The Terracotta Dog

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The Terracotta Dog
First edition (Italy)
Author Andrea Camilleri
Original title Il cane di terracotta
Translator Stephen Sartarelli
Country Italy, Sicily
Language Italian/Sicilian
Series Inspector Salvo Montalbano, #2
Genre Crime, Mystery novel
Publisher Macmillan/Picador
Publication date
1996 (orig.) & 2002 (Eng. trans. )
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 352pp (Eng. trans.)
ISBN 0-330-49291-8 (Eng. trans.)
OCLC 59278658
Preceded by The Shape Of Water
Followed by The Snack Thief

The Terracotta Dog (Il cane di terracotta) is a 1996 novel by Andrea Camilleri, translated into English in 2002 by Stephen Sartarelli. It is the second novel in the internationally popular Inspector Montalbano series.

While chasing down a mafia crime, Montalbano finds a cave with symbolic artifacts and the bodies of two young lovers, hidden since World War II.

While it was the second of the published books, the movie was actually produced by RAI out of order, two years later in 2000, as the 4th film.


The story starts off with "Tano Il Greco", a tired mafia boss, making a deal with Montalbano to stage his arrest in order for him to save face. The arrest causes Montalbano to have to appear at a press conference and be considered for promotion, both of which he does not appreciate. At the same time there has also been a seemingly unrelated and mysterious theft of a grocery store delivery truck; the truck is discovered the next morning, abandoned, with the stolen goods still within and intact. An old man, Misucara, who was witness to the robbery then dies in a suspect accident, but not before passing on an odd bit of information to the inspector: that the grocery store owner's car was parked nearby during the time of the robbery. When Tano ends up dying at the hands of mafia rivals during a police transfer, he passes on information to Montalbano that leads the inspector and his team to search for a secret cave used as a black market goods store during WWII and now used for smuggling arms for the mafia, of which the grocery store owner was complicit in.

Montalbano notices that the inside of the cave is not symmetrical and figures out there must be a secret room where he discovers the mummified bodies of two young lovers, carefully arranged in what appears to be some kind of ancient ritual guarded by a terracotta dog. Learning that the bodies were placed sometime around the allied invasion (sbarcare) and devastating bombing of the island at the end of World War II, Montalbano interviews local residents from that time to try to piece together who the young couple were and why they were killed and why they were ritually buried. The young couple turn out to be Lisetta, a local girl with a sexually abusive father, and her lover Mario, a young Italian soldier stationed at a repair ship that had been docked for an extended period at the town of Vigata. Believing that his ship was to be called to sail soon, Mario had implored Lisetta to come see him one last time, and she had run away then, which resulted in the two lovers presumably being killed when discovered by the jealous father of Lisetta.

This knowledge, however, does not satisfy the inspector as while he had deciphered the identity of the couple and the reason for their murder, the ritualistic method of their burial still remained a mystery. One thing that puzzles Montalbano as he learns more about the ritual burial is that it doesn't make sense because it is a mixture of different traditions and this leads him to look for someone who might have knowledge of different burial rites. And once he has a suspect for the person that conducted the ritual burial, Montalbano stages an elaborate ploy to get onto the TV news so that maybe his suspect living in some other part of Italy might get his message and return to the site of the crime 50 years later. It turns out Lisetta's cousin Lillo, who had been very fond of his little cousin, had put up the couple at Lisetta's request in his house. However, the couple had been killed one day when Lillo was out of the house by Lisetta's father's man. Lillo, in his rage, then killed the man. In a state of denial over the incident, he then buries the two lovers in a ritual miming the legend of the Seven Sleepers, in the hopes that like the sleepers, they will reawaken one day. Due to his academic work in studying the legend, he invokes both Christian and Islamic elements in the ritual. He then left Sicily in the hopes of putting all this behind him, until the Inspector resurrected the lovers with his discovery.