The final installment in this award-winning series brings Italian police detective Aurelio Zen to remote Calabria, where the Venice-born-and-bred detective feels uncomfortably like a foreigner.
It's a routine assignment, and Aurelio Zen is biding his time in Calabria while the locals go about their mysterious business. Routine, that is, until an advance scout for an American film company suddenly vanishes. Beneath the surface of a tight-knit traditional community--with secrets and loyalties that go back centuries--violent forces are at work. Zen is determined to find a way to penetrate the code of silence and uncover the truth behind a brutal murder. However, his mission is complicated by another secret that has drawn strangers from the other side of the world on a hunt for buried treasure-a search that has been launched by a single-minded player with millions to spend pursuing a bizarre and deadly obsession.
It's a devilishly suspenseful and entertaining adventure that only Aurelio Zen could stumble into--and only Michael Dibdin could serve up. In End Games, the award-winning author has crafted a suspenseful, action-packed thriller full of unexpected twists and turns--a story that takes us deep into a proud and ancient culture and into the darkest corners of the human heart.
The wry 11th and final Insp. Aurelio Zen mystery (after 2006's Back to Bologna) will leave the series' many fans in renewed mourning for Gold Dagger-winner Dibdin (1947-2007). When the corpse of American attorney Peter Newman is discovered in Calabria after an apparent botched kidnapping, Zen finds himself probing the rumor that Newman was not only born in Italy but heir to a family of southern Italian landowners. The detective must sort out other possible motives for the crime, including the dead man's work for an eccentric Hollywood producer hoping to outdo Mel Gibson with a film based on the Book of Revelations. The writing occasionally soars ("There is a unique flavor of melancholy to remote railway stations during the long intervals between the arrival and departure of trains"), and Zen's apt observations of his country's foibles and the unromantic portrayal of Calabria help to balance the sometimes brutal plot. This quirky series will be missed. (Aug.)
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August 12, 2007
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Excerpt from End Games by Michael Dibdin
The ferocious character of the Barbarians was displayed, in the funeral of a hero, whose valour, and fortune, they celebrated with mournful applause. By the labour of a captive multitude, they forcibly diverted the course of the Busentinus, a small river that washes the walls of Cosentia. The royal sepulchre, adorned with the splendid spoils, and trophies, of Rome, was constructed in the vacant bed; the waters were then restored to their natural channel; and the secret spot, where the remains of Alaric had been deposited, was forever concealed by the inhuman massacre of the prisoners, who had been employed to execute the work.
Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The dead man parked his car at the edge of the town, beside a crumbling wall marking the bounds of a rock-gashed wasteland of crippled oaks and dusty scrub whose ownership had been the subject of litigation for more than three decades, and which had gradually turned into an unoffcial rubbish tip for the local population. The arrival of the gleaming, silver-grey Lancia was noted by several pairs of eyes, and soon known to everyone in the town, but despite the fact that the luxury saloon was left unguarded and unlocked, no attempt was made to interfere with it, because the driver was a dead man.
The only ones to see him close to were three boys, aged between five and ten, who had been acting out a boar hunt in the dense shrubbery under the cliff face. The five-year-old, who was the prey, had just been captured and was about to be dispatched when a man appeared on the path just a few metres away. He was in his fifties or early sixties,of medium stature, with pale skin and a shock of hair that was profuse and solidly black. He wore a black suit of some cheap synthetic fabric, and a wide collar, almost clerical, but matte and black, encircled his neck. From it, beneath the throat, hung a large metal crucifix. The man's chest and feet were bare. He trudged silently up the steep path towards the old town, looking down at the ground in front of him, and showed no sign of having seen the trio of onlookers.
As soon as he was out of sight the two younger boys were all for following him, scared but daring each other not to be. Sabatino, the eldest, put paid to that idea with a single jerk of the head. No one had confided in him about this event, but the community in which they all lived was a plangent sounding board when it came to news that might affect its members. Sabatino hadn't heard the primary note that must have been struck somewhere, but he had unconsciously absorbed the secondary vibrations resonating in other parts of that complex instrument. "Danger!" they had whispered. "Lie low, keep away, know nothing." Discarding his role as the renowned and fearless hunter of wild boar for that of the responsible senior child, he rounded up his friend Francesco and the other boy and led them down a side path back to the safety of the town.
The sole witness to what happened next was a figure surveying the scene through binoculars from a ridge about a kilometre away on the other side of the valley. The dead man followed the track until it rose above the last remaining trees and ceased to be a rough line of beaten earth and scruffy grass, to become a stony ramp hewn out of the cliff face and deeply rutted by the abrasive force of ancient iron-rimmed cartwheels. By now il morto was clearly suffering, but he struggled on, pausing frequently to gasp for breath before tackling another stretch of the scorched rock on which the soles of his feet left bloody imprints. Above his bare head, the sun hovered like a hawk in the cloudless sky.
The isolated hill he was climbing was almost circular and had been eroded down to the underlying volcanic core and then quarried for building materials, so that in appearance it was almost fiat, as though sheared off with a saw. When the dead man finally reached level ground, he collapsed and remained still for some time. The scene around him was one of utter desolation. The vestiges of a fortified gateway, whose blocks of stone had been too large and stubborn to remove, survived at the brink of the precipice where the crude thoroughfare had entered the former town, but looking towards the centre the only structures remaining above ground level were the ruins of houses, a small church, and opposite it an imposing fragment of walling framing an ornate doorway approached by five marble steps. All around lay heaps of rubble with weeds and small bushes growing out of them. The rounded paving stones of the main street were still clearly visible, however, and the dead man followed them, moaning with pain, until the cobbles opened out into a small piazza.
He then proceeded to the church, bowing his head and crossing himself on the threshold. Ten minutes passed before he emerged. He stopped for a moment to stare up at the massive remnants of stone frontage which dominated the square, then crossed over to the set of steps leading up to the gaping doorway, knelt down and slowly crawled up the steps on his knees, one by one, until he reached the uppermost. A wild fig tree had established itself in the charred wasteland within the former dwelling, feeding on some hidden source of water far below. The dead man bent over it and kissed one of its leaves, then bowed down until his forehead touched the slightly elevated doorstep.
The man watching from the ridge opposite put down his binoculars, lifted what looked like a bulky mobile phone off the dashboard of the Jeep Grand Cherokee beside him, extended the long recessed antenna and then pressed a button on the fascia. The resulting sound echoed about the walls of the valley for some time, but might easily have been mistaken for distant thunder.