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Blood Rain (Aurelio Zen Book 7) Kindle Edition
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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.
The book is set in Sicily amongst the Mafia families, some in decline and others on the way up, who are competing to secure the greatest economic, financial and political advantages. The book opens with the badly decomposed body of a young man being discovered in a sealed railway wagon languishing in a disused siding. There are suggestions that the body is that of the eldest son of the capo of the Limina clan and the Corleone family seem to be the most likely suspects. In due course, retribution is meted out and the killings seem likely to escalate.
Judge Corinna Nunziatelli is investigating cases involving the Mafia and Aurelio Zen's 'daughter' Carla Arduini is involved in setting up a police computer system for the judge and others. Extraordinary steps are taken to protect the judge from assassination but it soon emerges that politicians in Rome and the Indications suggest Rome and the carabinieri have a vested interest in closing down, or at least controlling, the investigation.
Zen, based in Catania, is on the periphery of this investigation, working as Liaison Officer for the Department of the Interior’s Direzione Investigativa AntiMafia, DIA, where he is ‘spying’ on members of his own and the other investigating organisations. As an outsider, Zen is all at sea in the middle of Sicilian and national politics and shifting political/criminal alliances, and his frustrations are evident. He is similarly bemused when Carla tries to explain her job and her suspicions that the new computer system she is installing might have been infiltrated from within.
The plot is convoluted, not to say meandering, but Dibdin’s talent for character and local colour abounds. At various times Zen is on the run from the Mafia and the Carabinieri, and at one point the author has to summon up an ‘act of God’ to enable him to escape their clutches. Into this the author introduces a whole series of memorable scenes - a journey with a football-loving, garrulous taxi driver, a ferry trip with a group of Arsenal supporters, real and pretend, and an unnerving flight back to Rome to his dying mother’s bedside where he meets a North-African who is one of the most sensitively drawn of all characters in the book.
Throughout the story, Zen’s characteristic cynicism is evident, allied to very considerable – if not foolhardy – bravery. He is aware of the uphill task he faces in bringing criminals to justice and that the dangers that he faces from those he is trying to catch are as great as those from politicians and other police colleagues. However, his determination never wavers.
This is not one of the better books in the series but lovers of superior crime fiction will enjoy it for its atmosphere and the political and historical information that Dibdin sprinkles into the narrative. Fans of the author will require no urging. The book is somewhat longer than many of the author’s best books but there is ample evidence of the literary skill with which he elevated crime writing to ‘real’ literature.
Whilst Zen’s stories are set in different parts of Italy and so may be read as stand-alone books, it would be advisable to read this book after ‘A Long Finish’ in order to understand the back story of Zen and Carla, and how and why Zen has ended up in the violent ‘backwater’ of Sicily, 8/10.
The story itself is intriguing enough to keep you interested throughout. Also from beginning to end, the author uses such apt metaphors and description of the Sicilian atmosphere and the hot summer climate adds an extra dimension which I found compelling. There were a couple of occasions however when it felt long winded in detail and got lost in some "scenes" almost as if pointless to the plot, but I think if yon just go with those passages, you do find yourself absorbed into the drama. I won't say annoying about the plot because there is plenty of that already in the various synopses.
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