In the original dustsheet. Black board binding with cream title on the spine.
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An excellent follow-on from Blood Rain. This is Dibdin at his very best: Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 30 May 2022
Following the dramatic ending to ‘Blood Rain’, the last book in this series, the author introduces us to Pier Giorgio Butani relaxing on a private beach next to what will soon prove to be a corpse. Following a long period of convalescence Aurelio Zen has been given this new identity and hidden away in expectation of testifying at the trial of senior mafiosi that only he can identify.
Amongst Zen’s worries is that the trial will be held in America. Whilst no lover of foreign countries, ‘In theory, at least, he was prepared to at least consider going to any country which had formed part of the Roman Empire. If I had also been part of the political or trading empire of the Venetian Republic, so much the better.’
During his convalescence, Zen’s mother has died and his developing friendship with Gemma, a pharmacist whom he meets on the beach, is interrupted when he ordered to leave for America. Things go awry and, after his flight is diverted to Iceland, he is attacked and finds himself identified as a ‘skyggn’ [being able to see the ‘huldufólk’, hidden people who live in lived gnome-like rocks and crevasses]. When his services are no longer required in America, he returns to Rome to regain his identity within Criminalpol. It is fair to say that Iceland had little positive effect on him. In his absence, new brooms are at work in Rome getting rid of dead wood under the inspirational watchwords ‘personal choice, personal empowerment, personal responsibility’. To his great surprise, Zen is not pensioned off but given a vague position within the restructured organisation ‘phasing out all those Fascist-era positions associated with authoritarianism, repression and control of territory, and replacing them with more flexible classifications that emphasise the wide-ranging public-service nature of our work.’, a substantially increased salary and a further ‘transitional period’ to ‘go back to the beach, relax and recharge.’
The book is structured like a tour itinerary, with individual sections set in Versilia, Iceland, Rome and Lucca, where eventually Zen and Gemma come understand the reasons for the deaths that have been following the policeman around, and Dibdin suggests that, for a period at least, things may be looking up for Zen.
This is a short read, with little in the way of formal detection, but it is not an insubstantial one thanks to the quality of the writing, characterisation and the vivid descriptions of Italy and Iceland, and Zen’s rather bleak perspective on life, ‘The light looked as still and solid as a marble plinth, and yet it was changing even as he gazed at it. That was the real problem, he thought. The boundary between the darkness and the light was shifting all the time, but too subtly for us to be aware of it, except when it was too late.’
And Then You Die [the title is taken from a hippie statement on a T-shirt, ‘Life’s a beach and then you die’] is a step back from the rather more action-packed earlier books but its plotting, internal reflections and dollops of subtle humour make it one of the best. Taking Zen out of Italy was not wholly successful as the Inspector might have told the author. Given its link to ‘Blood Rain’ it would be best to read that novel first.
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