BBC4’s Saturday evening EuroNoir slot has just finished showing the second series of Young Montalbano and next week will be heading to the colder climes of Iceland for Trapped.
I posted my review on the first episode of the new run of Young Montalbano stories some weeks ago and summarised it as being even better and sharper than the first season, with a clearer sense of purpose and much meatier material for the cast consisting of Michele Riondino, Sarah Felberbaum, Alessio Vassallo and Beniamino Marcone to get their teeth into. It was also clear that the show’s production values had skyrocketed in the interim and that this was now a very classy, glossy show featuring some really strong directorial touches and some spectacular Sicilian location scenery.
Now the run has finished, I thought I should return to the subject to add a full episode guide in the style that I did for the first season last year. Please be aware that the following guide does give details of the plots and therefore has some mild spoilers, although I do try and avoid ever naming ‘whodunnit’!
7. “The Man Who Followed Funerals”
A penniless disabled man is found shot dead. He had no possessions and no enemies, and appears to have spent all his time attending funerals in Vigata of people he didn’t even know, so why should anyone want him killed? Montalbano also looks into the disappearance of a local builder’s wife, but both investigations are interrupted by an assassination attempt on Montalbano himself…
Right away you can tell that the series has grown up since its original run three years before. No longer just a little fun look at a beloved character’s early days, it’s a full-fledged satisfying detective drama in its own right and in particular it looks absolutely stunning in HD. As well as the investigation there is also some more emotional heft to the story, with Montalbano (Riondino) noticing that Livia (Felberbaum) is acting strangely and fearing that she’s about to break up with him, meaning Montalbano unwisely confers with Augello (Vassallo) as to what he should do.
8. “Room Number Two”
A fire breaks out in a struggling local hotel close to Montalbano’s coastal home, and despite his best efforts a man dies. Was the fire deliberate, and if so who was the target? Suspicions that the local Mafia families were involved for non-payment of protection money jostle with the thought that the owner did it for the insurance. In the end it comes down to why room number 2 was – or was not – occupied on the fateful night.
The episodes continue to be much better written and constructed this season than the somewhat ambling, eclectic nature of the first. There’s one main case but there’s still personal business to attend to, with Montalbano having to cope with the fallout of his blurted marriage proposal to Livia in the previous episode. Mimi is desperate to be picked as Salvo’s best man and his ingratiating efforts followed by aggressive sulking when someone else gets the job are comedically delightful.
9. “Death on the High Seas”
Montalbano and his team try and figure out what really happened in the case of a fisherman accidentally shot dead by one of his co-workers while out at sea. As the case goes on it gets bigger and bigger, the relatively minor incident exposing a much bigger and murkier criminal venture. Meanwhile an attempt by Fazio (Marcone) to help a young woman he’s in love with ends up in a shoot-out that threatens to wreck Montalbano’s hopes of marrying Livia.
The main case is a classic example of Camilleri-esque plotting at its best as an investigation goes to completely unexpected and extremely dangerous territory, with Montalbano going rogue to make sure the culprits are caught. It’s also a great episode for Fazio who gets his heart ripped out and trodden on while all the time proving to be Montalbano’s best and most able friend. However it’s the scenes at the end between Salvo and Livia that make you realise that the series as a whole is now operating on a whole new level from before.
10. “The Settlement”
Montalbano investigates a bank robbery, at a new bank branch where nothing feels quite right. He immediately suspects local mafia involvement, but he’s distracted by the amorous intentions of the helpful manager of a different bank who might be just what he needs to get over his break-up with Livia. When they go on a tentative date to a local circus, the fortune teller points to a member of the audience and declares him a murderer – only for the man himself to die violently shortly afterwards.
Neither of the two cases here manage to achieve supremacy over the other meaning it’s something of a mixed muddle on the investigation side, and for the first time this season the episode lacks a clear sense of definition. That said, it’s the third story – the budding relationship between Montalbano and Stella which is full of tentative and awkward excitement – that gives Riondino his best material to date as he battles with his unresolved feelings for the absent Livia. You’ll be as conflicted as he is by the whole affair.
11. “The Honest Thief”
This episode is entirely stolen by the eponymous character, an old-school burglar who is able to get in and out of houses unnoticed but who only takes whatever small amount the victim can afford. Unfortunately one of his incursions means he’s earwitness to a dangerous crime, the kidnapping of a rich local businessman’s son. There’s also a missing waitress to look for which culminates in the discovery of a corpse thrown from a train.
It’s a very sweet odd couple relationship between Montalbano and the thief. Salvo is too upright to allow the elderly gentlemen to get away with his crimes but at the same time isn’t averse to taking advantage of the man’s skills for his own ends; he also makes sure that the thief gets what he deserves, but it’s not necessarily what you might expect. Overall it comes together very nicely and is played out against a backdrop of Montalbano revealing to the team that he is transferring out of Vigata and moving to Genoa in order to salvage his relationship with Livia, leading to some poignant moments particularly with the buffoonish but devoted Catarella (Fabrizio Pizzuto).
12. “An Apricot”
Montalbano is days away from leaving Vigata when he and Livia come across the site of a recent car crash: a young fashion model has died seemingly after losing control of her car while choking on an apricot stone. Newly-in-charge Augello is happy to close the case there but Montalbano can’t let it go; his investigations at the fashion house where she worked unearth the revelation that the model was allergic to apricots and couldn’t even touch them, let alone be eating one while driving…
The case is an interesting one but it ends up being entirely overshadowed by Montalbano packing up his home and being on the brink of leaving Vigato for good. Sad farewells are made – there’s a lovely moment between Salvo and Fazio senior (Andrea Tidona) for example – and we’re continually distracted from the investigation by the fact of Montalbano’s imminent departure, even though the show’s nature as a prequel means that we know he can’t actually go.
The way that the series resolves this is by a haunting last sequence set in the wake of what is effectively Sicily’s 9/11: after a run of such delightfully light whimsey for the most part, the final moments are like a sharp slap in the face and exactly what the series needs to give it a little grit in the oyster.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Both seasons of Young Montalbano are now available in the UK on DVD, individually and in a combined boxset. A new series of Inspector Montalbano has also been filed by Italian broadcaster but is yet to be aired in Italy; a broadcast in the UK later in 2016 is expected.