the astonished engineer asks, “And as a poor potter he managed to become so
powerful?” (“E da povero vasaio è riuscito a diventare questa potenza?”) When someone
responds, “A true self-made-man” Father Imborbone corrects him, “A true fucked-made
man.” (“Un vero e proprio fotte-made-man.”)
“… che nei due anni di permanenza a Vigàta aveva imparato a capire qualche cosa dei siciliani. Non
erano le parole che dicevano, non erano i gesti che facevano, s’era persuaso l’ingegnere: bisognava invece
stare attenti a come dicevano quelle parole, a come facevano quei gesti. Sfumature, increspature,
impercettibili mutamenti di ritmo e di intonazione: erano queste le cose che contavano.”
When the priest mentions Whitebeard's politics and says, “…As for those people
who drag out the Sicilian Fasci121 and fill their mouths with bullshit like social equality,
emancipation and collectivization…” Marquis Curtò (the only member of the Nobles
Club to embrace an enlightened philosophy towards social order) interrupts, “I don’t
understand what you’re driving at.” The priest crudely responds “I’m not driving at
anything, your Excellence; you’re the one who should drive it up your ass!” (24).122
Father Imborbone is a glutton who has fathered several children with his
housekeeper. The common townspeople joke that confessing to him will hasten ones
death, as the priest will exploit any information from which he can derive personal gain.
Reinforcing the common opinion of the priest as a fraud and a hypocrite, upon learning of
his death, a man runs through the town shouting that anyone with relatives in hell who
wishes to send a care package should seize the opportunity to send it with the hell-bound
Father Imborbone; for there is no doubt regarding his destination. (62)123
In a discussion at the Nobles Club concerning the “Parliamentary Inquiry of Sicily
of 1875,” the marquis and priest comment that Northern Italians always have the attitude
as if they are going to teach something to Sicilians. When the marquis remarks that the
men from the sulfur industry they interviewed were incredibly honest people, the priest
emphatically agrees while his ironic tone and sly grin indicate the opposite is true. The
men reflect that initially the commission proceeded seriously, until they were distracted
The Siciliani Fasci (1891-1894) was a popular movement, of democratic and socialist inspiration, which
arose in Sicily between the years 1891 and 1893 and whose aim was the collective organization of farmers,
workers and miners, especially in the areas rich with sulfur. 11 Sept. 2009.
“…a questi che hanno tirato fuori la storia dei fasci siciliani e si riempiono la bocca di minchiate come
eguaglianza sociale, empancipazione, collettivizzazione…” to which the Marquee Curtò di Baucina
responds “non capisco dove voi volete andare a parare.” And Padre Imborbone, “Io non paro niente,
egregio, è lei che deve andare a parare il culo!”
“Cu avi a mannàri trusciteddi o’nfernu, murì u parrinu Imburnuni.”
by this “tale” of the Mafia and began to write fantasy stories. When someone makes the
analogy of Sicily as a sick tree the Baron Raccuglia adds that according to Franchetti e
Sonnino, the national government was guilty of sending the worst police employees to
the island in an attempt to hasten the death of an already sick tree124. If the national
government is a doctor, he says, it needs to not only diagnose illness but also to find a
remedy. Speaking of the harm that the unified government caused the weaving industry
in Sicily they comment that when Garibaldi arrived at the town of Marsala there were
roughly 3,000 weavers in operation and that after unification only 200 were left. When
their materials started to arrive from afar, prices doubled and most weavers were forced
out of business.
The discussion at the Nobles Club later shifts its focus to the worth of human
beings. When asked how many people live in town, the Baron Raccuglia responds that
there are eight or nine noble families and about thirty bourgeois families for a total of
approximately 300 people. To which the engineer exclaims “But there are 9,000 people
in town!” The baron replies that the others do not matter. The attitude of arrogance and
disgust towards the lower-class and the conviction that they are worthless is equally
apparent in the actions of the wealthy. The abject poverty and misery in which the
majority of the town’s population subsides does not weigh on the conscience of those
who frequent the Nobles Club. Camilleri writes: “A description of merchant activity in
the port of Vigàta included from Baldassare Marullo’s essay entitled: Vigàta’s likely
Origins, Development, Activity and Needs (Vigàta nelle probabili origini, nello sviluppo,
nell’attività e ne’ suoi bisogni), describes the plight of cart drivers, dock workers and the
This is a reference to the practice of the national government of sending state employees guilty of
corruption or other abuses of power to Sicily as a sort of punishment whereby exacerbating the existing
problem of corruption and Mafia activity.
porters who carry heavy loads of sulfur upon their backs. Over time the porters develop
bloody sores from the heavy weight that rubs against their backs, a woeful condition
whose absence they lament when unemployed, “My sore healed” (mi si sanò la piaga)”
A Thread of Smoke provides valuable insight to the living conditions and attitudes
prevalent in post-unification Sicily as well as the intense resistance of the upper class to
the societal changes that were underway.
