End Games – Michael Dibdin

Michael Dibdin‘s last book, and the end of Aurelio Zen’s adventures. He (Zen) isn’t the same character as he was in earlier novels, but then we all change as we grow older.

Set in a provincial capital in Calabria, a location even more remote than Naples from Zen’s Venetian roots, we find Zen in the apparently unlooked for position of interim Chief of Police, covering for the native incumbent who is temporarily hors de combat due to an unfortunately self inflicted foot wound. Zen’s final investigation combines the old, unchanging world of the native Calabrese with the modern hi tech world of the West Coast of the USA. The clash of cultures between northerner Zen and his southerner colleagues and the community for which he finds himself responsible is less marked, but always there. And as Dibdin’s final novel brings to life a suitably wide range of characters, it is noticable that his handling of the modern (American) world is better than in Back to Bologna with references to the worlds of online gaming and Google Earth far more natural than the celebrity reality TV setting of Back to Bologna.

But the focus of End Games is Calabria, and its ancient ways of life which continue apparently impervious to incomers, whether Greek, Roman, Norman, Spanish, Albanian…. However, in this novel the incomers of interest are Alaric the Goth at the time of the Roman Empire and 21st century Americans, returning sons of Italian emigrants, entrepreneurial second generation Vietnamese and Microsoft millionaires.

Whilst End Games brings to a close – for the reader at least – the career of Aurelio Zen, I do at least have a trio of earlier investigations to enjoy – Vendetta (1990), Dead Lagoon (1994) and Cosi Fan Tutti (1996) – and I hope that in these earlier novels I’ll get to see a bit more of the man himself.

Amazon.co.uk link: End Games – Michael Dibdin

Medusa – Michael Dibdin

Unlike recent reads, I really enjoyed this Aurelio Zen mystery, although the man himself didn’t make an appearance until well past page 40. Set in the independent minded mountain borderlands between Italy and Switzerland, this Zen outing provides a darker by more credible plot stetching back 30 years, and Zen’s sleuthing reveals relationships and careers based on lies and deceit. Zen seems at his best when he’s an outsider, and when Michale Dibdin keeps Zen’s personal life playing a remote second fiddle to his detective work and police force politicking.

Amazon.co.uk link: Medusa – Michael Dibdin

Thanksgiving – Michael Dibdin

I’ve read a lot of Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen series, but Thanksgiving is a very different book. For starters, it’s more of a novella, and its plot is less finely/densely woven. The narrative jumps in time, location and voice, but each chapter builds on and informs the last to produce a though provoking tale of love, loss and longing. A tale that lingers in the memory and a title that accumulates meaning along the way. Recommended.

Amazon.co.uk link: Thanksgiving – Michael Dibdin

Back to Bologna – Michael Dibdin

This most recent Aurelio Zen mystery proved a bit of a disappointment. I’ve missed out on Medusa, the novel that covers events between And then you die and Back to Bologna, which turn out to have been pretty key in relation to Zen’s romantic life. I dislike reading things in the wrong order – it spoils my enjoyment of the discovery of what happens in the book I’ve missed out.

Another aspect of Back to Bologna which irked me was the cast of 21st century stereotypes: celebrity chef, rich kid football hooligan, illegal economic migrant, oligarchical football club owner. It felt like I was reading reportage in Grazia or Hello, “with the names changed to protect the innocent”. And Zen didn’t seem to contribute much to the final outcome; in fact he did’t appear to do much apart from mope about his failing love life.

Buy it: Amazon link

And then you die – Michael Dibdin

A bit disappointing this one, especially as I walked straight into the spoiler resulting from the previous instalment in Aurelio Zen’s career and life.

I won’t do the same to you, dear reader!

Suffice it to say, that this novel lacked the strong characters that have populated Aurelio Zen’s world to date, and Michael Dibdin seems to have taken the decision to remove a lot of the familiar background characters from the scene, leaving Zen befreft of context, whilst at the same time – most bizarrely – providing him with a love interest and an interest in love that seem to have appeared out of thin air.

Buy it: Amazon link