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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

There is no doubt that the balconies of the great basilica ofSt. Peter’s in Rome, mayhaps because it is a visible symbol of thatuniversal church which customarily treats suicide with suchdisdain, invite more than their share of the self-destructive. Aurelio Zen is not surprised, therefore, to learn that yet anotherbody has plummeted out of the darkness to complicate the lives ofVatican bureaucrats.

He is quite willing to accept a verdict of suicide, even thoughit is obvious that the socially prominent Prince Ludovico Ruspantiwas not a willing participant in his demise. After all, Zen’sprimary concern is, as always, how to maintain a champagneexistence on an income more suited to a small beer. Crime, for thehapless Dottore Zen, remains little more than an excuse forfinancial embellishment. Nevertheless, Zen finds himself forced to “do the right thing,” and thereby hangs Michael Dibdin’s latesttale of life, love, and corruption.

It all seems so obvious: Ruspanti was a victim of yet another ofthe murderous conspiracies that bedevil Italian politics, and thatwas that. Indeed, as the body count begins to rise, Zen wonderswho, if anyone, is uninvolved with the mysterious and deadly Cabal. Simultaneously, and far more important to Zen, he suspects that hispassionate affair with the newly emancipated Tania Biacis has runit’s course

Aurelio Zen is anything but a stereotypical detective. He’s notespecially bright, he’s anything but a sexual athlete, and he isforever envious of those who use and abuse the system to theirpersonal benefit. In his headlong dash to attain his owncorruption, Zen once again bungles matters thoroughly as heunmasks, much to his own surprise, yet another murderer.