The Forgotten Massacre
In The Forgotten Massacre (La strage dimenticata) published in 1984, Camilleri
pays homage to the 114 prisoners (servi di pena) incarcerated in the tower of the pier
hamlet (then under the jurisdiction of Agrigento). Confined in abysmal conditions, these
men were suddenly killed one evening in January 1848 by Bourbon soldiers who guarded
the tower. Camilleri seeks to rectify this historical miscarriage of justice through its
failure to record a truthful official account of the events that surrounded the death of
these prisoners. This historical reenactment is a tribute to the countless injustices
suffered by the poor and the vulnerable throughout Sicilian history.
In the early 1980s Camilleri stumbled upon documents that referred to this
massacre in his hometown of Porto Empedocle (a district of Agrigento in 1848) and he
approached Leonard Sciascia with them suggesting that he should a book about it.
Sciascia was not interested but told Camilleri that if he wrote it himself he would help
him to publish it with Sellerio.
Camilleri relies upon various documents to relay the history of the tower and
reconstruct the chain of events that surround the death of these prisoners. The names of
the 114 deceased are recorded in the official town register as having perished between the
night of January 25th and the morning of the 26th. However, Baldassare Marullo, the
mayor of Porto Empedocle more than half a century later, contradicts this date and in
1926 writes that the date of death was January 18, 1848. This discrepancy of dates and
details documenting how and when the bodies were removed from the tower prompts
Camilleri to investigate the veil of conspiracy that shrouds this tragic event. He recalls
that his grandmother, Carolina Camilleri (born a decade after the massacre at the pier
tower) was repeatedly told a different version of these events by her mother.
Camilleri reflects on the historical domination of the tower and considers the
centuries of foreign occupation in Sicily prior to Italian unification. This defensive tower
that was constructed to keep external aggressors at bay later confined internal “enemies.”
After countless oppressors some Sicilians regarded the newly created Italian State as yet
another unwelcome domination of their land. When the massacre took place, the tower
of the pier hamlet (La Torre della Borgata di Molo) was one of three locations on the
island that were still under Bourbon control.
The documents Camilleri consults such as On the Actual Conditions of Prisons
and the Means to Improve Them (Della condizione attuale delle carceri e dei mezzi per
migliorarla) written in 1840 by Carlo Ilarione Petitti di Roreto and Prisons and Civil
Society (Carcere e società civile) by Guido Neppi Modona explain the penal codes in
existence in 1848. Interestingly, these documents state that a single count of theft carried
a sentence of three to ten years in prison while the violent crime of assault and battery
(non-life threatening) received a sentence of one month to two years (24). In Prisons and
Civil Society Modona writes:
In reality the detainees, because of their social status and the types of crimes
they committed, are not of interest to anyone, rather they represent a threat to
the classes in power… Therefore it should not be a surprise that political
imprisonment aims in reality to separate the population of detainees from
society, to destroy it and to keep it in harmful conditions for the longest possible
time, releasing it, afterwards, in a worse condition. (24)125
Incredibly, more than 130 years later, in January of 1987, Sciascia wrote an article in the
newspaper Corriere della Sera that focused on the existence of this exact problem in the
1980s (To Future Memory 119).
To write The Forgotten Massacre, Camilleri researches prison reforms and the
miserable conditions of jails over the centuries that are lamented in songs, such as that
recorded in Antonino Uccello’s Prison and Mafia in Popular Sicilian Songs (Carcere e
mafia nei canti popolari Siciliani):
This cell is so cold; it is like a lair that spouts water from all of it walls.
Sicilian -
Ch’è friddu stu dammusu, è comu un gniazzu/
ca acqua spanni da tutti li mura
Italian -
Com’è fredda questa cella, è come un covile/
che getta acqua da tutti i muri
(The Forgotten Massacre 26)
The chain of events that led to the death of the 114 prisoners is subject to debate.
Camilleri describes a tense political situation in which a proclamation inciting Sicilians to
“In realtà i detenuti e per la loro provenienza di classe e per il tipo di reati che commettono, non
interessano a nessuno, anzi rappresentano un pericolo per i ceti che detengono il potere …Non deve quindi
stupire che la politica carceraria miri in realtà a respingere dalla società la popolazione dei detenuti, a
distrugerla e a porla in condizione di non nuocere per il periodo più lungo possible, restituendola poi
overthrow Bourbon rule was widely posted in Palermo on January 9, 1848. Although
there was no mention of uprising in the pier district, the Bourbon soldiers in charge of the
tower were very nervous about their uncertain position of power. When a large crowd
including relatives of the inmates gathered outside the tower, the inmates were
encouraged by the attention and they began to raise a ruckus inside. As the crowd grew
increasingly vocal and agitated the guards took cover inside the tower. To prevent an
attack by the inmates from behind, the guards forced the prisoners into a confined
common area in the pit of the tower. When they closed slots in the tower’s walls, they
sealed the tower’s air supply, slowly suffocating the prisoners inside. As the prisoners’
screams became hysterical, the head guard Major Sarzana commanded his soldiers to
throw three petards into the pit. All 114 prisoners inside the tower were killed as a result
of this seemingly innocuous action. As he describes the slow and painful death of the
prisoners, Camilleri aptly compares their gasps for air to that of the tuna fish killed in the
ancient Sicilian fishing tradition La Mattanza126: “Contrary to the tuna that die in a
frightening silence, the prisoners screamed desperately” (39).127
The blame for the incident fell on the crowd gathered outside the tower rebelling
against the law and order of the Bourbons as they tried to liberate their loved ones from
the tower. These 114 men and their families were deliberately forgotten by history as no
historian cared to document their fate. The men responsible for their deaths lived
unpunished as they advanced their careers and suffered no negative consequences for
their actions.
