Michael Dibdin

There’s an exception to every rule.

Most of the other writers who feature on these pages follow the same modus operandi. Take your lead characters, slot them into an environment surrounded by a support cast that doesn’t vary much from story to story and concentrate on the intricacies of developing a plot working within a familiar framework so that you’ve got a number of ongoing elements that you can snake the new plot line around.

Kinky Friedman’s got New York and his cast of Greenwich Village Irregulars, Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano has Vigata and his bunch of offsiders and Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri might be wandering through a more exotic location, but we’re still looking at more or less the same old schtick.

Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen, on the other hand, operates in front of a larger backdrop, shifting from location to location as the vagaries of Italian politics, luck, fate, and his own personality interact. As is so often the case there’s a prehistory to the Zen series, one that involves the kidnapping of Aldo Moro (and possibly other professional disasters) so the series begins with Zen being recalled from desk-bound obscurity in Rome to investigate a kidnapping in Perugia. 

From there, Zen finds himself deployed, directed or diverted to various parts of Italy in a series that addresses many of the less savoury aspects of Italian society as the anti-heroic detective lands himself in repeated situations that allow Dibdin to display his sense of irony and black humour.  Based on that, you'd possibly question the lack of reading activity in those other titles, but the answer's fairly simple. The Zen books start off fairly unimpressively with Ratking, but improve by leaps and bounds until Dibdin's really hitting his straps around Dead Lagoon. I'll get to the other titles eventually, but there's a certain amount of avoiding disappointment involved at the back of the mind.

Zen series: 

Ratking (1988)

Vendetta (1990)

Cabal (1992)

Dead Lagoon (1994)

Cosi Fan Tutti (1996)

A Long Finish (1998)

Blood Rain (1999)

And Then You Die (2002)

Medusa (2003)

Back to Bologna (2005)

End Games  (2007)

Other titles:

The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (1978)

A Rich Full Death (1986)

The Tryst (1989)

Dirty Tricks (1991)

The Dying of the Light (1993)

Dark Spectre (1995)

Thanksgiving (2000)

© Ian Hughes 2012