The Brewer of Preston

Written by Andrea Camilleri
Review by John Kachuba

Camilleri, a bestselling author in Italy and Germany, is the author of the Inspector Montalbano mystery series and historical novels set in 19th-century Sicily, such as this latest comic story.

Although recently unified, Italy in the 19th century is a country where ancient allegiances to local states and provinces remain strong. This is especially true in Sicily, where the residents of Vigata are suspicious and resentful of the civil authorities overseeing their affairs, pompous men from the mainland. The citizens rail against their “outsider” prefect when he decrees that an obscure opera, “The Brewer of Preston,” be performed at the opening of the town’s brand-new opera house. Worse, he demands that every citizen attend and plans on arresting anyone that leaves the performance. In a town where opera is religion, the prefect’s high-handedness is not appreciated.

Set against the background of the preparation for the opera buffo, the people of Vigata engage in their own farcical soap opera – their lives. There is the illicit love affair initiated through sign language between the widow Lo Russo and one-eyed Gaspano. Don Memé, the local Mafioso, deals out justice as he sees fit, school headmaster Carnazza goes missing, a German fireman invents a modern fire pump, and a Roman follower of Mazzini plots to burn down the opera house.

Camilleri’s humor is razor-sharp, as is his portrayal of Sicilian life at the time. His masterful juxtaposition of the opera on stage with that of the one being enacted in life drives the story forward with wit and style. This novel is sure to gain the author a larger following among American readers and is highly recommended.