Blood Rain by Michael Dibdin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"The dualistic, northern approach to life is completely alien to the Sicilian mind. So far from there being just two possibilities, there are, in any given case, an almost infinite number."
Michael Dibdin's Blood Rain (1999) is a part crime drama part thriller that perceptively portrays the Sicilian mentality - or I should rather say - the stereotype of Sicilian mentality. The blurbs on the cover of the novel scream "Spellbinding... superb" (The Washington Post), "Dibdin, whose prose is as startlingly clever as his plot, stretches the existential suspense through to the final page..." (The Wall Street Journal). I beg to differ: the phrases "superb" and "clever plot" are totally misused. This is my seventh "Italian" crime drama in the Zen series by Dibdin and it barely rises above the level of the totally lame and ridiculous Cabal. On the other hand, I quite like the other five Zen novels that I review on Goodreads.
Inspector Aurelio Zen, "unambitious and deeply compromised", has now been posted to Catania, Sicily, ostensibly to work on "smashing the Mafia", once and for all. The author clearly suggests that this is just a pretend appointment and - like virtually all police-type jobs in Italy - his posting as a liaison officer between the Catania office and Rome headquarters is just a sham personnel move, and Zen is just supposed to pretend he is fighting the Mafia. Zen's adopted daughter, Carla, a computer expert, also happens to be in Catania, working on setting up a computer network for the local Palace of Justice; she is trying to find the "back-door" entry to the system that causes leaks of sensitive information. We also meet Corinna Nunziatella, the local judge, who befriends Carla, and the two women are young enough to seem to believe that the fight against the Mafia clans makes sense.
The first half of the novel is totally unfocused and wanders aimlessly from a thread to a thread, from a possible main topic to another one. All of a sudden, several dramatic events conveniently happen, and Mr. Dibdin finally makes a decision what he wants to write about. The novel mutates into a standard thriller, characterized by breakneck pace and little logic, other than that things are different than they look like. Since it is of course true that nothing is ever like it seems, the silly "Third Level" stuff invoked by the author is also only a delusion, like all the misconstructions of various conspiracy theories. Whole lotta blah blah blah. The only part of the plot that I really like is the explosive ending.
While in my eyes, Blood Rain fails as a crime/thriller novel, it seems to redeem itself as a novel about Sicily. Here's a nice highlight, as a sample: Mr. Dibdin writes about a fish market on the Sicilian coast that has been in the same place for about 3,000 years. Also, one is impressed with the author clearly explaining the phony nature of Italian war against the Mafia, and how it is that the so-called "bad guys" usually win. They do because fighting them for real would be a greater inconvenience than tolerating them. Also, in some ways, the "bad guys" are just like us.
In several of my previous reviews of Mr. Dibdin's novels I noticed his peculiar preoccupation with human excreta. In this book, in addition to mentioning flatulence and defecation, the author widens his scatophilic range to include other species: he writes about "piles of [dog] turds the size of a meal and the color of vomit." We are also offered truly original references to feeling like "eating the breast of a pregnant woman" and "chewing on penises of dead boys." Maybe the author thought these literary devices would emphasize the brutal and deeply cynical tone of the novel? I am probably just dull-witted, but I find these fragments pathetic.
One and three quarter stars.
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