La Mattanza is a Sicilian fishing tradition of Arab origins that takes place off of the northwestern coast
of Sicily each June. Tuna fish enter a labyrinth of nets to end trapped in the “death chamber”, the final net
that is hoisted from the water so that the fish suffocate to death.
“Contrariamente ai tonni che muoiono in uno spaventoso silenzio, I forzati fanno voci da disperati.”
3.3.4 The Seal of Agreement
While Sciascia’s modern mystery novel One Way or Another demonstrates the
impotence of the church to serve as a positive moral force within society, Camilleri’s
historical novel The Seal of Agreement (La bolla di componenda) published by Sellerio in
1993 investigates the church’s sale of an indulgence stamp. Camilleri asserts that
through the sale of this stamp to absolve sins, the church played an active role in
promoting criminal activity and perpetuating social injustice. Although the sale of
plenary indulgence was expressly forbidden by the ecclesiastical authorities, the church
in Sicily continued to profit from the annual sale of a stamp that absolved men from their
future sins. Rather than deter individuals from committing sins that, in accordance with
church doctrine, would lead to eternal damnation, the church encouraged such behavior
from which it reaped a profit. This novel is fundamental to understanding Camilleri’s
attitude toward the institution of the Catholic Church and its historically destructive and
parasitic role within Sicilian society.
Camilleri dedicates this book to his three daughters telling them, “…this way I
explain myself better” (…così mi spiego meglio). In order to understand Sicily’s current
social problems, one must study the island’s history prior to Italian unification to
understand how the existing mechanisms of corruption were modified to benefit the
national government. Referring to the important role that agreements (componenda)
played in Sicilian society, he gives examples of historical situations in which the outcome
of events was radically altered by an agreement. Although the indulgence stamp has
become obsolete, the agreements remain.
Camilleri calls attention to multiple references to the indulgence stamp contained
in The Inquiry of the Social and Economic Conditions of Sicily (l'Inchiesta sulle
condizioni sociali ed economiche della Sicilia [1875-1876])128, an important, unofficial
study conducted by Franchetti and Sonnino that provides valuable insight into nineteenth
century Sicily. Although an official inquiry was conducted, Inquiry of the Social and
Economic Conditions of Sicily by the Parliamentary Commission (Commissione
parlamentare d’inchiesta sulle condizioni sociali ed economiche della Sicilia), it was not
published until nearly a century later. Camilleri asserts that it is important to differentiate
between ‘official history’ recorded by the powerful, and the true version of events.
Commenting on how little has changed in Sicily over the past decade, Camilleri
says of the new parliamentary commission created in 1962 to investigate the
“phenomenon of the Mafia,” (one year after Sciascia’s publication of The Day of the
I can affirm, with no fear of being incorrect, that the state could have saved
itself the expense (that certainly was not a nominal amount) for the oversight of
the new committee. It was sufficient to change names and to update the
findings from one hundred years earlier because the questions are identical, the
answers the same and the result a perfect copy. (47)129
“In 1876, Franchetti traveled to Sicily with Sidney Sonnino to conduct an unofficial inquiry into the
state of Sicilian society. In 1877, the two men published their research on Sicily in a substantial two-part
report. In the first part Sonnino analyzed the lives of the island's landless peasants. Franchetti's half of the
report, Political and Administrative Conditions in Sicily, was an analysis of the Mafia in the nineteenth
century that is still considered authoritative today. Franchetti would ultimately influence thinking about the
Mafia more than anyone else until Giovanni Falcone over a hundred years later.” “He saw the Mafia as
deeply rooted in Sicilian society and impossible to quench unless the very structure of the island’s social
institutions were to undergo a fundamental change. The Franchetti-Sonnino report was attacked,
disbelieved and labeled as ‘unpatriotic’. It is now considered one of the most coherent and comprehensive
accounts of the Sicilian mafia and its surroundings.” 11 Sept. 2009.
“Posso affermare, senza timore di essere smentito, che lo Stato poteva risparmiarsi la spesa (che certo
non sarà stata di lire centomila) per la gestione della Commissione nuova. Bastava cangiare nomi e
aggiornare la scrittura degli atti di cent’anni avanti. Perche le domande sono identiche, le risposte uguali, il
risultato gemellare.”
He also states that the commission could have truly learned something about the real
conditions of the island had they interviewed manual laborers, day workers and sulfur
miners as opposed to mayors, nobles, and land owners.
