End Games by Michael Dibdin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"End Games" is the first crime novel by Michael Dibdin that I have read, and the 11th and last in his series of books about the Italian police inspector, Aurelio Zen. Each novel takes place in a different part of Italy, and Mr. Dibdin who used to teach in Perugia for several years, uses his first-hand experience of the country. Despite my aversion for the concept of a crime novel series, I will look for other Aurelio Zen entries; the sense of location is conveyed very well in "End Games", and Mr. Dibdin's prose is quite accomplished.
In the novel Aurelio Zen substitutes for a police chief in Calabria, the southernmost (except for Sicily) part of Italy, because the proper chief is on leave - having displayed his professionalism by shooting himself in the foot with the service weapon. The plot of the novel, which may be categorized as a thriller, is quite complex and combines many threads. An American lawyer is killed in a bizarre way - he seems to have voluntarily walked to the place of his execution, dressed as the "dead man". A famous movie director is preparing to shoot a Bible-themed movie in the vicinity. A moron American multi-millionaire presides over a search for a hidden treasure. All these threads, as well as some others, eventually come together.
There is a lot I like in this novel - sharp observations of a particular segment of Italian society, first-rate humor, and the plausibility of the plot until almost the very end, which very rarely happens in thrillers. I particularly like the bits about the lingering effects of the latifondo system, which - as the author says in Acknowledgements - "determined the economic, social and political destiny of Calabria", and left painful scars on local communities.
However, I had a very difficult time of getting into the novel - up to about page 80 I was on the verge of tossing the book - too many threads, too many characters, and the plot too disjoint. If not for my insomnia, I probably would not have continued reading. The other thing that I do not like about "End Games" is the crudely drawn character of Jake, the stupid multi-millionaire. Of course, extremely rich people may be morons, but this caricature is too broad and shallow. Still, I recommend the book as one of the better thrillers I have read. Virtually all thrillers that I know disappoint at the end, while this one sort of works.
Three and a quarter stars.
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