Nebulous city

Inspired by watching the gorgeous Rufus Sewell I was inspired to read my first Aurelio Zen mystery, Back to Bologna earlier this year. As I reported then it was a bit of a disappointment, funny, but not a great detective story, and not at all what I was expecting. However, it didn't put me off Michael Dibdin altogether, thank goodness, because Dead Lagoon is a classy read.

Zen is back in his hometown of Venice on the trail of a missing American. This is a bit of a covert operation as the investigation has officially been hushed up, so Zen also starts to look into the case of a batty elderly Venetian artistocrat, who claims to have been roughed up by some all-too-realistic ghosts. At first everything seems to be going well, and Zen starts to settle back into life in the lagoon, he even embarks on a love affair with a childhood crush, but corruption is everywhere, not just on the island of the dead which is at the heart of the mystery.

This is not a classic detective story in the sense that the clues are laid out for you enabling the reader to solve the mystery. Many of Zen's conclusions are reached by way of inspiration, or sometimes simply happenstance, but where Dibdin really shines is in his evocation of a beautiful city with corruption lurking beneath the surface (sometimes quite literally as in the deposition of one of the corpses). The novel twists, turns, and undulates just like the floor beneath St. Mark's. Nothing is quite what it seems, the dead come to life, and the living die unexpectedly - it's an unsettling but enthralling read.

Brunetti is good - but I'm beginning to think that Zen is better.


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