Death at Sea: Montalbano's Early Cases

Death at Sea: Montalbano's Early Cases


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“You either love Andrea Camilleri or you haven’t read him yet. Each novel in this wholly addictive, entirely magical series, set in Sicily and starring a detective unlike any other in crime fiction, blasts the brain like a shot of pure oxygen... transporting. Long live Camilleri, and long live Montalbano.”
—A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window 

Set on the Sicilian coast, a collection of eight short stories featuring the young Inspector Montalbano

In 1980s Vigàta, a restless Inspector Montalbano brings his bold investigative style to eight enthralling cases. From jilted lovers and deadly family affairs to assassination attempts and murders in unexpected places, Death at Sea is the perfect collection to escape into Andrea Camilleri's unforgettable slice of Sicily.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143108818
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Series: Inspector Montalbano Series
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 113,953
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Andrea Camilleri, a mega-bestseller in Italy and Germany, is the author of the New York Times bestselling Inspector Montalbano mystery series as well as historical novels that take place in nineteenth-century Sicily. His books have been made into Italian TV shows and translated into thirty-two languages. His thirteenth Montalbano novel, The Potter's Field, won the Crime Writers' Association International Dagger Award and was longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Stephen Sartarelli is an award-winning translator and the author of three books of poetry.

Read an Excerpt



They were talking about this and that, sitting out on the veranda, when out of the blue, Livia made a statement that took Montalbano by surprise.

"When you get old you'll be so fixed in your habits, you'll be worse than an old cat," she said.

"Why do you say that?" the inspector asked, taken aback. And a little irritated. He didn't like to think about getting old.

"You may not realize it, but you're extremely methodical and orderly. If something is not in its proper place, you get upset. It puts you in a bad mood."

"Oh, come on!"

"You can't see it, but that's how you are. At Calogero's you always sit at the same table. And when you don't eat at Calogero's you always pick some restaurant to the west."

"To the west of what?"

"To the west of Vigˆta. Don't pretend you don't know what I mean. Montereale, Fiacca . . . It's never, say, Montelusa or Fela . . . And yet there must be some nice places out that way. For example, I've been told that at San Vito, the Montelusa beach, there are at least two little restaurants that-"

"Did they give you their names?"

"Yes, the Anchor and the Skillet."

"Which one would you prefer?"

"Well, on the spur of the moment, I guess it would be the Skillet."

"I'll take you there this evening."

To MontalbanoÕs immense satisfaction, the food was pig swill. On second thought, pigs must surely eat better than that. The establishment prided itself on its fried fish platter. But the inspector had a strong suspicion that the oil they used was motor oil, while the fish, which should have been crispy, was squishy and watery, as if they had cooked it the day before. And when Livia apologized for her mistake, Montalbano started laughing.

Once they'd finished eating, they both felt a pressing need to cleanse their palates, and so they went to a bar right on the beach to have a drink-a whisky for him, gin and tonic for her.

And just to show Livia that he wasn't as much a creature of habit as she said, on the drive back to Vigˆta he took a different road from the usual one. They approached the first buildings in town from the elevated part, from where you could see the harbor and the calm sea below, reflecting a crescent moon.

"Look how beautiful! Let's stop for a minute," said Livia.

They got out of the car, and the inspector fired up a cigarette.

It was just past midnight, and the brightly lit mail boat for Lampedusa was putting about, ready to leave the harbor. A few fishing lamps flickered on the horizon.

Right behind them, a little detached from the other residences, was an old three-story building in rather dilapidated shape, with a bright neon sign on its crumbling faade that said: hotel panorama. The front door was closed. Any late-arriving customers would have to ring the doorbell to get in.

Livia, enchanted by the clear, calm night, wanted to stay there and wait for the mail boat to reach the open sea before they left.

"I smell something burning," she said as they were walking back to the car.

"Me, too," said the inspector.

At that exact moment the front door of the hotel opened and somebody started shouting from inside:

"Fire! Fire! Everybody out! Quick! Everybody out!"

"You stay here," Montalbano ordered Livia, running towards the hotel.

Somewhere he thought he heard the sound of a car starting and then driving off at high speed. But he wasn't entirely sure, because there were also some strange crashing noises inside the hotel.

Upon entering the small, narrow entranceway, he saw, through the dense smoke, a great many tall and determined flames at the back of a short corridor. At the foot of the staircase in the middle of the hall, which led upstairs, stood a man in sleeveless T-shirt and underpants, still shouting:

"Come downstairs, all of you! Quick! Everybody outside!"

And, coming down the stairs at that moment-some in their underwear, others in pajamas, but all with shoes and clothes in hand and cursing-were three men, followed by another two, then yet another man. The latter was fully dressed and carrying a small suitcase. Apparently there were no women staying at that hotel.

The man at the foot of the stairs, who looked rather old, then turned to leave as well, when he spotted the inspector.

"Go out!"

"Who are you?"

"The owner."

"Are all your customers out of danger now?"

"Yes. They'd all come in for the night."

"Have you called the fire department?"


Suddenly the lights went out.

Outside there was already a noisy crowd of about twenty, who'd come out, in various states of undress, from the nearby residences.

"Take me away from here," said Livia, upset.

