Thursday, November 12, 2009
When I heard in 2007 that Michael Dibdin had died, I remember thinking "Oh darn, I never got around to reading any of his books." What a weird thought, as if the Head Librarian would now be taking all his books off the shelves. It is true that I prefer to read books by living authors but that's mostly because I am trying to stay current, not because I've got anything against the dearly departed.
Dibdin's Aurelio Zen mysteries (of which this is an early one) always show up on the must-read lists, including this one, the Times Online's list of the 50 greatest crime writers, where he is #37. (How many of these authors have you read? I've read 26.) Dibdin is often discussed in the same context as Nicholas Freeling (also dead) and H. R. F. Keating (not yet dead) because all three are British mystery novelists who write in English about non-British detectives. Freeling created Amsterdam detective Piet Van der Valk and French Inspector Henri Castang, while Keating is the creator of Inspector Ghote of the Mumbai police. Aurelio Zen is Italian. Being British distinguishes these authors from mystery novelists such as George Simenon (#2 on the Times list, dead) who wrote in French and Andrea Camilleri (#43 on the Times list, not dead) who writes in Italian. Why the sudden interest in authors’ nationalities (and state of animation)? I am just wondering what it is about the British psyche that gives certain writers the confidence to imagine up these non-British scenarios with such confidence and panache. Are there books written in Chinese about London detectives, do you think?
Oh, did I like the book? I guess so. It had a lot in it about food and wine, which is always fun. It also had a wonderfully ironic ending. Zen is not terribly interested in following any sort of policeman-type rules, which makes for some good tricks.
(Book 38, 2009)