Back to Bologna–Michael Dibdin


This is a book from near the end of the series, so if you’re new to this series, consider going back to the beginning. The first book in this series is “Ratking.”

These books were recommended to me by a friend who winters in Italy each year and is getting a house there when he retires, which is pretty much the dream of almost everyone I know, so good on him.

He recommended them because he felt they really represented Italy to him, and were true to life regarding his experience in the country.

They always make me feel dumb. I can never see what’s happening. Given that I read a lot of mysteries, I have to assume that’s the author’s intention.

The exception to the dumb feeling rule for these books is this one, Back to Bologna. There’s only one more after this in the series and apparently he decided to give me a bit of a break because this one was easy to understand and the entire plot was open to the reader.

That might not sound like a rousing recommendation but it really is. I was so relieved to have a book I could follow and feel on top of that I was happy, and the entire tone of the book was much lighter and more comic than the earlier books.

The basic story is this: Aurelio Zen is the main character, a detective for the Italian police. He’s on extended medical leave following several seriously unpleasant things. First a bombing by the mob, then some medical issue that required surgery, and his plan is to gracefully extend his medical leave until he can take slightly early retirement and be done. His girlfriend is getting annoyed with his whining and complaints and that relationship is going badly.

Unfortunately for him, someone didn’t get the memo that he’s supposed to be on medical leave and they called him back to manage an ugly case. The coach of the local soccer team was murdered in his car and they want to make sure that the central police department gets the heads up before anything potentially detrimental is released to the press by the local cops. It’s a babysitting job.

He has a friend in this department, a driver he had recommended a transfer for before, and the driver, now a regular policeman in Bologna, gives him the inside story.

There’s a rumor on the street that a rich spoiled kid is bragging about killing the coach because he wasn’t happy about the state of the team.

So they start to follow him. The kid’s dad has hired the worst private detective of all time to follow him and let the dad know what he’s doing.

We see some of the private detective’s point of view, some of the spoiled kid, some of his roommate’s, some of his roommate’s girlfriend. Then there’s some interaction between the roommate’s professor, a popular TV chef, and the Zen.

It’s adorable and fun and clever. I recommend it. You don’t actually need to read the other books in the series to understand this one, so you can skip ahead if you’re not the same level of insane completist that I am.


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