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Sunday, January 31, 2021



An Aurelio Zen Mystery by Michael Dibdin

Once again Detective Aurelio Zen finds himself with an awkward case to investigate that could have serious political implications.

Lake Lugano is one of the locations to which Zen's inquiries lead in Medusa
Lake Lugano is one of the locations to which
Zen's inquiries lead in Medusa
Austrian cavers exploring abandoned military tunnels in the Italian alps have discovered the body of a man at the bottom of a deep shaft.

Zen is asked to look into the case even though it has been assumed the death was accidental.

But then the body is stolen from the morgue and the Defence Ministry puts a news blackout on the case.

Zen has already been to see the cave and been given photographs of the body by the cavers.

But his superior, Brugnoli, summons him back to Rome and arranges to meet him secretly in a park to discuss the delicate political nuances.

The official line is that the body is that of a soldier who was accidentally killed during a training exercise many years ago. The defence ministry say he was a member of an elite special force modelled on the British SAS that never existed officially and therefore secrecy about the discovery has to be maintained.

Brugnoli tells him that because of the delicate state of the current political situation in Italy there is a lot at stake both for his department and the future of the country but that a skilled operator such as Zen might be able to turn up some interesting material that could be useful.

He says that ideally he wants a huge scandal that will be front page news and implicate the entire defence ministry, but that he will settle for anything that can be used against them.

Zen is to work on the case on his own and not to communicate with him overtly, but to arrange another clandestine meeting with him if necessary.

Zen’s enquiries take him to Milan, the Po Valley and Lake Lugano on the border between Italy and Switzerland. He has to operate unofficially and work round the clock but he manages to find out why the dead man was killed and by whom and achieves justice for the victim. With the help of a veteran journalist he goes to visit, he even manages to get the optimum result his superior has asked for.

Brilliantly plotted and beautifully written, I think that Medusa is one of Michael Dibdin’s finest novels and well worth reading.

I agree with one of the reviews on the back cover that says: ‘Dibdin’s Medusa is just as good as an Italian holiday.’

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(Lake Lugano picture by Jonathan Reichel via Pixabay)


Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Wings of the Spinx

An Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri


Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano stories are set in southeast Sicily
Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano stories are
set in southeast Sicily 
Inspector Montalbano is called in to investigate after the naked body of a young woman is found in a rubbish dump on his territory. She has been shot in the face and is unrecognisable, but there is a tattoo of a sphinx moth on her left shoulder.

Montalbano is struggling with his feelings about getting older and anxious that his long distance, but long lasting relationship with his girlfriend, Livia, is in trouble.

But he sets out to try to establish the victim’s identity, with the help of Mimi Augello, his deputy, and his loyal and hard working officer, Fazio.

The inspector soon discovers that there are three other young women in the area with the same tattoo on their left shoulders but they can’t help him identify the dead woman as they are all missing.

When his enquiries lead him to interview a Monsignor, the head of a religious charity, who says they rescued the girls from sex traffickers, the Inspector suddenly smells a huge rat.

But he is hampered in his work when he is hauled up before his boss, the Commissioner, who is angry that his questions have offended the Monsignor.

He is also under time pressure because he has promised to free himself from work to be able to spend some meaningful time with Livia.

It doesn’t help his mood that the weather is so bad the fishermen can’t go out to sea and day after day there is no fresh fish on the menu at Enzo’s Trattoria.

But Montalbano has to keep going, to get justice for the dead girl and to be able to free himself of the case to concentrate on his relationship with Livia.

He has just unmasked the killer and is on the way to the airport to meet Livia when someone else involved in the case is shot in the face.

He has to race against time to tie up the loose ends so he can hand the case over to the chief of the Flying Squad but still get the resolution he wants to achieve. There are many twists and turns and the suspense is maintained until he finally boards a plane to Genoa in his desperate pursuit of Livia to try to save their relationship.

But when he arrives at Livia’s apartment in Boccadasse, a village just outside Genoa, Montalbano gets a big surprise…

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More Montalbano stories reviewed:

August Heat

The Patience of the Spider

Rounding the Mark

More reading:

Andrea Camilleri profile and full list of Montalbano titles


Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Marshal’s Own Case

A Marshal Guarnaccia Investigation by Magdalen Nabb

Marshall Guarnaccia investigates grisly goings-on after dark in Florence
Marshall Guarnaccia investigates grisly
goings-on after dark in Florence
Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia’s superior officer in the Carabinieri, Captain Maestrangelo, puts him in charge of a murder case after a chopped up body is found in plastic bags on his territory.

