Friday, 25 April 2014

Ratking by Michael Dibdin

Review by JJ Marsh

What We Thought:
"A ratking is something that happens when many rats have to live in too small a space under too much pressure. Their tails become entwined and the more they strain and stretch to free themselves the tighter grows the knot binding them, until at last it becomes a solid mass of embedded tissue. And the creature thus formed, as many as thirty rats tied together by the tail, is called a ratking."

The first in the Aurelio Zen series, its title is a fundamental metaphor for the layers of inescapable corruption within the Italian political, judicial and business systems. Through which, Commissioner Aurelio Zen threads a complex route, attempting to do his job, but not rock the boat. 

Ruggiero Miletti, head of a powerful Perugian family business, has been kidnapped. Favours are called in and Zen, a Venetian attached to Roman Criminal Police, because he’s the only one available, takes on the case. He encounters resistance and corruption, allegiances and loyalties, and the weight of social history hangs over the book like smog. 

Alongside the darker underbelly of Italy, Dibdin shares the nuances of regional rivalry, cultural insights and geographical descriptions. Perugia has become well known more recently due to the murder of Meredith Kercher, but Ratking shows us a different side to the place. The plot is complex and slow to develop, but the author’s depiction of how difficult it is to solve a crime while battling vested interests results in an unexpected and exciting end.

There are eight more Zen novels, which take place in various Italian locations. I will be back for more.

You'll enjoy this if: culturally rooted crime, Donna Leon, Andrea Camilleri, Borgen.

Avoid if you dislike: character-led story, political intrigue, Italy.

Ideal accompaniments: Porchetta (stuffed pork), a frisky Montepulciano, and Puccini, specially Tosca.

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