He began writing the series more than 20 years ago and the last book is due in 2020.
By John Hooper.
Had Andrea Camilleri died in his 50s, his obituary would certainly not have been published in the Guardian. His death might have been noted in the cultural sections of the odd Italian newspaper and it would doubtless have merited a substantial article in the journal of Italy’s pre-eminent drama school, the Accademia Nazionale d’Arte Drammatica, where Camilleri was for many years in charge of teaching directing.
The article might have detailed the achievements of an avant-garde, leftwing intellectual who had had a significant influence on theatre and television in Italy while remaining largely unknown to the general public. It would probably have skipped over the fact that, some years earlier, Camilleri had tried his hand at writing historical novels, but given up after meeting with little success beyond the award of an obscure literary prize, handed out by a town council in his native Sicily.
What he managed to achieve subsequently constitutes a beacon of hope to a greying world.
Camilleri was 66 when his first bestseller, La Stagione della Caccia (1992, published in English in 2014 as Hunting Season), appeared, and 68 when he published the first novel featuring the Sicilian detective, Salvo Montalbano, who was to bring him international renown. But that was only the half of it.
Success inspired Camilleri to a frenzy of literary activity at an age when most writers are in tranquil decline. Between 1994, when his first Montalbano story appeared, and his death, at the age of 93, he not only published 30 books detailing the exploits of his grouchy sleuth, but more than 60 others. Even allowing for anthologies, it was an astonishing achievement. There were years when Camilleri, already in his 80s, published eight titles. He was not so much an author as a one-man literary production line.
Only son of Carmelina (nee Fragapane) and Giuseppe Camilleri, he grew up under Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship in the city of Porto Empedocle on the Sicilian west coast. His father was a harbour official who had taken an active part in the fascists’ rise to power. Andrea was expelled from a diocesan school for throwing an egg that smashed on a crucifix, and he went on to complete his studies at a state school. But he never sat his final exams: the second world war was building to a climax and the exams were cancelled because of the imminent Allied landings in Sicily...
...Camilleri and Inspector Montalbano changed people's minds about Sicily.
Together, over a period of 25 years, they transformed a grim landscape of mobsters and mafia violence to a light-hearted, humorous, food-focused near-paradise of an imaginary town called Vigàta.
No other mystery plots have narrated the Sicilian "gioia di vivere" (joy of life) so effectively and with such a colourful protagonist: a detective whose days involve morning swims, spaghetti with clams and an onslaught of hilarious malapropisms from an illiterate receptionist at the local police station.
Where else can you find a coroner with a secret passion for cannoli, the cream-filled tubes of Italian pastry.
For London-based Sicilian writer Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Camilleri is "by far the greatest Sicilian writer since the Second World War".
"He should have been put forward for the Nobel prize," she said, adding that he was "a man of great intellect, of immense culture and strong and unwavering left-wing principles that, if anything, grew over the years".
"His passion for justice and support of those less fortunate, be they poor Italians or refugees or boatmen coming from Africa, never wavered."
Camilleri wrote more than 100 books. His stories were fiction, but influenced by current affairs or the result of hours of scouring the archives....