Thursday, 11 November 2010

We left Aurelio Zen last time around in the walled town of Lucca, looking at a long-term arrangement with a woman of independent means and an independent mind while he pursues whatever investigations happen to take his interest.

Medusa, the first of those investigations comes when Austrian cave explorers investigating a network of abandoned tunnels in the Italian Alps come across human remains at the bottom of a shaft. 

Under ordinary circumstances one might suspect the death was the result of an accident or misadventure, but the victim wasn’t dressed for caving, there was no sign of ropes or climbing apparatus, there was no one on the missing persons list and, most significantly, the unidentified body is stolen from the morgue and the Defence Ministry puts a news blackout on the case.

So, what’s up? 

A Milan bookseller makes himself scarce, there’s a car bombing in Campione D'Italia, a tax haven on the Swiss border, and a widow (apparently) falls to her death from a hotel balcony. The prospect of a Cabinet reshuffle has major players in Rome very interested in the matter. Zen is aligned to the Interior Ministry, while the Carabinieri and the Defence Ministry are up to their ears in the hush-up. 

The key to the matter seems to be a tattoo, the Medusa of the title, found on the victim’s body, and worn by the members of a right wing military conspiracy, including the missing bookseller and the victim of the car bombing. Protecting the members of the conspiracy from unwanted attention is the self-appointed task of secret intelligence operative Alberto Guerrazzi, who almost succeeds, but is ultimately foiled by Zen.

While there’s every possibility that the victim died when he was about to reveal details of Operation Medusa to the left wing press, there’s another, equally plausible explanation for the affair. In the end, with all the major players done away with, it’s impossible to tell which explanation is correct, which is a remarkably satisfying end to a fast-paced narrative with plenty of intrigue. Arguably, one of the best in the series, Medusa, coming after the much slower-moving And Then You Die, is a real cracker, the work of a writer who’s pretty close to the top of his game. 

© Ian Hughes 2012