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Così fan tutti

An Aurelio Zen mystery by Michael Dibdin

In this fifth book of the Aurelio Zen series, the detective has been sent off in disgrace to work in Naples. 

He takes a liking to the chaotic, southern Italian city and resolves to enjoy himself and do as little work as possible.

The novel cleverly mimics the plot of Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte, the title of which is literally translated, referring to women, as "Thus do they all" , and colloquially as “They're all like that” or “All women behave the same”.

While Zen tries to keep a low profile in his role at the police station at the port, some sinister forces are at work in Naples, trying to clean up the city by removing corrupt politicians, top mafia bosses and dodgy businessmen from circulation.

The operation named Strade Pulite, clean streets, involves literally carting them away in a rogue refuse truck.

A chance meeting with a woman ends up with Zen embroiled in a plot to disentangle her daughters from the clutches of two young men she thinks are not worthy of them.

Naples is the setting for Michael Dibdin's book
Naples is the setting for Michael Dibdin's book
Here is where the plot of the novel begins to resemble the opera of almost the same name. Where the opera puts two young women to the test, the novel does the same to the two young men, hence it is called Così fan tutti, with a masculine ending.

Filling the role of Don Alfonso in the opera is Aurelio Zen. He has a bet with the two young women that their lovers will not stay faithful to them while they are away studying in London.

In the opera, the two men are sent away to war and the two women left behind are put to the test. 

In the book two beautiful Albanian women are brought in to try to tempt the two young men. In the opera it is the two men who have supposedly gone away to war who come back to test their women, disguised as two Albanians.

At the same time Zen is rather unwillingly trying to solve a crime that has been made the responsibility of the port police, while simultaneously trying to deal with his personal problems, which involve his mother, his ex-wife and his ex-girlfriend.

As happens in the opera, the denouement scene sees all the ends neatly tied up, thanks to the expert handling of the story by Dibdin, who springs a few surprises on the reader at the end.

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