I am reading the first three Montalbano novels in Italian, published as a trilogy with a preface by Camilleri himself. I don’t think the preface has ever been translated into English and it has a few very interesting points on the history of Montalbano so am reporting them here!
Camilleri started a “historical” novel in 1993 which was published much later (Il birraio di Preston, – The brewer of Preston – not yet translated into English) by Sellerio and realised that his method of writing was non-linear (as I expect it is for many other writers). Therefore he challenged himself to write a novel in a linear way, starting from the first chapter and ending with the last. He also found a piece of writing by Leonardo Sciascia, the author of The day of the Owl , called La semplice arte del delitto about writing crime fiction, and a writing by Italo Calvino maintaining that it would be impossible to set a crime fiction story in Sicily. Camilleri then took a double bet, with himself and the unaware Calvino, and decided to write a crime fiction book set in Sicily.
He chose to have a police Commissario as a protagonist to free him from some ‘obligations’ he would have in the Carabinieri (which is a military corp, while the police, to which Montalbano belongs, is of course civilian).
Having decided the genre and the protagonist, Camilleri had two possible names in mind: Cecè Collura or Salvo Montalbano, both common in Sicily. He opted for the latter in homage to Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, his The Pianist was the inspiration for the structure of The Brewer of Preston.
Camilleri started to write the first Montalbano book, The Shape of Water, following his self-imposed rules, with the first chapter opening at dawn (and so do all the following books). After publishing the book, which he thought was going to be the only one, he then felt that the role of Montalbano as an investigator had been given too much space in the novel, to the detriment of his personality, and to make amends decided to write a second novel, The Terracotta Dog.
While in The Shape of Water the dawn is seen by two refuse collectors, in The Terracotta Dog it’s seen by Montalbano himself and from that point onwards the point of view changes to Montalbano being the omniscient narrator: the reader has the same elements of the story that Montalbano has, and no additional knowledge.
Camilleri confesses to having heard many authors claiming to be obsessed by their characters and not really believing them, however he now confesses to having fallen into this trap: let’s hope it means many more Montalbano novels to come…