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Donna Leon
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Michael Dibdin
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Magdalen Nabb
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Massimo Carlotto
Gianrico Carofiglio
Carlo Lucarelli
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Set in Bologna
(Emilia Romagna)
©2005
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Michael Dibdin

The Aurelio Zen Mystery Series

Back to Bologna

BOOK REVIEW

Dibdin didn’t take his 10th novel seriously, neither should you!

As an avid reader of crime series set in Italy, I eagerly await the next work by the pillars of the genre--Donna Leon, Magdalen Nabb, and Michael Dibdin. Both Leon with BLOOD FROM A STONE and Nabb with THE INNOCENT have delivered top-notch novels in their continuing series this year. Unfortunately, Dibdin fell short with BACK TO BOLOGNA. As is often the case with Dibdin, we have to deal more with Zen’s continuing personal and relationship problems than with the crime and its solution. Zen’s really a mess this time around. His Lucca-based girlfriend, Gemma Santini, from book #8 is fed up with him and wants to dump him.

Dibdin’s new novel is not a mystery or a thriller. However, it is a very cleverly written spoof of the genre and quite comedic. I found it disappointing and not up to par with many of his other Aurelio Zen works.

He starts the book with the introduction of a massive cast of characters on an eventual collision course with each other. His leading characters are a flashy singing TV chef named Romano Rinaldi and a University of Bologna semiotics professor named Edgardo Ugo (as in Umberto Eco). To further the spoof, he names Zen’s contact officer at the Bologna questura Salvatore Brunetti. (For you affectionatos--Salvatore is the first name of Nabb’s Marshal and Brunetti is the last name of Leon’s beloved Venetian Commissario.) Then further on in the book, he introduces a Carabinieri major named Guido Guarnaccia. (Again, for you affectionatos--Guido is the first name of Leon’s Commissario and Guarnaccia is the last name of Nabb’s Marshal.) Just how far is Dibdin willing to go to get a laugh?

I found the ending predictable with no suspense at all. Dibdin also missed the opportunity to give us a keen insight into the fantastic city of Bologna. He failed miserably in this regard. His descriptions were nothing compared to John Grisham’s wonderful portrayal of Bologna in THE BROKER.

If you like comedy relief, this book is for you. It’s cleverly written and very funny--but not serious enough for my taste.

  Carlo Vennarucci - August 2005


Jacket Notes: When the corpse of the shady industrialist who owns the local football team is found both shot and stabbed with a Parmesan knife, Italian police inspector Aurelio Zen is called to Bologna to oversee the investigation.

Recovering slowly from surgery, and fleeing an equally painful crisis in his personal life, Zen is only too happy to take on what at first appears to be a routine and relatively undemanding assignment. But soon a world-famous university professor is shot with the same gun, immediately after publicly humiliating Italy's leading celebrity television chef, the case - intertwined with the fates of an earnest student of semiotics and a mysterious young immigrant who claims to be from Ruritania - spins out of control, and Zen is in no condition to rise to the challenge. There's also a wild card in the pack - Tony Speranza, Bologna's most flamboyant private detective.

Back to Bologna is dazzlingly plotted, features a cast of vivid and idiosyncratic characters, and along the way delivers both comic and serious insights into the realities of today's Italy.
(©Faber and Faber)