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If I needed one word to describe this book then it would be "slow" as the plot moves along at the pace of a snail crawling through a special snail glue designed to slow down snails.
The central character in this book is Police Commissioner Aurelio Zen who works in Rome owever following the death of a fellow police officer he is assigned to desk duties and he is a bit of an embarressment to the authorities however the kidnapping of a wealthy industrialist Ruggiero Miletti opens up a window of opportunity for him and he is dispatched to Perugia to head up the investigation however an outsider rom Rome is not well received in the provences.
Zen is an interesting enough character within certain limitations as wheter by design or not he remained a bit o an enigma throughout the story.
This is not a book I would recommend, it has a complete lack of pace and while I liked the slightly unusual features given to the book by having a central character based in Italy which is nice and different to the normal crime thrillers I read that are based in the UK or USA however the problem with this crime thriller is that it lacks thrills.
I had been looking for a new detective series to get my teeth into and after reading a couple of reviews on the Aurelio Zen character found within a series of books by Michael Dibdin I hoped that my search may have come to end and so I got hold of a copy of Ratking from my good friends at Amazon.
Unfortunately I have to report that my search is not over after finding this to be a slow moving and not very inspiring read. There are a couple of positives that might make it appealing to some readers but I definitely found it to be far from a compelling read even if it did pick up a bit towards the end.
The hero of the piece Police Commissioner Aurelio Zen starts the story in a desk bound administrative role in the Rome police headquarters with his career very firmly sidelined follow the death of a colleague on a previous case. Following the kidnap of industrialist Ruggiero Miletti who heads up one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Perugia a series of phone calls are made to bring political pressure upon the heads of Zens bosses to send someone from Rome to lead the stalled investigation and thus it transpires that Zen finds himself being transferred to Perugia to find a case where no one wants him, not least the family of the kidnapped man nor the local police officers whose authority he is taking over.
The Main Character
This for me was one of the weaknesses of the book as the even by the end of the book I still felt like I had little understanding of the character of Zen. He certainly does not sit comfortably within any stereotypical Italian that I might have had which in itself is not a bad thing however the fact that Im struggling to adequately describe his character tells you that there is something lacking in the book. He does come across as quite a reserved and quiet man and these qualities men that he does not really generate any strong feelings in the reader, he is the sort of faceless paper pusher that does not have the personality to carry a storyline particularly as the story focuses so much on him with very little interest shown in the other characters even if a couple of these show some potential to be of interest this is never fully developed..
One of the problems may have been that I read the book over quite a long period of time, partly due to work pressures however also partly due to the fact that it was never really much of a page turner in the first place and never properly captured my interest.
There are some positives to be taken from the book and for some people these may hold a greater interest than they ultimately did for me.
Firstly the fact that the book is set in Italy made it interesting as apart from parts of any Dan Brown book or the Godfather I cannot think of any book I have read where Italy provides the whole backdrop. The book does give a useful insight into the corruption within Italian public life and the police force (they at least do manage to prosecute their leaders) and this is cleverly woven into the storyline right from the beginning showing how Zen has to play the political game to his advantage in order to have any success in his investigation. It is these political machinations that provide some of the interest to the storyline as well as allowing the reader to get an idea of the Italian judicial system where unlike in the UK judges appear to have some investigative powers of their own.
The second positive is that in the descriptive passages Dibdin has a very smooth easy to read style which does help to paint a quite vivid picture in the readers mind of the scenery and architecture of the region as well as the nuances of the local people.
The final positive is that at the books conclusion the whole pace of the story does pick up and the ending is quite satisfactory and most importantly believable which is not something that can be said about all of the detective thrillers I have read in the past.
The first negative is inferred from the last positive and that is that the pace in the first two thirds of the book is just far too slow and ponderous with very little seeming to happen at all. There was no real hook to get the reader involved in the book and the fact that the book plodded on relentlessly was one of the reasons it took me so long to read. This is a major problem with the book and the main reason why I would only give it two stars.
The second negative is that for a detective Zen appears to very little detecting until suddenly seemingly solving the case with 48 hours of activity. Part of the problem here is Dibdin attempts to portray a character who keeps things close to his chest and away from his colleagues however this means that it is also kept from the reader as well. If it is an attempt to recreate the frustration that Zen is feeling then maybe it works but for me that frustration nearly resulted in my giving up on the book which Im pretty certain is not what the author would have wanted.
