The latest in the Aurelio Zen mysteries is a welcome addition to Dibdin's genre of 'whodunnit' Italian travel writing, and as usual the sense of place and atmosphere is richly evocative. It is predominantly set in Sicily, and, as one would expect, it is filled with the intricacies of local mafia politics, although these are refreshingly unglamourized.
Dibdin moves with great flair between the humourously mundane and the starkly horrifying. In this regard I was particularly taken with the crime that initiates the story, in which the the remains of a man who has been slowly baked to death after being shut in an abandoned railway truck cannot be identified because of the undecipherable accompanying note, which could either indicate a member of the "Limina" clan, or that the carriage's decomposed goods were once lemons.
The book's plotting is intricate and devious, but the glimpses into the character of the enignmatic Inspector are just as facinating. In this sense "Blood Rain" is one of the darkest of the "Zen" novels, being far removed from the light comedy of "Cosi Fan Tutti". Zen is at his most haunted and anxious here, as he is confronted by a series of disasters in his increasingly barren personal life.
This novel does have some weaknesses. Dibdin's commentaries on Italian history can be annoyingly pedagogic, and his explanatations of regional characteristics could easily seem patronising to those described. Furthermore, Zen's encounter with some drunken English football fans later on in the novel struck me as a rather contrived insertion into an otherwise fluent narrative. These flaws are quickly forgotten, however, in the enjoyment of Dibdin's prose and the development of his endearingly quirky and fallible protagonist.