"They're all out of danger," said the inspector, to reassure her.

"I'm glad, but fires really scare me."

"Let's wait till we hear the firemen's siren," said Montalbano.

The following morning he decided to take the long way to work, the road that passed through the elevated part of town. He was suddenly dying of curiosity to find out how things had gone at the old hotel. Since the firemen had been late in arriving and taken a very long time to put out the flames, the building was now gutted. The inside had all burned up, leaving only the outer walls still standing, with holes that were once windows. Inside there were still a few firemen at work. The entire ruin was cordoned off. Four municipal cops were keeping the rubberneckers away. Montalbano gave them a dirty look. He hated the Òdisaster tourismÓ of those who rushed to witness the scene of a catastrophe or crime. And if someone had died during the fire, there would surely have been three times as many people trying to catch a glimpse of things.

A smell of burning still hung in the air. Overcome by a feeling of desolation, he left.

As he was parking the car in the station lot, he saw Augello race out of the building.

"Where are you off to?"

"I got a call from the fire chief, who told me they put out a fire last night . . ."

"I know all about it."

"He says it was a clear case of arson."

"Let me know when you get back."

He told Fazio how heÕd happened to be with Livia outside the hotel the night before at the moment the fire broke out, and had seen its six customers fleeing.

"Do you know the owner?" he asked.

"Of course. His name is Aurelio Ciulla; he's a friend of my dad's."

"And that's all?"

"Chief, that hotel earns Ciulla next to nothing. He only gets by with the help of subsidies from the city and regional governments . . ."

"Why doesn't he shut it down?"

"He's almost seventy now and he's fond of the place. And if he shuts it down, how's he gonna eat?"

"The firemen say it was arson. Do you think it could have been Ciulla himself who set the fire?"

"Bah! As far as I know, he's an honest man, he's never had any trouble with the law, he's a widower, he's never had any women, and has no vices, but I guess it's possible that, in desperation . . ."

Mim“ Augello got back about two hours later. He looked quite fed up.

"Total waste of time. In short, this fire chief, after looking at the thing from all angles, in the end wasn't so sure that it was arson . . ."

"And why not?"

"The fire started in a rather large storeroom at the back of the hallway on the ground floor. It was used for storing bedclothes . . . And the fire chief found glass fragments of a bottle that had gasoline in it."

"So, a Molotov cocktail?" asked Montalbano.

"That's what it looked like to the fire chief."

"Does this storeroom have a window?"

"Yes. And it was open. But Signor Ciulla, the owner, told him he always kept a bottle of gasoline in there, which he used as a stain remover."

"And so?"

"And so there's no explanation, since the fire certainly wasn't started by a short circuit. But the fire chief still had his doubts."

Montalbano thought about this for a moment. Then he said:

"Things for which there's no explanation get on my nerves."

"Mine, too," said Augello.

"You know what I say? I say call up Ciulla and tell him to be here at four o'clock this afternoon."

Augello went out and came back five minutes later.

"He says he'll be here at six, 'cause he has to talk with the insurance agent about the fire."

"What number did you call him at?"

"The one he gave me. He said it was his home number."

"So why was he sleeping at the hotel last night?"

"How should I know? You can ask him when he comes."

Aurelio Ciulla, now modestly dressed, was the man Montalbano had spoken to the night before, as the hotel was catching fire.

"Please sit down, Signor Ciulla. You've already met Inspector Augello and Detective Fazio. And you and I also met last night."

"Really? When?"

"I was near your hotel when the fire broke out, and so I went inside, and we spoke."

"I'm sorry, I don't remember anything."

"That's understandable. But tell me something. How come you were spending the night at your hotel?"

Ciulla looked at him in confusion.

"But it's my hotel!"

"I know that, but since you gave Inspector Augello your home phone number in Vigˆta, I was just wond-"

"Ah, okay, I get it. I do that often, I'm not sure why. Sometimes I just feel like spending the night at the hotel, maybe 'cause it's too hot, or just because. Then at other times I don't feel like it."

"I see. Is your hotel insured?"

"Of course. And I'm all up to date on my payments. But today the insurance people called me to tell me they received the fire station's report, which says they think it was a case of arson, so they have to make sure it wasn't first."

"And that's exactly the reason I called you in. So we can try to understand together what-"

"But there's very little to understand, Inspector. Since the hotel earns nothing-actually, it loses money-everyone thinks I set the fire myself to get the insurance money."

"Well, you must admit . . ."

"At any rate I told the insurance people it's not up to me to prove that I had nothing to do with it."

"You're right; it's up them, and to us. And if it all went well, how much insurance would you get?"

"A pittance. About twenty million lire."

"Well, it's not exactly a pittance."

"But I can prove that I had nothing to do with burning down the hotel."


"Do you know Curatolo, the engineer?"

Montalbano looked over at Fazio.

"He's the biggest real estate developer in the province," said Fazio.

"Last week he phoned me personally, wanting me to sell him the hotel. He offered me thirty million. He's interested in the fact that the area's suitable for building. So why would I want to set fire to the hotel and risk going to prison? If you don't believe me, you can call up Curatolo himself and see whether or not I'm telling the truth."


Excerpted from "Death at Sea"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Andrea Camilleri.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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