In Pallota’s historical dictionary an agreement (componenda) is defined as “A
transaction between militia and criminals that is based on the victim of a robbery
retracting the charges against the accused in exchange for the return of a portion of his
possessions” (31).130 Camilleri claims this is the secular version descendant from the
original indulgence stamp that consisted of a tariff paid for an official stamp issued by the
clergy (bolla) that included a percentage paid to the church for the crimes committed.
The purchase of a stamp on behalf of the criminals automatically solidified a pact (79).
Camilleri adds, “The indulgence stamp is a pure and simple, and I repeat, devastating
pactum sceleris: only that one of the parties is the highest spiritual authority, the Church,
here certainly not mater but the sinister magistra” (97).131
When questioned during the inquiry about agreements on the island, the Baron
Perroni Paladini spoke in great detail on the highway robbers (brigantaggio) and militia
(milizia a cavallo) that operated in the countryside, armed groups that had nothing to do
with the military police (carabinieri) or the police/public security forces (le forze di
COMPONENDA - Forma di compromesso, transazione, accordo fra amici. Veniva stipulate tra il
capitano della polizia a cavallo e i malviventi o i loro complici in una data età storia della Sicilia. Grazie
alla componenda, il danneggiato poteva rientrare in possesso di una parte di ciò che gli era stato sottratto; in
cambio ritirava ogni denuncia. Tutto veniva dimenticato, magari con scambio di cortesie formali, di
dichiarazioni di rispetto. In tal modo l’ufficiale di polizia sistemava le cose, creando una prassi, una forma
di giustizia al di fuori delle leggi ufficiali. Si formava, anche per questa via, una legge, una legalità diversa,
e anche questi elementi, seppure marginali, tornano nel discorso generale di ciò che può essere la mentalità
mafiosa. E d’altronde chi può sostenere che sia del tutto scomparso? Piuttosto è da pensare che al posto
dell’ufficiale di polizia possa intervenire la mafia, in un ruolo di mediazione, di giustizia mafiosa. In tal
caso, il padrino, oppure il boss, decide: si restituisca in parte o si restituisca tutto. (Una transazione tra
militia a cavallo e malviventi in base alla quale il derubato ritirava la denunzia contro il ritorno in possesso
di una parte dei suoi averi.”)
“La bolla di componenda è un puro e semplice, ma torno a ripetere devastante, pactum sceleris: solo che
uno dei contraenti è la più alta autorità spirituale, la Chiesa, qui certamente non mater ma cattiva
pubblica sicurezza). He explained that the militia who protected land owners and their
possessions were often accomplices of the highway robbers or they received a monthly
salary from them.
The attitude of ‘I saw nothing, I know nothing’ (‘nenti vitti, nenti sacciu’) that is
present in Montalbano mysteries (albeit less so than in Sciascia’s mysteries), has its roots
in this novel. To avoid seeing who bought the indulgence stamp, the women who were
attending mass would sit in a location that blocked their view of the confessional where
the stamp was dispensed. They would cite the proverb, “He who knows less (people),
lives longer and grows more” (“Chi meno conosce, più campa e più cresce”) (98).
Perhaps the importance of the indulgence stamp and its omnipresence on the island is
best captured in a statement made to the commission by the Lieutenant General
Avogrado di Casanova, when he said, “The moral environment, the atmosphere that one
breathes in the history of Palermo, is found in the indulgence stamp” (62).132
“Il milieu morale, l’atmosfera che si respire nella storia di Palermo, si trova in questa bolla di
The Disappearance: Sciascia and Camilleri as Epigones of Pirandello
A key to Sciascia and Camilleri’s literary goals lies in their disappearance novels.
Sciascia’s The Mystery of Majorana and Camilleri’s Disappearance of Patò eloquently
synthesize each author’s approach to social denouncement through literature as they
inextricably link their authors to the Nobel prize-winning playwright Luigi Pirandello,
who hails from the same southwestern province of Sicily and to whom they are
artistically beholden. These three authors share a fascination with the role of the
individual in the context of the greater social good and the theme of disappearance (the
perceived freedom from social conventions that assuming a new identity offers), a link
that reveals an intriguing element of the Sicilian psyche. Just as art can imitate life and
life can imitate art, there are many commonalities amongst the disappearance novels of
these three authors, a verisimilitude that links the disappearance of Pirandello’s
protagonists with those of Sciascia and Camilleri.
