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by Michael Dibdin
Faber and Faber, July 2007
356 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0571236154

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All things must eventually meet their end and now both Michael Dibdin and his creation Aurelio Zen have played out their last acts. Dibdin died some months ago so that Zen's last game has also been played.

Aurelio Zen has been posted to Calabria. He couldn't have been sent much further, taking his authority-displeasing self away from the eyes of his superiors, and still remained in Italy. Naturally, the dubious peace of the area could not endure for long, under the circumstances, without a corpse disturbing Zen's tranquility.

And so it transpires when an American (or is he?) is kidnapped, dressed as a corpse, then executed. The man, Peter Newman, is ostensibly working for a movie company but the company is camouflage for a search for buried treasure, the fabled hoard of Alaric.

Tom Newman, son of the late Peter, arrives in Cosenza and almost immediately is caught up in the action as a translator for the Americans. Young and impressionable, it doesn't take him long to fall for the charms of one of the local beauties although her choice of profession might not be compatible with his own employment.

Being an Aurelio Zen novel, there are, of course, discourses on food. I certainly learned something about the uses of the humble tomato in Italian cuisine. I was surprised to discover that it is of relatively recent origin.

The fact that hatreds run deep in the south, to the extent that they can pertain for hundreds of years, is made quite clear. An octogenarian, Maria is a strong character and her observations aid Zen in following the case.

This is not the strongest Dibdin novel I have ever read but the plot is, nevertheless, competent and the characterisation adequate. Consider, though, the fate of the unfortunate Zen. Now devoid of his creator he stands on a railway platform in Cosenza, forever separated from his Gemma and never to be recalled to a more hospitable part of Italy unless Dibdin's literary executor has made provision for the series to be continued by another hand.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, September 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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