Cabal by Michael Dibdin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Another disappointment! While I quite liked Michael Dibdin's "End Games" (reviewed here ), his "Cabal" (1992), a substandard thriller, is a badly botched effort. Although The Scotsman in its back-cover blurb pronounces: "Michael Dibdin is an absolutely sensational writer", my take would be: "Michael Dibdin is a master of hiding his solid writing skills under the cover of embarrassingly amateurish style."
Sunday Times writes "Dibdin puts together a fictional structure that combines the intriguing twistiness of the mystery story with sharply angled perspectives on contemporary Italy." Well, to me the fictional structure of "Cabal" resembles a high-school student's naive attempt to construct a thriller by combining a variety of clichés, found in low-grade books of the genre, and the author's portrayal of contemporary Italy is limited to throwing thousands of Italian words and names of places at the reader without conveying much sense of location.
The ridiculous plot begins with an apparent suicide jump in St. Peter's basilica in Rome. "The glistening heap of blood and tissue subsided gently into itself with a soft farting sound." Mmm, evocative style! When it is determined that the farting heap of blood and tissue used to be Prince Ludovico Ruspanti, the Vatican officials call Inspector Aurelio Zen to conduct the investigation. In the worst tradition of cheap thrillers super secret organizations are involved; Cabal is a clandestine group within a secretive society, Order of Knights of Malta. The preposterous main plot line is intertwined with inane thread about Zen's jealousy.
The writing is really bad; let's quote some pearls of phrasing: "Unachieved coition made his testicles ache", "He skied the ball and whacked it across the net with a grunt suggestive of a reluctant bowel motion", "Ciliani stuck his finger in his ear and extracted a gob of wax which he scrutinized as though deciding whether to eat it." Mr. Dibdin also likes to mention the smell of urine (for some reason, a teenage computer hacker, another tired cliché, routinely pisses his bed) and bad breath. Oh, how very funny!
There are some good things in this badly disappointing novel; the best, probably, is when the author makes fun of fashion designers who price up their cheap creations, to "sell the price rather than the garment". (Apple Inc. has long been doing exactly the same - raising prices on average-quality products to dupe the gullible public into believing that their wares are better than the cheap Samsung stuff). Also, the symmetry of the beginning and the ending is neat. These are not enough, though, to save this mess from a low rating.
One and a half stars.
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