Oline Cogdill

altAt this time of year, the TV doldrums really set in. The new TV season hasn't started yet and the good cable series have wrapped up. At least this past summer we had exciting episodes of In Plain Sight, Rizzoli & Isles, The Closer, The Glades, Memphis Beat, and Burn Notice.

Sure, I can watch those series -- and endless reruns of the Laws & Orders -- countless times. But this is also the perfect time to delve into some of the best crime dramas on DVD.

And by that I mean some of the best international crime dramas on DVD.

MHZ Networks leads the way in releasing a variety of international crime dramas series, most filmed for foreign TV markets. Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti, Helene Tursten's Irene Huss, Gunnar Staalesen's Varg Veum and Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander are just a few of the crime fiction series being released by MHZ Networks.

The ones I have viewed are first-class productions with breathtaking scenery, involving plots that are faithful to the spirit of the novels and excellent actors who bring these characters to life. Rather than the Hollywood gloss that tends to soften too many crime dramas, the producers use first-rate actors who actually look like the characters, imperfections and all. There is no air brushing or perfect makeup to conceal natural imperfections. In a way, this makes the actors even more striking -- and believeable. Most of the series are subtitled.

A good example of these productions is the 18 episodes of the Detective Montalbano series, the film version of the Il commissario Salvo Montalbano mystery series based on the character and novels created by Andrea Camilleri.

Italian actor Luca Zingaretti is perfect as the fractious Sicilian detective in the police force of Vigàta, an imaginary Sicilian town.

The Snack Thief, the series' first episode and based on Camilleri's third novel, is an excellent introduction both to the novels and this filmed version.

In The Snack Thief, Montalbano is the only police detective to see a link between the stabbing of an elderly man in an elevator and a worker on an Italian fishing trawler who is machine-gunned to death by a Tunisian patrol boat off Sicily's coast. His investigation leads to a maid whose young son steals other kids' snacks. When his mother disappears, the young snack thief is the next target.

In the books and the DVD, Montalbano acts as if he considers his real work to be sleeping, eating, drinking and dealing with his long-distance girlfriend, Livia. Police work, he seems to suggest, just gets in the way.

But Montalbano has a deeper side and is a sharp detective, who contends with criminals as well as an administration more interested in a positive image than in fighting crime. Camilleri weaves into his novels myriad contemporary issues such as immigration and unemployment and this translates well to the screen. The Snack Thief also deals with racism, terrorism and political corruption.

In addition to The Snack Thief, the Detective Montalbano DVD of episodes 1 to 3 includes, in this order, The Voice of the Violin (based on the fourth novel) and The Shape of Water (based on the first novel).

The Potters Field, Camilleri's 13th novel to be released in the U.S., recently hit the bookstores -- and the e-readers.


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