It takes the Marshal away from his familiar world in the Carabinieri station at the Pitti Palace and plunges him into the nocturnal world of the transgender prostitutes operating in Florence.

For despite having breasts, the body which has been neatly sawn into pieces and dispersed between a number of plastic bags, turns out to be that of a man not a woman.

Despite observing that the Marshal never has much to say for himself, the Captain rates his ability and knows that the Marshal doesn’t miss much, as evidenced by his previous successes.

But the Marshal has to learn quickly, in order to operate within a community he has no experience of, and which seems a long way from the daily difficulties of tourists and their lost property and passports that he is used to.

He is dismayed when the Captain hands him a pile of files relating to previous murders of prostitutes and their clients in Florence, all of which are marked Unsolved.

Magdalen Nabb set 14
crime novels in Florence
But the Captain does assign to him one of his own men, Ferrini, a friendly and talkative officer, who knows his way around in the shadowy world of transgender prostitution.

Guarnaccia quickly develops some sympathy for the tragic men, who have had surgery and been given hormone treatments to make them look like women, so that they can satisfy the desires of their regular clients, who are usually seemingly respectable men living in Florence.

When Peppina, one of the transgender prostitutes, is arrested and locked in a cell, suspected of the murder of what turns out to be Lulu, one of her rivals, Guarnaccia believes she is not guilty of the crime.

He is so sure of Peppina’s innocence, despite the evidence against her, he insists on continuing his inquiries, even though he is urged to drop the investigation because the Prosecutor has said he is satisfied with the result.

Against a backdrop of other problems, with one of his two young sons not doing well at school and getting into trouble, and his wife urging him to look for the missing son of an acquaintance from back home in Sicily, he keeps going out at night in terrible weather to try to solve the crime to his own satisfaction.

His patience and tenacity pays off and he catches the real killer, strives to get the most lenient sentence for Peppina for other charges she is facing, and can then finally turn his attention to his own, troubled young son.

This is another compelling mystery by Magdalen Nabb, which exposes a shadowy part of life going on at night in the beautiful, historic city of Florence. 

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Friday, November 27, 2020

A Sea of Troubles

A Commissario Brunetti novel by Donna Leon

After a fisherman and his son are murdered and left on their boat, which is then set on fire and sunk, Commissario Brunetti has to go to the island of Pellestrina in the Venetian lagoon to investigate the crime.

But the Commissario and his Sergeant, Vianello, find themselves up against a brick wall in the close-knit community of Pellestrina, where the tough fishermen and their downtrodden wives stubbornly avoid cooperating with the police.

The lagoon can be treacherous in bad weather

The beautiful and stylish Signorina Elettra, the Vice-Questore’s secretary, reveals she has a cousin who lives on the island and volunteers to visit her for a few days to see what she can find out.

Despite his misgivings about her safety, Brunetti finds he can’t dissuade her and she takes some holiday from the Questura to go to the island.

Brunetti and Vianello continue to pursue their enquiries officially, returning to Pellestrina, which is south of the Lido out in the lagoon, in the police launch, piloted by the long-serving Bonsuan.

Meanwhile, Signorina Elettra enjoys her holiday, while maintaining her cover, but finds herself falling for a handsome stranger she is introduced to in a bar.

The atmosphere of Pellestrina, which is only a few kilometres from Venice, but where the inhabitants don’t even speaks the same dialect as the Venetians, is evoked well by Donna Leon. She displays her extensive knowledge of the island, which is just a short trip across the water from Venice, where she lives.

But the weather in this part of Italy in the spring can change quickly and as Brunetti is getting closer to the truth, a terrible storm descends, which puts them all at risk.

A Sea of Troubles won the Crime Writers’ Association Macallan Silver Dagger in 2000.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

August Heat

An Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri

Montalbano has been tasked by his girlfriend, Livia, with finding a villa near his Sicilian home for her and her friends to rent during the August holiday period. He finds it impossible, with all the estate agents laughingly telling him every property was let out ages ago.

Then, by some miracle he is notified of a cancellation. A nice house by the sea with access to the beach has become available only six miles from where he lives.

Montalbano's investigation gives him chance to
 cool off in the sea during the heat of August

But after Livia and her friends, a married couple with a young child, arrive, there is one disaster after another. They have to deal with invasions of cockroaches, rodents and spiders before they can settle down and enjoy their holiday.

