[ilds] Dibdin and Durrell

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Fri Oct 5 06:08:25 PDT 2007

I believe that previous reviewers have connected the styles and names of 
Dibdin and Durrell.




October 5, 2007
Wall Street Journal
October 5, 2007; Page W5

By Michael Dibdin
(Pantheon, 335 pages, $23.95)

"End Games" features the capable and circumspect Italian police 
commissioner Aurelio Zen, whom we have come to know over a whole series 
of novels. Michael Dibdin's text, as usual, evokes not so much the terse 
action scenes of hardboiled masters as the word-drunk prose of such 
language-besotted authors as Anthony Burgess, Vladimir Nabokov and 
*Lawrence Durrell*.

This installment finds the peripatetic Zen (too expert and honest to 
stay long in any one city, it seems) posted to remote Calabria, a 
southern region at the toe of Italy's "boot," where the natives are 
secretive and the weather explosive. A visiting American has been killed 
in a grotesque ritual -- but then it seems that he was not American 
after all, but Calabrian. As Zen moves in ways both straightforward and 
roundabout to capture a killer, he discovers a variety of distinctive 
characters entwined in the dead man's fate: a dot-com gaming 
entrepreneur, his Vietnamese man- Friday fixer, a sybaritic Italian film 
director, a beautiful chameleon of a female police-operative.

"End Games" brims with clever reversals, elegant imagery, elaborate word 
play, violent shocks, refined and ribald jokes, verbal mimicry, and 
memorable set pieces. The atmospherics alone make the novel something 
different from the ordinary detective story and serve, for gullible 
Americans, as a corrective to the burnished image of Italy that shines 
out from the pages of travel magazines and silly novels.

In one scene, for instance, a character arrives at a fast-food café and 
looks about him: "There were a dozen students there, hanging out rather 
than actually eating, their voices struggling to be heard above a 
barrage of rap music sweetened by Italian vowels. The decor was upscale 
public lavatory, only with bleached-out halogen lighting, mirrors just 
about everywhere except the floor, and clunky plastic tables and chairs 
in primary colours like a play-set for giant toddlers. That was okay. 
Tom had already figured out that there were few things to touch Italian 
taste at its best and none to equal it at its worst."

Alas, "End Games" is aptly titled, for Michael Dibdin died in March, in 
Seattle, at the age of 60. He was a stellar example of the sort of 
formidable talent who may always take shelter within the accommodating 
genre of crime fiction. The next time you hear a snob speak 
condescendingly of the detective story, tell them to go take a hike -- 
or to read a Dibdin novel.

--Tom Nolan
URL for this article:

Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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