Montalbano, William D(aniel) 1940-1998
MONTALBANO, William D(aniel) 1940-1998
PERSONAL: Born September 20, 1940, in New York, NY; died of a heart attack, March 19, 1998, in London, England; son of Vincent Francis (an executive) and Gertrude Mary (a teacher; maiden name, Reilly) Montalbano; married Kathleen Feeney, June 19, 1965 (divorced, July, 1977); married Rosanna Mary Bell Thomson (a writer), December 3, 1977; children: (first marriage) Dennis, Andrea; (second marriage) Tiva, Teresa, Daniel. Education: Rutgers University, New Jersey, B.A., 1960; Columbia University, New York, NY, M.S., 1962; graduate study at Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires, 1964-65, and Harvard University, 1969-70.
CAREER: Reporter and author. Star-Ledger, Newark, NJ, reporter, 1960-62; Patriot Ledger, Quincy, MA, deskman and editor, 1962-63; Buenos Aires Herald, Buenos Aires, Argentina, reporter and editor, 1964-65; United Press International (UPI), New York, NY, cables desk and editor, 1965-67; Miami Herald, Miami, FL, correspondent in Latin America and editor, 1967-76, senior correspondent and editor, 1977-83, projects editor, 1978-79, chief of correspondents, 1981-83; Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Beijing, People's Republic of China, bureau chief, 1979-81; Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, El Salvador bureau chief, 1983-84, Buenos Aires bureau chief, 1984-85, Rome bureau chief, 1987-95, London bureau chief, 1995-98.
AWARDS, HONORS: Overseas Press Club citation, 1969 and 1971, for foreign reporting excellence, and 1973, for best interpretation of foreign news; Neiman fellow, Harvard University, 1970; Tom Wallace Award, International-American Press Association, 1971; Maria Moors Cabot prize, Columbia University, 1974; Ernie Pyle Award, Scripps Howard Newspapers, 1974, 1975; Heywood Broun prize, Newspaper Guild, 1980; public service awards from the National Headliner's Club and Sigma Delta Chi, both 1980.
(With Carl Hiaasen) Powder Burn (novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1981.
(With Carl Hiaasen) Trap Line (novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Carl Hiaasen) A Death in China (novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984.
The Sinners of San Ramon, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Basilica (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
SIDELIGHTS: William D. Montalbano, a journalist, brought his experience of foreign countries to bear in his novels about drug wars, smuggling, and international crime. His thrillers Powder Burn, Trap Line, and A Death in China are written with Carl Hiaasen, who is also an investigative reporter for newspapers. Powder Burn is set in Miami, Florida, and is based on actual episodes that occurred there during the Cuban-Colombian cocaine wars. The story concerns an architect, Christopher Meadows, who witnesses a shoot out between rival drug dealers, during which Meadows's ex-girlfriend and her daughter are accidentally killed. Frightened, but ultimately enraged, Meadows plots revenge based on intellect, while he himself is stalked by both murderers and the Miami police. Commenting on Powder Burn, Sloan Wilson of the Orlando Sentinel Star wrote, "This first effort by two fine reporters is … successful in entertaining and educating the reader simultaneously." In a New York Times Book Review assessment of Powder Burn, Newgate Callendar concluded that Montalbano and Hiaasen "draw a tense picture of the Miami drug underworld and of the cops who try to cope with it….The authors have also produced a smoothly written book, natural in its dialogue, expertly plotted, with a most attractive hero."
Trap Line, Montalbano and Hiaasen's second collaborative thriller, takes place on the wharfs of Key West. Breeze Allbury is a boat captain who earns a living fishing for lobster and crawfish. To earn extra income for his retirement and his son's college education, Allbury occasionally transports cargo for Colombian and Cuban drug smugglers. For the most part, his dealings are comfortable and not overtly dangerous, until he is approached by "The Machine," a Florida drug cartel that asks Allbury to participate in the perilous transport of much more than drugs. When he refuses, the cartel makes it clear that his decision is not acceptable, and soon Allbury finds both his business and son in severe danger. To salvage what remains of his life, Allbury realizes that he alone must bring justice to his treacherous, dangerous tormenters. Like Montalbano's first novel, Trap Line was well-received by critics. Roz Shea of Bookreporter praised the novel, commenting, "With fast action, likeable characters, and a plot that twists and turns like a speedboat through a mangrove swamp, Trap Line is a mystery that does not disappoint."
