Back to Bologna

I've been watching the recent BBC adaptation of some of Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen mysteries, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. Never having read them before, and having heard many times that they're completely brilliant, I launched into reading my first Zen mystery - conveniently chalking up another country for the 666 Challenge at the same time.

Well, to be honest, Back to Bologna was a bit of a disappointment. Since finishing the novel I've had a look at some other online reviews, and it appears that Bologna was not entirely typical of the Zen oeuvre, so I'd definitely like to read more in the series.

Where it was really lacking was as a crime story. Zen was a fairly marginal character, there was no real sense of atmosphere - as there is for example in Donna Leon's mysteries, and this did feel very much like a comic satire on the Eurocops genre. For example, quite a few of the characters were named in hommage to other Italian thrillers - one of the detectives is named Salvatore Brunetti - a mixture of characters from Magdalen Nabb and Donna Leon mysteries. The central crime could potentially have been a really interesting mystery, but this is thrown away, and becomes just a sideshow for the central comic elements.

And very comic it is too. At the centre of the novel is a singing TV chef, who can't cook, and attempts to save his reputation with disastrous and hilarious results; a [possibly] deluded girl who believes [or perhaps not] that she's from Ruritania, an assassin who can't shoot straight, and an inept would-be Sam Spade. It's certainly very funny (if slightly irritating at times), well worth taking up for a light read, but if you're looking for a serious crime novel, it will drive you nuts. An interesting but rather unexpected introduction to the world of Aurelio Zen.


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