Monday, October 10, 2016

Ratking, by Michael Dibdin

I typically try to read series of books in order, whether or not they're sequential, but with Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen series, I goofed, reading #8, And Then You Die, first. Dibdin is a British writer, but after teaching in Perugia for some years, he published the first mystery featuring Detective Aurelio Zen, Ratking, in 1988. It won the Gold Dagger Award for the Best Crime Novel of the year.

In this novel, Zen has run afoul of his superiors in Rome, and he is sent off to Perugia to work on a kidnapping case:  An elderly tycoon has been kidnapped. The problem? His adult children, each more outrageously dysfunctional than the other, seem little interested in retrieving their father. The father's secretary likens the situation to a "ratking"---a group of rats whose tails get hopelessly entangled. Needless to say, it rarely ends well.

Dibdin always makes sure his detective is well-fed, and the meals always have a sacramental ring to them. In this book, Zen's favourite restauranteur rants about the modern culinary blasphemy.
Ottavio outlined in pained tones his opinion that people were not eating enough these days. All they ever thought about was their figures, a selfish, short-sighted view contributing directly to the impoverishment of restaurateurs and the downfall of civilization as we know it. What the Goths, the Huns and the Turks had failed to do was now being achieved by a conspiracy of dietitians who were bringing the country to its knees with all this talk of cholesterols, calories and the evils of salt. Where were we getting to? Such were his general grievances.
I like a well-written, cleverly crafted detective story just fine, but Dibdin's lexicon is a bonus. Although 'wannabe' has earned its place in the dictionary, it's handy to have a more classic synonym on hand.
Like most police drivers, Luigi Palottino clearly considered himself a Formula One contender manqué...
Sad, dismal, dreary all get the point across, but nothing says morbidly depressing like lugubrious.
...the Miletti property, a lugubrious baroque monstrosity...
When he's finally managed to unsnarl the rats' tails in this case, he returns home to Rome to find that his long-time, live-in American girlfriend is returning to the United States. Like those of so many literary detectives, Zen's love life is a bit of a shambles.
"The thing is, I'm going home, Aurelio." But you are at home, he thought. Then he realized what she meant.
"For a holiday?"
She shook her head.
"You're joking," he said. She walked over to the glass jars where she kept rice and pulses, pulled out an envelope tucked under one and handed it to him.
"Whether you travel for business or pleasure, MONDITURIST!" it read. "Our business is to make travelling a pleasure!" Inside there was an airline ticket to New York in her name.
"I decided one night last week. For some reason I had woken up and then I couldn't get back to sleep. I just lay there and thought about this and that. And it suddenly struck me how foreign I feel here, and what that was doing to me." She paused, biting one fingernail. "People who have been exiles too long seem to end up as either zombies or vampires. I don't want that to happen to me."
I read that passage and wondered how long his girlfriend had lived in Italy when she made that statement. How long will I have been exiled in southeast Asia before I begin to feel the same? Some days I think I already have.  

1 comment:

  1. "How long will I have been exiled in southeast Asia before I begin to feel the same? Some days I think I already have."
    (Sheds a tear)
    I have always seen you as one of us. One of the family, even.


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