Back to Bologna by Michael Dibdin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"King Antonio perched naked on his throne, sweating, groaning, imploring. Then his expression changed to one of alarm, almost of fear."
(At the end of the review you can learn why Antonio is groaning on his throne.)
Michael Dibdin's Back to Bologna, my seventh book in the Aurelio Zen series, is quite different from the other six: it is an expressly comedic and satirical ensemble piece type of novel, with several seemingly unrelated threads developing separately until they all intertwine at the end of the story. Almost entirely gone are Mr. Dibdin's cynical and usually fascinating observations of Italian law and society. What remains is mostly silly plot and a few moderately funny scenes scattered among rather lowly humor.
Lorenzo Curti, the owner of a Bologna football club - actual football, not the U.S. variety - is killed and Aurelio Zen, now in the high police rank of Vice-Questore and recuperating from some kind of gastroenterologic surgery, is sent to Bologna to serve as a liaison (which means he is supposed to do nothing whatsoever) between the local investigation and the Ministry in Rome. Aurelio's relationship with his partner, Gemma, is at a critical point, and they are both contemplating separation. In Bologna, Vincenzo, the son of a powerful lawyer, gets involved in some suspect activities, while his roommate, Rodolfo - a graduate student of the famous semiotics professor, Edgardo Ugo - is dating Delia, an illegal immigrant from Ruritania (sic). The lawyer hires a private detective, Tony, to follow Vincenzo. Meanwhile, Romano Rinaldi, a celebrity chef whose TV cooking show pulls in millions of viewers, feels insulted by a statement made by Professor Ugo. All these separate threads proceed parallely to a moderately satisfying conclusion that combines the participation of everybody: Aurelio, Gemma, Vincenzo, Rodolfo, Edgardo, Delia, Tony, and Romano.
Only the thread that involves the pompous professor Edgardo Ugo - the satire is probably aimed at Umberto Eco, the world's foremost semiotician - is really funny, particularly the discussion of relative values of semiotics vs. skills of building retaining walls. The celebrity chef thread is moderately funny, more so if one believes that programs shown on TV have some relation to reality.
Mr. Dibdin again succumbs to his inexplicable obsession with human excreta: the sentence quoted in the epigraph comes from a passage that describes the detective's defecation and the size of his stool. In another prose jewel we can read about a discharge of foul-smelling pus. Mr. Dibdin should have consulted a psychiatrist.
One and three quarter stars.
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