Montalbano is like life: it has serious, even tragic moments, but also plenty of humour and you never quite get to know some people. It is certainly compulsive viewing.

 Distributor: Acorn Media International
 Time: 4 episodes / 454 mins
 Rating: 15

 Inspector Montalbano is compulsive viewing. It’s a series you look forward to watching, and when you’ve drunk a couple of hours of dark deeds done in bright Italian sunshine, you are still thirsty for more.

We always see things from the inspector’s point of view, as there is little interplay between the murder victim and other characters. It’s like being in Montalbano’s mind as he works through his options. The two hour plots leave enough time for red herrings, back stories and plot twists, making it less formulaic and easier to sit down and relax to.

The stories on this collection are a little darker than normal – not that murder is ever light. They take in corruption, incest, prostitution and the Mafia.

This is not the first time I have reviewed a Montalbano (including the excellent ‘Young Montalbano’ spin-off, this may be the fourth or fifth batch I’ve seen) but I still can’t quite put my finger on an inconsistency.

Take an episode on this collection, where an old playboy was murdered. There were some clear directions as to who the murderer was early on, but plenty of space left around the exact ‘who?’ and ‘why?’ This keeps you guessing and makes the show compelling.

But reflecting on the episode afterwards can lead to some probing questions: “How did Montalbano get to the two murderers theory so early?” and “Why did we see so little questioning of the murdered man’s son?” – as well as noting how convenient it was that an old tramp happened to sleep on Montalbano’s porch one night and have some relevant information right at the end. It leaves a sense of being playing with by the writers.

It’s like being charmed by a flirt: you get carried away with the experience, not letting yourself question it too deeply.

And, although it is visually appealing, I can’t quite make out how much the Italian culture distances me. The way that the Italians seem to over-gesticulate feels to me, as an Englishman, like over acting – but I suspect this is how demonstrative Italians really are.

Montalbano is like life: it has serious, even tragic moments, but it has plenty of humour and you never quite get to know some people.

Sometimes it is plain entertaining. Yes, the pathologist is a bit of a pig with his food, his temper and his language, but his appearances are very enjoyable.

I'd like to see the supporting cast deepened: Mimi is the ladies' man, Fazio is the detail monger and Caterella is still clumsy. They rarely get beyond these types, as the case of each episode is king. The inspector himself continues to be gruff, insightful, technophobic (there’s rarely a computer or smartphone in use), sensitive to his interviewees and faithful to his distant fiancée Livia, despite the advances that women often make to him.

The bottom line: it lies somewhere between slapstick soap opera and serious crime solving, but whichever part of that spectrum it sits at any time, you can bet that it is compelling TV.

Derek Walker