Pirandello’s novel, The Late Mattia Pascal (Il fu Mattia Pascal) , published in
1904, portrays the protagonist Mattia Pascal as an average man who, dissatisfied with his
life, goes to Monte Carlo for a holiday. When he learns that he is presumed dead, he
eagerly assumes a new identity to start a new life with the money he has won
gambling.133 Disillusioned with his new identity and the lack of freedom it offers, he
A similar disappearance occurs in Camilleri’s novel Rounding the Mark. A man involved in a
clandestine immigration operation and wanted for armed robbery, is found dead in a ravine. However, the
dead body is that of another man, intentionally killed in his place. Presumed dead he assumes a new
identity and continues his illegal activities elsewhere (165).
eventually returns home with the intent of resuming his old existence, but discovers that
he is no longer mourned and his wife has remarried. This novel underscores the
importance of the social bonds between individuals and the extent to which man’s
existence is defined by his social relationships, as well as the oppressive nature of social
Ultimately Mattia Pascal does not inspire sympathy, for he is completely absorbed
with his own individual experience, placing his desires and happiness before that of all
others, including the dead individual to whom he owes his new existence. In the epilogue
entitled, “A Warning on the Scruples of the Imagination,” Pirandello writes that an event
in life may be absurd but that a work of art cannot be. He continues:
But I received an even greater consolation from life itself, or rather from the
newspaper accounts of life, about twenty years after the first publication of this
novel of mine, The Late Mattia Pascal, which is now being republished once
again. This book, too, when it first appeared, was almost unanimously hailed as
Well, life has chosen to give me a proof of its truth to a really exceptional degree,
even down to certain minute details which were invented by my imagination. The
following article was to be read in the Corriere della sera on March 27, 1920: “A
Living Man Visits His Own Grave.” (260)
The article recounts the presumed suicide of a man and the subsequent remarriage of his
wife, almost identical to the events that transpire in The Late Mattia Pascal, to which
Pirandello writes, “And now, remembering the old accusation of incredibility,
imagination takes pleasure in proving how incredible life can be, even in such novels
that, without meaning to, she copies from art” (262).
In stark contrast with the frivolous and vain existence of Mattia Pascal, the
Sicilian physicist Ettore Majorana, the protagonist of Sciascia’s novel The Mystery of
Majorana (La scomparsa di Majorana), is an extraordinary individual who, figuratively
or literally, sacrifices his life to save the human race from annihilation. While the figure
of Majorana embodies Sciascia’s ideal of exemplary social engagement and caritas, the
profound historical significance of his self-sacrifice, bears a resemblance to that of Jesus
In 1975 Sciascia published The Mystery of Majorana, a novel that retraces the
career and mysterious disappearance of the historical Ettore Majorana, a brilliant, young
theoretical physicist whose studies and early career in quantum physics coincide with the
Fascist Party’s rise to power in Italy.
Born in Catania in 1906, Majorana graduates from the University of Rome with a
degree in Theoretical Physics under the direction of Enrico Fermi in 1926. His thesis is
entitled: The Theory of Quantum Mechanics of Radioactive Nuclei (La teoria quantistica
dei nuclei radioattivi). He worked at the Physics Institute in Rome and was said by
Fermi to possess a highly superior intellect, akin to that of Galileo or Newton (87).134
Majorana would often scribble highly complex equations on cigarette packages only to
discard them, as he did with a theory known as the subatomic exchange force (“forza di
In 1938 after the disappearance of Majorana, Enrico Fermi said of him, “Because, you see, there are
different categories of scientists in the world. People of second and third rank, that do their best but, do not
get that far. People of the first rank, who arrive at discoveries of great importance that are fundamental for
the advancement of science. But then there are geniuses, like Galileo o Newton. Well then, Ettore
Majorana was one of those. Majorana had that which no one else in the world has; but unfortunately, he
was missing that which is easy to find in other men, common sense.” (“Perché, vede, al mondo ci sono
varie categorie di scienziati. Persone di secondo e terzo rango, che fan del loro meglio ma non vanno molto
lontano. Persone di primo ragno, che arrivano a scoperte di grande importanza, fondamentali per lo
sviluppo della scienza. Ma poi ci sono geni, come Galileo e Newton. Ebbene, Ettore Majorana era uno di
quelli. Majorana aveva quello che nessun altro al mondo ha; sfortunatamente gli mancava quel che invece è
comune trovare negli altri uomini: il semplice buon senso.”)
scambio”) that was published years later in 1932 and originally accredited to the German
Nobel prize winning scientist Werner Heisenberg.135
After receiving tenure as a professor of physics at the University of Naples,
Majorana becomes withdrawn from his family and colleagues. On the evening of March
25, 1938, he purportedly boards a ferry from Naples to Palermo and that is the last
contact he has with his family and colleagues. A suicide note revealing Majorana’s
intention to jump from the ferry is found but an official investigation into his
disappearance does not find a body, nor does it provide clues as to his whereabouts. His
family is adamant that Majorana, who is deeply religious, did not commit suicide. They
insist that police conduct a search for him in the monasteries of central and southern Italy,
where they believe he fled to escape secular life and the ‘progress’ of science.
Sciascia’s novel contemplates the disappearance of Ettore Majorana in the context
of the theoretical advancements being made in nuclear physics during that time and what
these discoveries could have entailed for the human race. Sciascia maintains that
Majorana was a visionary who foresaw the destructive ends to which the Fascists would
exploit his theories in nuclear fusion. His decision to withdraw himself from the secular
world, and thus, from the study of physics, was an instinct of self-conservation and a
moral decision to protect and preserve human life.
