Having survived an explosive assassination attempt, Italian police detective Aurelio Zen finds himself convalescing at a Tuscan seaside resort town, where he is under orders to lie low until he is to testify at a much-anticipated Mafia trial. The quiet--and the boredom are relieved by the pleasant distraction of the beautiful Gemma, but just when he feels he is getting somewhere with her, a the discovery of corpse in his usual lounge chair brings his holiday to an abrupt end. Convinced that the Mafia has finally located him, the police put Zen on the move again, in startling directions.
And Then You Die, Michael Dibdin's latest installment in the Aurelio Zen series, is a wicked, twisting tale that pits Zen against invisible assassins and the possibility of forced retirement. As the plot unfolds, and Zen ponders his uncertain future, bodies are stacking up around him. And Then You Die is another exceptionally surprising, consistently funny triumph from a master of the genre.
In Dibdin's eighth diverting mystery to feature Aurelio Zen of Rome's elite Criminalpol unit, the hard-to-kill detective is still recuperating from his last adventure, Blood Rain (2000), which left him with a collapsed lung, broken ribs and various minor injuries. Zen has been given a new identity and use of a beachfront home in Versilia, a Tuscan coast resort town, while he awaits the beginning of a Mafia trial in America"a trial where he's supposed to be a surprise, and key, witness. Dibdin's wry humor is perfect for Zen's diffident approach as he stirs himself to rejoin the living, even attempting a casual beach flirtation. Zen's enforced idleness chafes, then evaporates as people too near him begin to die and the new strategies developed to conceal him seem to have (almost) fatal flaws. Dislocations and relocations send Zen to a prison island and then on an abortive journey to America with an unexpected and comical detour. More than one terrible fate may be in store for Zen even if he survives the repeated attempts on his life: being forced to retire or shunted off into some harmless bureaucratic niche to molder away. This is a slight, but enjoyable morsel of a book" easily devoured but with subtle flavorings that linger pleasurably. Zen's casual demeanor masks a shrewd mind, one that readers should enjoy seeing return to action.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 08, 2003
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Excerpt from And Then You Die by Michael Dibdin
Aurelio Zen was dead to the world. Under the next umbrella, a few desirable metres closer to the sea, Massimo Rutelli was just dead.
The two men were different in just about every other respect too. Zen was wearing a short-sleeved cotton shirt, lightweight wool trousers and leather sandals, and lay back in his deckchair in the shade of the beach umbrella with the brim of a Panama hat lowered over his eyes. Massimo Rutelli was naked except for a minuscule black swimsuit and an orange towel loosely draped over his upper back, and was lying prone on the green canvas lounger provided for sun-worshippers, his hands resting on the surface of the perfectly smooth sand. But the main difference between them was that one was dead and the other was dreaming.
The dream was one that Zen had had recurrently for many months now. He had no clear idea how long exactly. His memories of the period since l'incidente were as partial, confused and unreliable as those of his childhood. As for the dream, it always involved three fixed elements - a bridge, an imminent disaster, and a happy ending - but the specific properties, locations and special effects varied from version to version.
The bridge, for example, could be as small as a concrete culvert under a motorway, or a massive structure so long that neither end was visible from the middle. On one occasion it had been a wooden trestle across a fast-flowing river. A steam locomotive pulling a train was approaching the far side while the ignited fuse fizzed down through the undergrowth towards the stacked sticks of dynamite. But it had been lit too late, and the carriages crossed safely before the trestles were flung spectacularly up into the air, to fall again like so many matchsticks.
Another instance had been a rope footbridge suspended across an abyss whose depths were concealed by thick, slowly coiling currents of mist. In this case the threat had come in the form of a plague of shiny black beetles nibbling away at the ropes with their razor-sharp mandibles. It was only when the last strand seemed about to give way that it became apparent that the guy lines were not made of hemp but steel cable, against which the horde of insects was powerless.
This time, though, the ever-resourceful dream director had come up with yet another scenario. Since the 1960s, there had been talk of building a bridge across the Straits of Messina to replace the slow and inadequate ferry services which provided the only link between Sicily and the mainland. At over three kilometres, it would be one of the longest in the world if ever completed, but it was not so much the engineering and construction problems which had stymied the project thus far as the economic and political ones.
The estimated cost was so vast that it was commonly expressed in dollars - $4.5 billion was one suggested figure - since the corresponding amount in lire was of an order comprehensible only to astrophysicists. During the long decades when the Christian Democrats had ruled the country, no one had had any doubt into whose hands that money would go, not to mention the inevitable cost overruns and top-ups for unforeseen circumstances which would probably at least double the original estimate. Unfinished motorways, power plants built on hastily drained swamps and steel mills erected hundreds of kilometres from the nearest source of iron ore had been a commonplace at that period, but even the most brazen politicians backed off from the prospect of being seen to hand their friends and supporters the best part of one per cent of the country's GNP. And so the bridge had never been built.
But in Aurelio Zen's dream it had, and he was in the middle of it, speeding away from Sicily, back to the safety of the mainland. The bridge itself was not the graceful suspension span which the real-life engineers had designed, but a rusty old wrought-iron girder affair originally designed to carry a railway track, now fitted out with a makeshift roadway in the form of wooden planks. The car Zen was riding in was also a period piece, a huge pre-war convertible with bulgy cartoonish curves driven by a grim-looking uniformed chauffeur wearing aviator goggles. 'This is a dangerous road,' he muttered melodramatically. Zen took no notice. He was enjoying the bright sunlight, the invigorating breeze, the faint cries of the itinerant watermelon vendors on some distant beach.
They were going so fast that when the gaping hole in the planking appeared dead ahead they were almost on top of it. There was no time to brake, so the driver accelerated and the car leapt the gap, landing on the very edge of the further side, its rear wheels dangling over the void. Zen and the driver scrambled out just as the vehicle tilted back and slid off the edge of the planking. It was only now that Zen realized that there had been a third person in the car all along, a young man sitting in the back seat. He was neatly dressed in a suit and tie and seemed perfectly calm. The only odd detail was that his chest and feet were bare.