It has come to my attention that many people are currently on holiday. But not this blog, because what good would a holiday do? It would put me further away from my TV set. So, the better choice, clearly, is a TV detective who makes me feel as though I’m on holiday. And that would be Inspector Montalbano.
Commissario Montalbano is a man with a pure moral code, rather than a strictly legal one: he’s perfectly capable of destroying fabricated evidence rather than reporting it, for example (The Shape of Water). But who can blame him? He’s the calm voice of reason (well, mostly calm. He gets a bit shouty with his underlings) in Vigata, a fictional town in Sicily. He is catching killers while trying not to get caught up in the political conspiracies that bedevil the area, along with the mafia, the church, and the rival claims of other, less good police officers to a case which is clearly his.
He’s also a man with a tricky personal life. His girlfriend Livia is beautiful and quite saintly. Which is lucky, because on one occasion when she mentions marriage, he literally hears a thunderclap from overhead. She wants children, he isn’t sure. She travels a lot for work, so they’re together, but not too often. He can tell her anything, but they remain deeply attracted to each other, which is also lucky, given how many female suspects and witnesses have the hots for Montalbano.
You can’t really blame them: Luca Zingaretti, who plays the title role, is attractive like your friend’s dad is attractive. He’s not slim, nor tall, he has greying chest hair, thick dark eyebrows, and he is otherwise pretty much bald. Frankly, if they ever make an Italian-language biopic of Andre Agassi, he has the lead role in the bag. Yet he is entirely swoonsome, since he is kind as well as brilliant (see how he fudges the facts of a case to allow a couple with a sick child to acquire enough cash to take the baby to a specialist doctor abroad).
He’s macho in an old-fashioned way: he lets his sergeant drive, because he doesn’t need to prove himself the alpha male. And he tells them to keep the siren off, because he’d rather have a snooze than get there sooner. He cheerily admits that no-one in their office understands computers – he’s no tech-geek. And he’s passionate but not pig-headed: he can admit to his colleagues when he was wrong. Even if that wrongness was telling a superior officer to fuck off.
The show’s tone is a curious mix of deeply serious – they don’t shy away from the corruption which afflicts so much of Italian life – and occasionally funny. Two rubbish-pickers who find a corpse are played for laughs as much as Hamlet’s gravediggers. And Montalbano himself can go for the funny: you can’t help but warm to a man who can lie to his girlfriend about where he is when she calls, because he’s just sat down to a tasty meal and can’t bear to leave it. Even more impressively, when they eventually meet up and she notes that he tastes of fried fish, he instantly bluffs that he has been staking out a fish shop. Smooth.
Well, there aren’t too many Italian TV detectives around, and he’s certainly my favourite. Mainly for the moment where he’s talking to a Secret Service official, while eating cake. ‘I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth,’ he says, as the depths of the Secret Service corruption are revealed. ‘Or maybe it’s the cake’. He puts the cake down on a shelf.
Some Sicilians argue that his accent is phoney (Zingaretti is from Rome), but it sounds good enough to me, and to my Venetian friend Valentina. I can’t imagine it will spoil it for you, unless you are Sicilian.