Friday, March 19, 2010


Before reading Michael Dibdin's final book, I decided to do a mini-retrospective and re-read his Aurelio Zen stories in order.  Ratking introduces Zen, already middle-aged and shunted aside by his superiors.  Each novel is set in a different region of Italy, and this one takes place in Umbria, where Zen is sent to handle a kidnapping case.  The tone varies in each novel as well, from farce through tragedy, but here Dibdin employs a straight-forward police procedural style.

Zen starts pretty much the same way he remains throughout the series -- a compromised idealist, willing to cut a lot of corners to get to the "right" outcome, but also knowing that, in any case, the "right" outcome almost never works out.  Here, Zen has been brought in as an outsider after political pressure is brought to bear on the local police force in Perugia to solve a kidnapping case.  Zen soon has to deal with the contradictory wishes of the local police force, the judicial prosecutor, the victim's family, not to mention the industrialist who brought Zen into the investigation in the first place.

In the end, Zen has to make do with a kind of partial justice, and the book ends in a pretty melancholy state.  Michael Dibdin was one of the genre's finest writers, and this book, with its deft characterization both of the people and of the region, showcases one side of his talents quite neatly.

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