Dibdin was raised in the UK and now lives in Seattle and has written a number of books in the Aurelio Zen series as well as half a dozen stand alone novels.
I must be honest I found this book quite disappointing and would not recommend it as it was much too slow moving for my liking and there was a lack of character development and more importantly I found it very hard to feel any sort of empathy for the main character.
Published by Faber the rrp is £6.99 however it can be obtained from Amazon for £5.59 new or from a penny in the new and used section. ISBN 0-571-15421-2. Alternatively my copy will be available for a swap on readitswapit very soon.
I've read a couple of books by Michael Dibdin over the last few months and both times have been really disappointed. Both started off well; but ended up drifting to and end in a very unsatisfactory way. Having been assured by quite a few people that Dibdin's Aurelio Zen series was much better than his non-series novels, I decided to persevere and luckily hit the jackpot this time. The first in the Aurelio Zen series, this book was written in 1988.
For those of you that were wondering, a ratking is not the king of a pack of rats, but refers to the situation that evolves when rats breeding in close proximity to each other begin to entwine and knot together. Eventually this knot merges into a lump of flesh and the rats, now one being, are called a ratking. The choice of title does become apparent as the book progresses.
Michael Dibdin was born in Wolverhampton and completed a BA and MA in English in the UK and Canada respectively. He wrote a couple of books before he began the Aurelio Zen series, which he started as a result of spending four years teaching English in Italy - Aurelio Zen is a detective in the Italian police force. He has so far written ?? books in the series, whilst continuing to write non-series books.
Police Commissioner Aurelio Zen believes that his career in Rome has come to an end. He was punished for a mistake he made in the past by being forced into a desk job with no chance of promotion. Then he is suddenly transferred to Perugia to work on a kidnapping case that the local police force has not been able to solve. Knowing that there must be a reason for this sudden transferral, he is suspicious; but nevertheless accepts the post.
Ruggiero Miletti, the head of a prominent local family, was kidnapped one evening on his return from a friend's house. The kidnappers are shortly in touch with the family to arrange payment and the payment is made, but Ruggiero is not released and the family are pressed for yet more money. The family, three sons and a daughter, seem reluctant to involve the police, which makes the police suspicious that perhaps one of the family is involved in the kidnapping originally. Can Zen crack the case without the help of the family? And is one of Ruggiero's children involved in his kidnapping? If so, why?
Aurelio Zen is a thinking detective - he doesn't give much away until he is sure that he is right. This doesn't make him boring though. The fact that Italy's society is generally quite corrupt (and this includes the police force) is an advantage for Zen, who can use certain situations for his own purpose. This enables him to bring out his somewhat sardonic sense of humour, which I really enjoyed. He is not particularly confident in his abilities; this does not just include his work, but also his relationship with American divorcee Ellen. I was impressed by Zen - I've become somewhat jaded by fictional detectives, because so few of them are anything special anymore - but Zen is an exception. Can't wait to read more in the series.
The frankly quite nasty Miletti family are well-portrayed, although not so well that it is clear if any of them are involved in the kidnapping. It suits Dibdin's purposes to have all four children, Cinzia, Pietro, Silvio and Daniele equally unpleasant so that the reader is unclear which, if any of them, is guilty. Mixed in with the family are Cinzia's husband, Gianluigi, and the family secretary, Ivy. Their relationship is convoluted (the ratking of the title), all of which adds to the intricacy of the plot. Fabulous.
This was a pleasant surprise. Michael Dibdin has finally met expectations and has written a book that is equally good throughout with no phasing out towards the end. He has also introduced a great detective in Aurelio Zen and I can't wait to read more. One of the things that I liked about the book is that it is set in Italy and it was interesting to read about police practices in another country. It always seems such a big deal when an English detective does something illegal; this is obviously par for the course in Italy and it does add entertainment to the plot. From what I understand of the Italian legal system, this is a realistic portrayal. There is really nothing to criticise about this book, other than the fact that it made me want more. Highly recommended.
The book is available from Amazon for £5.59. Published by Faber and Faber, it has 292 pages. ISBN: 0571154212. The book is also available in an omnibus with the second and third book in the series for £6.59.
Police Commissioner Aurelio Zen is transferred from Rome to Perugia to take over a kidnapping case involving a rich and powerful family. Winner of the Gold Dagger Award.