A Long Finish

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The start of A Long Finish sees Zen back in Rome only to discover that the ground rules have once again been changed.

A new set of power-brokers have rewritten the agenda and plan to tackle the Mafia head-on using the cream of the investigators on hand, which, after his Neapolitan success, includes Zen.

Zen learns of these developments from an unlikely source (an internationally renowned film director) in an unlikely setting (a wine cellar) and is given a chance to delay an impending transfer to Sicily by taking an interest in the mutilation murder of a winemaker in Piedmont. 

The circumstances surrounding the case seem straightforward and the police have already arrested the prime suspect, the winemaker's son and heir, Manlio, who fought loudly with his father the evening before the murder.

That doesn't sit well with the wine-loving director, who wants someone to examine the case and find an excuse spring the suspect from confinement for long enough to make the year's vintage even if he ends up being found guilty in the long run. Regardless of minor factors of innocence or guilt the wine must be made (it's the director's favourite drop, after all).

The key to the case lies in the vineyard and its surrounds.  Rival wine growing families, and the secretive white truffle harvesters make up an insular community, wary of outsiders, with local rivalries and long memories. Zen's progress in the case isn't helped by distress over his girlfriend's abortion, anonymous phone calls at various locations that alternate between threats and cryptic clues to another mystery, unexpected sleepwalking and suggestions from a hashish-smoking, harpsichord-playing doctor that Zen is suffering from deep-seated psychological problems.

Altogether, it's a pretty heady mix.

The subsequent deaths of a local truffle hunter and another winemaker seem to muddy the waters, though all three cases are related. None of the locals seem excessively concerned by the recent spate of violence. Tobacconist Minot Mandola is more worried about getting his share of the region's truffles. Carla Arduini wants to trace her father. The Faigano brothers, winemakers of much lower standing and dubious business practices are seemingly out to maximise their enjoyment by giving Zen a hard time as they pretend to accept his attempts at disguise.

While Zen manages to put the pieces together and extract a confession that seems to take care of most of the outstanding issues, the real culprit seems to have escaped until he's killed off by his own eccentricities, at which point the case is successfully wrapped up and Zen can head back to Rome en route to Sicily where he hopes the most vulnerable positions have already been filled.

© Ian Hughes 2012