ON paper the idea looks barmy — the BBC running a 10-year-old Italian detective series complete with subtitles in the slot formerly reserved for those highly successful, dark Scandinavian dramas like The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen.

But Inspector Montalbano (BBC4, Saturdays, 9pm) is quirky, often hilarious and absolutely compelling viewing.

Salvo Montalbano’s patch is the fictitious Sicilian coastal town of Vigata and he lives in a fantastic house beside the beach with a verandah from which he steps straight onto the sand. The plot lines are not sophisticated. Most episodes start with the discovery of a body and the list of suspects isn’t usually large — or the detective work particularly taxing.

What makes it is actor Luca Zingaretti’s portrayal of a man with an above average amount of irritability who considers good food and the company of attractive women just as important as solving crime.

He drives a battered Fiat and heads a team of officers who each apparently have multiple psychological issues. The location shots show a part of Italy that’s to die for (or in!) and the Sicilian tourist board must benefit as a result.

It’s a winner from the minute the screechy violins strike up the theme tune.