Critics likewise praised A Death in China, a tale of political intrigue and the theft of fine art. Protagonist Thomas Stratton is an art history professor with a secret past in Southeast Asia. Stratton visits Peking and runs into his former college professor and mentor, David Wang. Wang is about to embark on a journey to Xian to visit his brother, so Stratton and Wang make plans to meet upon his return. Wang does not return, however, and Stratton discovers that his friend has died of a heart attack. Considering this an unlikely possibility and having been refused assistance from the American embassy, Stratton undertakes an investigation of his own and ends up involved in a highly complicated governmental affair in which his presence is not welcome. Montalbano's experiences from his correspondence work in China enrich the book with what Shea called in Bookreporter "generous doses of Chinese history, culture, and scene." Similarly, Herbert Mitgang, in the New York Times Book Review, commented that Montalbano and Hiaasen "demonstrate once more than they know how to turn their journalistic experience to fictional advantage….Thereare memorable observations in this imaginative thriller." Joseph McLellan also commended the novel in the Washington Post Book World, noting that the pace in A Death in China "is fast and unrelenting," and that "the landscapes [are] exotic and well-presented." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Trevor Meldal-Johnsen observed that it is "the keen-eyed perception of China that sets the novel apart and provides its strengths."
In his mystery adventure, Basilica, Montalbano produced a layered plot centered around two characters. Pope Pius XIII, otherwise known as Pope Tredi, has recently arrived at the Vatican with revolutionary ideas for Catholicism. When a priest is pushed off of a catwalk in St. Peter's basilica, Tredi calls on his best friend, Paul Lorenzo, a Miami policeman turned Roman Catholic friar, to help him investigate the death. Lorenzo discovers an intricate plot to weaken Tredi's papal influence and destroy his revolutionary work, which leads to a revelation of Lorenzo and Tredi's collective past. Lorenzo and Tredi were formerly involved in a huge drug bust during which millions of dollars worth of cocaine was seized, as well as one million dollars in gold, which Tredi confiscated for charity. The Colombian drug cartel has tracked down Lorenzo and Tredi to enact their revenge, which it makes apparent by murdering nearby religious figures. "Spiced with libidinous women and assorted carnally indulgent clergy, jam-packed with brassy papal antics and hot Latino blood feuds, Montalbano's work is shrewdly calculated to enthrall to the final mea culpa," found one Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Montalbano passed away after a heart attack shortly before Basilica was published. Critics praised the writing as his best, however, paying tribute to the deceased author with overflowing commendation of his last work. "This is a rare and powerful book that will grip the reader from beginning to end," praised Emily Melton in a review for Publishers Weekly. "Filled with wrenching tragedy, heart-pounding suspense, and appalling violence, this is a story of a deep and abiding friendship and the miracles that faith can achieve," Melton maintained. On a similar plane of praise, reviewer Harriet Klausner wrote of the novel in Books 'n' Bytes: "The story line is superb and the wonderful characters feel genuine, but it is the insider's look into the Vatican that is truly awesome." Klausner continued, "On a sadder note, author William D. Montalbano will posthumously receive accolades from an adoring public as he passed away before he could obtain the well-deserved credit that will be coming his way," concluding that "his death leaves a void in this sub-genre." Also commenting on Montalbano's death, Melton reflected, "In this story, he has left behind a memorable legacy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 1998, review of Basilica, p. 547.
Economist, October 24, 1998, review of Basilica, p. 95.
Kirkus Review, November 15, 1998, p. 1622.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 29, 1984; February 1, 1999, review of Basilica, p. 9.
New York Times Book Review, January 10, 1982; February 13, 1983; June 24, 1984.
Orlando Sentinel Star, September 20, 1981.
Publishers Weekly, October 6, 1989, review of The Sinners of San Ramon, p. 92; November 15, 1998, Emily Melton, review of Basilica, p. 547; November 16, 1998, review of Basilica, p. 53.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1990, review of The Sinners of San Ramon, p. 32.
Washington Post Book World, May 6, 1984.
Book Reporter Web site, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (January 26, 2004), Roz Shea, reviews of A Death in China and Trap Line.
Books 'n' Bytes Web Site, http://www.booksnbytes.com/ (January 26, 2004), Harriet Klausner, review of Basilica.
PBS Web site, http://www.pbs.org/ (January 26, 2004), interview with Margaret Warner for NewsHour's "Foreign Correspondence" series.
Who's Who in the West, Marquis, 1996.
Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1998, section 1, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1998, pp. A3, A22.
New York Times, March 22, 1998, p. A43.*