This novel is Sciascia’s homage to Majorana; it encapsulates his admiration for
Majorana’s keenness of perception and moral responsibility in refusing to participate in
the destruction of human life. Sciascia writes that Sicilian scientists like Majorana are an
Werner Heisenberg (5 December 1901 – 1 February 1976) a German theoretical physicist who made
foundational contributions to quantum mechanics and is best known for asserting the uncertainty principle
of quantum theory. In addition, he made important contributions to nuclear physics, quantum field theory,
and particle physics. 11 Sept. 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werner_Heisenberg/>.
anomaly and that Sicily has contributed little to the natural sciences as a result of the
centuries’ long presence of the Inquisition on the island (84).136 He further asserts that
Majorana consciously sought to create a mythical figure of the refusal of science with his
supposed drowning (83).
Majorana was said to be an avid reader of Pirandello, and Sciascia emphasizes the
connection of his disappearance to the dramatist, “He did everything possible to live, in
the manner of Pirandello, as a ‘solitary man’” (62).137 However, while many compare
Majorana’s disappearance to that of Pirandello’s protagonist Mattia Pascal, Sciascia
argues that Majorana’s aspirations more closely resemble those of Pirandello’s
protagonist Vitangelo Moscarda in his novel One, No one and One Hundred Thousand.
He writes:
He prepared himself for his own disappearance, he organized it, he calculated it;
we believe that there lived in Majorana – in contradiction, in opposition, in
counterpoint – the awareness that the facts of his brief life, when put in relation
with the mystery of his disappearance, were capable of creating a myth. (82)138
During his personal investigation into the disappearance of Majorana, Sciascia
learns that a man who had visited a Carthusian convent around 1945 was told that there
was a “great scientist” living a contemplative life among them at the convent (92).
“Obviously, the affirmation is not intended to be incontrovertible in the sense that Sicily has not
produced a single scientist for more than two thousand years because Sicilians are incapable of science. A
similar affirmation on our behalf always entails historical reasons: and amongst these the presence- longer,
uninterrupted, more evasive and capillary than in other regions of Italy – of the Inquisition, the Spanish
Inquisition.” “Ovviamente, l’affermazione non vuole essere apodittica nel senso che in Sicilia per più di
due millenni non è venuto fuori uno scienziato perche i siciliani sono negati alla scienza. Una simile
affermazione da parte nostra sempre presuppone delle ragioni storiche: e tra queste la presenza- più lunga,
più continua, più invadente e capillare che in altre regioni d’Italia – dell’Inquisizione, dell’Inquisizione
“He does everything to live, in a Pirandellian sense, as a ‘solitary man’. “Farà di tutto per vivere,
pirandellianamente, da ‘uomo solo’.”
“…mentre più si confaceva alle sue aspirazioni il protagonista di Uno, nessuno e centomila;
preparandosi dunque la propria scomparsa, organizzandola, calcolandola, crediamo baluginasse in
Majorana – in contraddizione, in controparte, in contrappunto – la coscienza che i dati della sua breve vita,
messi in relazione al mistero della sua scomparsa, potessero costituirsi in mito.”
During a visit to the convent, Sciascia asks a friar whether it is possible that a scientist
could be living amongst them and the brother smiles slightly, spreads his arms and asks,
“But if one had been a scientist or a writer or painter before?” (94).139 Sciascia interprets
the friar’s ambiguity to signify that the moment in which one joins the convent he rejects
his previous identity and therefore, it is impossible for there to be a “great scientist”
living amongst them but it is probable that there is a friar living amongst them who was
previously a “great scientist” in his secular life.
If The Mystery of Majorana offers an example of life imitating art, Andrea
Camilleri’s 2000 novel The Disappearance of Patò (La scomparsa di Patò) offers an
example of both art imitating life and of art imitating art. The preface to The
Disappearance of Patò is a quotation from Sciascia’s novel To Each His Own140 that
refers to the real-life disappearance of Antonio Patò in 1890, a disappearance that was
absorbed by popular culture in the form of a proverbial expression to signify the
mysterious disappearance of people or objects.
The Disappearance of Patò is set in March of 1890 and it parodies the true
disappearance of Antonio Patò, the Director of the local branch of the Bank of Trinacria,
an upstanding citizen and a valued member of the professional community. For the fifth
consecutive year the director plays the role of Judas in the annual reenactment of the
“Mortorio”, a sacred representation of the Passion of Christ staged on Good Friday. In
“Ma Se uno fosse stato “prima” scienziato, “prima” scrittore o pittore? Allarga le braccia, leggermente
“Cinquant’anni prima, durante le recite del “Mortorio”, cioè della Passione di Cristo second il cavalier
D’Orioles, Antonio Patò, che faceva Giuda, era scomparso, per come la parte voleva, nella botola che
puntualmente, come già un centinaio di volte tra prove e rappresentazioni, si aprì: solo che (e questo non
era nella parte) da quel momento nessuno ne aveva saputo più niente; e il fatto era passato in proverbio, a
indicare misteriose scomparizioni di persone o di oggetti.”
accordance with his role, in which he is banished to hell, Patò falls through a hole in the
floor of the stage; but unlike previous years, he is never to be seen or heard from again.
