June 20, 2012

The Italy of Aurelio Zen is so thoroughly corrupt that paranoia is no longer an unhealthy mental state. It is a basic requirement for self-preservation.

Solve a crime and your colleagues will meet behind your back to discuss how much you paid the witnesses and who fronted the money. Find a murderer and everyone will wink admiringly at your ability to plant manufactured evidence. Do the right thing and you might be the surprise recipient of a gift or a pledge of future compensation. Do nothing and you can still become the target of someone’s overheated desire for revenge. Of a vendetta.


In Vendetta, the second novel in Michael Dibdin’s Zen series, Zen is assigned to “solve” the brutal murder of a wealthy construction magnate and his dinner guests at his secluded mountaintop home in Sardinia. The builder had spared no expense on security measures for remote estate and it seems impossible that a murderer could have gotten in or out. The crime looks like an “inside job.” But that leaves only a handful of suspects on the premises, and the prime one, the untrustworthy business partner, happens to have close ties to a minister in the coalition government. If he goes to jail, he might drag down the entire governmental coalition with him. Blame needs to be pinned on someone else and Zen is tasked with the job. He is told that he doesn’t need to solve the crime. He simply needs to raise sufficient doubts about the prime suspect that the suspect will go free. As an added incentive, Zen is told that refusing the job because of some misplaced ethical principle like respect for the law or his oath of office, or just plain old-fashioned personal integrity, will lead to him being reassigned to Palermo, a literal graveyard for unbending policemen.

Dilemmas like these would make anyone paranoid, but Zen is a special case. He is the consummate outsider. A police detective, he is warily watched by the man on the street. A Venetian, he is not trusted by his Roman neighbors and coworkers. A mama’s boy (his father died when he was still very young and he still lives with his aging mother), he is uncomfortable with the rough-and-tumble give-and-take of male conversation in the office. Divorced, he treads carefully around women, quietly throwing away his heart on a married woman who already seems to have an active extramarital life of her own. He watches. He worries. Maybe paranoia is a healthy answer. Someone always seems to be tailing him everywhere he goes. Why me, he asks? Who would want to take revenge on me? But the real question, given Italy’s tangled landscape, is who wouldn’t?


One Response to “Vendetta”

  1. […] Wallander to Riga, the Latvian capital of intrigue, double-dealing, and corruption. (Shades of Aurelio Zen! Except where Italian corruption has a sophisticated flair that infiltrates every part of society, […]

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