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on November 12, 1997
Rather different than Dibdin's previous (and outstanding) Zen mysteries, Cosi is the closest thing to Mozartean opera buffa you can find in book form. Dibdin captures the spirit of the great Italian comic opera tradition so fully that you can hardly avoid hearing your own subliminal Mozart soundtrack. Arch yes, but fully carried off with a consistent and glittering wit. The sense of ennui and indigenous corruption that pervades prior Zen adventures still runs through the work. But something very nice must have happened in Dibdin's life to prompt the sense of joy and wonder that is here added to mystery. A work of true wit and homage to (as we would expect) an important Italian tradition---a more positive aspect of Italian culture than Zen's usual metier.
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on May 19, 2000
A literate and thoroughly enjoyable read if you like (a) opera, (b) Italy, (c) humor, or (d) classical Chandler/Hammet mysteries. The violence is limited (thankfully), the characterizations are sharp and funny, and the parallels to the Mozart opera, though not necessary to enjoy the book, provide an extra layer of delight. Dibdin is probably not for everyone; if you like exceptional tension or violence, this is not for you. But if you enjoy very skillful use of language and turns of phrase, along with a burlesque of Italian (and other) life, you are sure to enjoy this.
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on August 13, 2000
Da Ponte wrote a libretto for the opera the composer called "The School For Lovers". Michael Dibdin titles each chapter with a title from the libretto in Italian, and in the contents gives the English approximation. An estimate, a guess, any thought that suggests ambiguity is appropriate for this Aurelio Zen mystery, for neither the reader nor those fictional characters of "Cosi Fan Tutti" really know what is happening either.
When the protagonist in the series is reduced to thinking, "Not only was the plot slipping from his grasp, even the names of the cast appeared unfamiliar" you either are holding a great tale, or the thoughts of a writer who is in over his head. In the hands of a lesser talent this would often suggest a book that has lost direction and has resorted to rhetorical thought, as some gimmick for obscuring what is at heart a story gone amiss. But this is Michael Dibdin, and control of plot is never an issue for him.
Like a great play or opera the story arrives at its denouement, and then seemingly every player is brought together and the true and final facades are taken away. But for the Author this is not enough, for in the previous book he plants in Aurelio's mind a doubt of the worst sort, which appears to be solved at the end. A Priest leans over Zen's stricken Mother, the Confession, and then the question as to whether the Mother would like the Right of Extreme Unction. The Mother of course responds with "is there more Brandy", the "Priest" is a mature changeling of sorts, and everything you thought you knew, is twisted. All your thoughts are held up to a mirror, and they are not backward gibberish, but Michael Dibdin true plot, having once again the final resounding laughs at the reader's expense, and delight.
Michael Dibdin has yet to repeat one of his sleights of thought he baffles his reader's with, and with only 1 installment left to read I doubt there will be repetition. His writing is wonderful, to use a climber's term he continually presents false summits, the corner you turn is never the last until you are convinced it is not, and his mirrors reflect what he wants them to, not what light and nature intend.
My enthusiasm for this man's work continues unabated, his work is simply excellent.
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on September 24, 1999
Mystery fans will be disappointed. Dibdin writes in an artsy rather than tensely suspenseful style, yielding self-consciously amusing ironies and operatic coincidences. For example, he blatantly repeats one gory scene verbatim. The frivolous confections and literary stylings quite canceled the mysteries for me. Throughout the author is clearly "playing with" his characters (and you) in three parallel, increasingly coincident, story lines. There is some amusing word play, but if you want that then Mozart's operatic version sounds better. Dibdin's characters are more interesting than the plot, but not much. I imagine committed PC people will really hate the stereotypes, and the impolitic disparagement of Naples (a stand-in for humanity). The conclusion is too much of a rush (but with wonderful inversions of character). This is quite an amusing book, but not the involving mystery I expected.
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on August 2, 2001
Dibdin excels (usually) when Zen is the focus of his intricate and interesting plots. Unfortunately, he only carried me so far this time. Yes, it is a farce with great promise -- and Dibdin plays very well with the original Cosi fan tutte -- but in my humble opinion, he copped out in the last two chapters. The surreal resolution of the intricate set-up just didn't work for me, in part because his stylistic choice of the self-consciously ironic narrator did not produce a compelling description of the action and resolution of the plot. It was like seeing a play that should have been funny, but was poorly directed.
With all of that being said, I of course went out and got the rest of the Zen books -- even when Dibdin fails, the results are better than most other stories out there!
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on March 4, 2001
Dibdin takes a holiday of sorts and writes a comic opera set in Naples (today we could call this a sit-com). You have to really pay attention with Dibdin, but never more so than with this installment in the A. Zen sagas. We find our hero indolent in this southern port town stalked by love, murder, video games and incest. Dibdin takes us on a merry chase and somehow manages to bring it all together in the final (long) chapter. New comers to the Zen mysteries should not start with this book (try the Dead Lagoon) but long time fans will be caught up by the third page. You should read the chapter title translations to get the jokes as they are played out. All in all, a real hoot that captures the atmosphere of Naples today.
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on October 23, 1998
Reading Aurelio Zen out of sequence is as sensible as the mystery in this book. And figuring out which of the several plot lines represents the mystery is half the fun. Picaresque is the only description for Zen. And the other characters! You get to meet every Italian you've ever known, with a couple of true-to-life foreigners thrown in. Truly delightful if you have a sense of humor and a taste for the absurd. A disaster if you like a lot of senseless violence and macho language in your mysteries. Aurelio Zen has a new fan in me.
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on September 21, 1997
Maybe it's just Dibdin I hate. His style is arch and becomes boring after a few chapters, there is no attempt at realism, and his detective is unintelligent and unlikable. I had never read any Dibdin before, but the premise sounded like fun. It wasn't. The plot is stupid and simplistic and Dibdin doesn't prepare the ground for the double and triple revelations that would have made it worthwhile. If you haven't read Dibdin before and aren't a fan, don't waste your time and money
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on July 16, 2001
Michael Dibdin's character Aurelio Zen is complex, richly drawn and utterly sympathetic. In each Zen mystery the reader gets both a tour of a specific part of Italy, and a dose of office politics not to be believed. And this is in addition to a wonderful crime story. There is never a clear line between good and evil, and the outcomes are never simple. Readers who like Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, Robert Van Gulick and Elmore Leonard should love Michael Dibdin.
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on August 5, 2000
If you're expecting your traditional whodunit, this ain't it. Dibdin is definitely not a formula writer and it's impossible to know exactly what to expect when Aurelio Zen is involved. This case is a classic, It's well-written with plot lines within plot lines of which Zen, or you, may or may not be aware. It doesn't matter anyway because this book was, to put it simply, a lot of fun to read.
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