While an investigation into the disappearance is initially entrusted to Montelusa’s
Public Security forces, it soon becomes a rare joint investigation that includes the
Carabinieri. (Typically investigations are entrusted either to the Public Security forces
[the local police] or to the Carabinieri [the National Military Police], two separate and
competitive entities.) To the amazement of the locals and to the discomfort of powerful
individuals, the delegate and the marshal set aside the competitive nature of their law
enforcement agencies and work together to investigate the disappearance. They were
likely instructed to work together because it was thought that their improbable
collaboration would hinder their investigation, not facilitate it. In defiance of their
superiors’ orders not to follow certain leads or question certain individuals, the delegate
and the marshal investigate various hypotheses without the knowledge of their superiors,
who clearly have been ordered to obstruct the investigation. As homage to Sciascia (for
whom Camilleri had tremendous admiration), Camilleri creates a scene of art imitating
art: In an effort to determine the origin of an anonymous letter, the detectives attempt to
employ a technique they attribute to Professor Laurana, the protagonist in Sciascia’s
mystery novel To Each His Own (132).141
“Impressed by the similarities of the words contained in the anonymous letter received by the accountant
Patò (“You that play the role of Judas are worse than him”) and the concept expressed by Father Giustino
Seminara at the main Church during the holy mass, requested by Mrs. Mangiafico, Patò by marriage, we
were reminded of an episode that occurred some time ago in a town nearby when a doctor and a
pharmacist, who met up to hunt together, were both killed. The delegate Laurana, who was responsible for
the investigation, managed to discover the author of the anonymous letter; that forewarned of the homicide,
composed with letters from a newspaper like that sent to Patò.” (Colpiti dalla simiglianza tra le parole
contenute nella lettera anonima fatta pervenire al ragionere Patò [“Tu che fai la parte di Giuda sei peggio di
lui”] e il concetto espresso da padre Giustino Seminara nella Chiesa Madre durante la Santa Messa volute
dall signora Mangiafico maritata Patò, ci siamo sovvenuti di un episodio capitato qualche tempo fa in un
paese vicino quando un dottore e un farmacista, recatisi insieme a cacciare, eran stati assassinate entrambi.
Camilleri parodies the investigation into Patò’s disappearance through a series of
newspaper articles, private letters and official police correspondence that suggest reasons
for his disappearance. While Patò’s wife believes that he hit his head during the play and
is suffering from amnesia, unable to find his way home, more imaginative explanations
are offered for his disappearance such as: he intentionally disappeared,142 he was killed
by the Mafia, or he was kidnapped because of his relationship with his powerful uncle, a
senator and the undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior, as well as a major shareholder
in the Bank of Trinacria that Patò directs. A visiting priest delivers a fiery sermon in
which he denounces theater as the “devil’s work” and says that Patò’s rendering of Judas
was so realistic (plus, anyone who would volunteer for such a role must have a natural
propensity towards evil), that his impersonation created a tragic inversion in which he
was truly banished to hell. Meanwhile, an astronomer from the Royal Society proposes
that his scientific theory “The Theory of Interstices” (based on Galileo’s coordinates of
time and space) explains Patò’s disappearance as he fell through an opening in space and
either fell forward or backward in time.
The collusion of powerful individuals to hinder the investigation into Patò’s
whereabouts fuels public outrage. A local newspaper publishes a judge’s letter asking
why the relationships between the Bank of Trinacria and certain powerful politicians (an
implicit reference to Patò’s uncle) are not being investigated and a less affluent citizen
Orbene, il Delegato Laurana, che sul duplice omicidio aveva l’incarico d’indagare riescì a scorprire l’autore
di una lettera anonima, che l’omicidio preannunziava, composta con ritagli di giornale come quella
mandata al Patò.”)
At a certain point the detectives change the subject of their reports from “Scomparsa” to “Sparizione”
and insist that the latter more aptly describes the circumstances as they are convinced that Patò willingly
disappeared while scomparsa better describes one that has disappeared against his will or has deceased. As
a result they are ordered not to quibble over semantics.
expresses his frustration on a town wall, “Is Patò dead or is he hiding?” (“Patò è morto o
si è nascosto?”)
The novel concludes with the final report from the delegate and marshal to their
superiors in which, forced to close their investigation, they conclude Patò disappeared of
his own volition. After meticulously planning his escape and that of his lover (the wife
of the Regional Director of the Bank of Trinacria), Patò stole a large sum of money
(entrusted to him after hours by a member of the Mafia with the understanding it would
be deposited at the Bank of Trinacria the following morning). After reciting the role of
Judas in the “Mortorio”, Patò escaped through the trap door as his part in the play
required; never to been seen or heard from again.
Like Majorana, Patò resembles Pirandello’s character Vitangelo Moscarda for he
too, patiently and cunningly planned his escape. However, like Mattia Pascal, Patò
selfishly seeks to abandon his existence and the obligations it entails to enjoy a new
Sciascia and Camilleri embody diverse approaches towards literature and social
engagement that are well-reflected in their treatment of the theme of disappearance.
