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Saturday, September 29, 2007

And Then You Die

Aurelio Zen is back after barely surviving a mafia hit (in Blood Rain) when the car he was riding in was bombed on a Sicilian highway, killing one of his fellow Italian policemen, and forcing Zen into an extended period of physical rehabilitation for the injuries he suffered. And Then You Die, Michael Dibdin's eighth Aurelio Zen novel, picks up where Blood Rain left off and finds Zen trying to cope with the boredom of a life in hiding as he continues to recuperate.

Zen, having been given a new identity by the Italian police, has been parked at a Tuscan coast beach resort to hide out and wait for the call to fly to America as a key witness in a mafia trial pending there. He is bored with sitting in the sun with wealthy Italians who have nothing better to do but tells himself that the four or five hours a day that he puts in at the beach are simply "office hours," part of his new job of blending in with the locals. But when men who seem to have been mistaken for him start to die, Zen comes to realize just how determined the mafia is to see him dead before the American trial and that the plan to keep him safe until then is a flawed one.

No matter where he is moved, it seems that the mafia is only one short step behind him. To make matters worse, although he misses his life in Rome terribly, Zen is depressed by what he finds there when called to police headquarters for a meeting with his superiors. Nothing is the same. He returns to his mother's empty apartment and is hit hard by how much he misses her. He is told that after the mafia trial he will be placed in a new job that will barely require his presence, a job that seems to have been created just to push him outside the department. His best friend is going through a domestic crisis and Zen finds that he really doesn't have much sympathy. He finds himself suffering a mid-life crisis just when he can least afford one.

And Then You Die is filled with characters who do not quite ring true and who inadvertently give the book a tongue-in-cheek tone that lessens the suspense of how Zen is going to cope with the succession of attempts on his life. It reads more like black comedy than as serious detective fiction. I suspect that fans of the Zen series will welcome the book as a worthy follow-up to the more serious one in which Zen almost lost his life, but that those new to the series will be somewhat disappointed in it. The book does not work particularly well as a standalone novel and readers would do well to read Blood Rain before they read And Then You Die.

Rated at: 3.0
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