After the couple’s young son goes missing, Livia calls in Montalbano to investigate. He discovers the child has fallen down a hole in the garden and accidentally discovered a hidden basement where he is trapped.

After the little boy has been rescued, Montalbano notices an old trunk in the basement and when he opens it, makes a grim discovery.

It is the final straw for the family and they leave with Livia, all blaming the whole fiasco on the hapless Montalbano.

The inspector launches an investigation after his discovery, with the assistance of two of his officers, the diligent Fazio and the comical Catarella.

But he is hampered by the scorching Sicilian weather making it difficult to work and also becomes distracted by his feelings for a beautiful, young blonde girl who is involved in the case.

Montalbano is kept going by taking long swims in the sea and making frequent visits to his favourite trattoria . He also enjoys the wonderful Sicilian delicacies prepared for him by his housekeeper, Adelina, such as pappanozza, boiled onions and potatoes mashed and served cold seasoned with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and purpiteddri, baby octopus in a sauce of tomatoes and olives.

Using his unorthodox sleuthing tactics and brilliant flashes of intuition he solves the case, achieving a Montalbano style of justice at the end.

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More reading:

Andrea Camilleri profile and full list of Montalbano titles


Friday, October 30, 2020

And Then You Die

An Aurelio Zen Mystery by Michael Dibdin

(Italian beach view by Hermann via Pixabay)
(Italian beach view by Hermann via Pixabay)
Detective Aurelio Zen is recuperating at a beach resort in Tuscany after a long stay in hospital following a bomb attack on his car.

But when a man who has cheekily taken his place on his allotted sunbed on the beach is shot dead one afternoon, Zen realises that the members of the Mafia who had tried to kill him at the end of the previous book, Blood Rain, have had another go,

The authorities want him alive and well so he can testify at an anti-Mafia trial in the US so they waste no time in shipping him out of his peaceful coastal retreat. This inconveniences Zen, who under a false name has been about to embark on a romance with a lady from Lucca he has met on the beach.

Zen is taken to a remote prison island off the coast of Tuscany to lie low for a while before he is put on the plane to America.

Once on board, Zen moves to another seat to make himself more comfortable. The male passenger who decides to move into his empty seat is later found dead.

Due to technical difficulties, later discovered to be sabotage, the plane is forced to land in Iceland. Zen's adventures continue there when he is attacked by a man with a knife in a street in Reykjavik.

The reader is then taken on a roller coaster ride with Zen that takes him back to Rome, on to Florence, back to the beach resort and then to Lucca, where he is finally able to concentrate on his blossoming relationship. But has he overcome all the obstacles to his happiness?

He is constantly puzzled by a slogan in English he keeps seeing on the front of T shirts, Life's a beach. But what has that got to do with the words on the back, And then you die? Finally when Zen is on board a boat out at sea everything falls into place for both Zen and the reader.

And Then You Die is another gripping read  from Michael Dibdin with some wonderful descriptions of locations in Italy.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Paper Moon

An Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri

(Sicilian street scene by Tama66 via Pixabay)
Montalbano has to spend time with not one, but two, beautiful women while carrying out a murder investigation and at times finds himself distracted from his duties.

The victim is a pharmaceutical salesman who was shot in the face at point blank range at a moment when his trousers were down.

One of the beautiful women is the dead man’s sister. She calls on Montalbano to investigate her brother’s disappearance and Montalbano finds himself fascinated with her eyes.

He accompanies her to her brother’s apartment and after they fail to find any trace of the missing man he reluctantly gives in to her request to break down the locked door of a small room on his terrace. Inside, Montalbano finds the body of the victim.

When he goes to see the dead man’s mistress, a blue eyed blonde in her thirties, he is stunned by her beauty and finds it hard to concentrate on the case.

While he carries out his investigation he is constantly preoccupied by the fear that he is becoming forgetful as he gets older. He even writes a letter to himself to remind him of the facts in the case.

He is assisted as always by the faithful, but hapless Catarella, who works round the clock to access files on the dead man’s computer for which he doesn’t have the password, confusing Montalbano by constantly referring to it as ‘the last word’.

Meanwhile, local  politicians are dying because of a batch of dirty cocaine that is in circulation and every day Montalbano’s appointment with the Commissioner has to be cancelled for some reason by Dr Lattes (with an s on the end) who telephones Catarella with the news.

Things are as complicated and hilarious as ever at police headquarters but a determined Montalbano gets to the truth in the end.

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