Sunday, February 15, 2009

the last book I read

End Games by Michael Dibdin.

This is the eleventh and last of the Aurelio Zen novels; not because it necessarily marks any particular end-point in his fictional existence, but for the rather more mundane reason that his creator Michael Dibdin died at the age of 60 shortly after completing it.

It's nice to be able to report, then, that after a couple of slightly ropey recent instalments in the series (Medusa was good, but And Then You Die and Back To Bologna were pretty slight) this is a proper, chunky (414 pages) Zen novel like the best ones in the series (Dead Lagoon and A Long Finish, I would say - numbers 4 and 6 in the series respectively).

Anyway, the plot. We're in Calabria, right down at the toe of Italy. A gruesome murder opens the book - an American is forced to walk up to an old ruined hill-top town, whereupon someone remotely detonates the explosive concealed in his shirt collar, with predictably messy results.

It later transpires that the murdered man had some family connections to the area, and also that he was a lawyer representing a company making a film there; a crazy end times/Book of Revelation thing financed by a loony American computer games multi-millionaire. It further transpires that the film is just a front for a search for the buried tomb of Alaric the Visigoth and its associated treasure, which plays a major role in the computer guy's bizarre Rapture fantasies. Aurelio Zen, standing in temporarily for the chief of police in the region, has to pull all this together and penetrate the secretive local community to get to the bottom of the mystery.

It's slightly more absurd than the best of the early Zen novels, and the computer geek with the T-shirt and shorts who calls everyone "dude" is a bit of a caricature, but there's enough colourful Italian detail and twisty-turnyness (and the odd bit of ultraviolence) to keep the reader entertained. A pity there won't be any more, though - doubly so for Dibdin himself, obviously, what with him being dead and all.

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