Sciascia’s novel The Mystery of Majorana portrays an extraordinary, quasi-mythical
individual, whose esoteric, intellectual contributions would have had profound
implications for civilization. His selflessness in making perhaps the greatest personal
sacrifice may have saved countless lives and changed the course of humanity.
By contrast, Camilleri’s The Disappearance of Patò parodies the true
disappearance of a man whose hedonistic motivation was to start a new life with his
lover. The integration of dialect into the narrative adds a comic force that perfectly
conveys the absurdity of the official investigation into the disappearance. The public’s
outcry is of a choral nature and voices the frustration of average citizens with the law
enforcement’s collusion with the social elite, politicians, the Church and the Mafia. This
outrage is crudely expressed in graffiti and in letters (written by individuals whose
literacy skills are dubious), and reflects the modes of communication that were most
available in 1890 to the predominately illiterate masses. Camilleri sheds light on Sicilian
popular culture of the last century, for he feels the only way to truly understand Sicilian
culture and the injustices that plague it is to examine the small, historical events-- events
that may seem unimportant in the greater scheme of history yet offer much insight into
modern Sicilian society.
Imagine that I was rereading, as I often do with Leonardo’s
novels, The Day of the Owl. It seems like that novel was written
a century ago, due to the acceleration of the Mafia’s violence as
such that today he wouldn’t know how to create a character like
Don Mariano Arena, except for in a historical novel about the
Andrea Camilleri (Lodato, 309)
The narratives of the present study constitute an invaluable contribution to both
Italian literature and to the genre of the mystery novel. The stylistic innovations that
define Sciascia and Camilleri’s detective novels and the social impact of their extensive
literary production warrant considerable recognition and analysis.
The scope of their narratives, the exploration of social justice within the
microcosm of a Sicilian context, is an attempt to understand and improve the human
condition. Their courageous denouncement of the conspiratorial code of silence, that
enables a destructive Mafia culture to exist in modern Sicilian society, exemplifies the
engagement required to instigate social change.
The absence of the restoration of logic and order within the detective novels of
Sciascia and Camilleri is a radical subversion of the traditional form of the mystery
genre. Their defeated protagonists demonstrate that the genre of the mystery novel does
not function within a Sicilian context in which justice is an anomaly. In portraying the
elaborate network of corruption that exists within Sicilian culture, their narratives offer a
rare window to Sicilian reality and the social problems that plague the island.
“Pensa che rileggevo, come faccio spesso con i libri di Leonardo, Il giorno della civetta. Sembra un
libro scritto un secolo fa, perche l’accelerazione della violenza della mafia è stata tale che oggi lui, un
personaggio come don Mariano Arena, non saprebbe crearlo, se non in un romanzo storico sulla mafia. Il
giorno della civetta è il primo romanzo contemporaneo nel quale compare la mafia.”
It is important to study modern Sicilian society for the organized criminal activity
that operates on the island affects Italy, Europe and beyond. Sciascia and Camilleri
implicitly force their readers to acknowledge the dire consequences of the crimes that
their novels depict. Their denouncement of the culture of “See nothing, know nothing” is
a condemnation of those whose silence constitutes tacit complicity.
Although Sciascia was the first to write a novel that had the Mafia as its subject,
Camilleri has continued this Sicilian tradition of social engagement through literature, to
become the most widely read contemporary Italian author of the Twentieth Century. The
integration of Sicilian dialect in his texts is a bold linguistic experiment that has been
enthusiastically embraced by readers in Italy and abroad.
To observe the changing attitude that has taken place in Sicily since Sciascia first
incited a nationwide public debate about the phenomenon of the Mafia, his mysteries
should be read in a chronological order. To perceive how Camilleri’s mystery novels are
the continuation of the tradition of denouncement embraced by Sciascia, his mystery
novels should be read in the key of those of his predecessor.
In the tradition of the enlightened philosophers, these authors critique the
mechanisms of power responsible for the stark social inequality in Sicilian society as they
search for truth and justice. The struggle for social justice is an admirable human activity
and the unique Sicilian sensitivity that prompted these authors to devote endless energy
to this intellectual pursuit is worthy of additional research.
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Curriculum Vitae
Jennifer Holt
January 2010
PhD Italian, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
January 1996
MA, Italian, Ohio State University
August 1993
BA, Spanish, Ithaca College
February 2007 - Present
Senior Sales Representative, SAGE Publications
May 2005 - January 2007
National Accounts Manager, Ruesch International
February 2004 - May 2005
Foreign Exchange Sales Executive, Cambridge Mercantile Corp.
September 2000 - June 2003
Lecturer, Rutgers University
June 1998 - June 2000
International Sales Manager, Ruesch International
February 1998 - June 2003
Co-Founder, Co-Owner, Sicilian Getaways
January 1996 - October 1997
Export Sales Representative, Copper & Brass Sales, Inc.
January 1994 - December 1995
Lecturer, Ohio State University
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