Michael Dibdin Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Michael Dibdin may have achieved widespread fame only late in his career, with the publication of his first Aurelio Zen novel, Ratking, in 1988, on the verge of his fortieth birthday, and he may have written only eighteen novels in his thirty-year career, but he has left a lasting legacy in the mystery genre. An innovative and experimental writer who chose words with great care and devised multilayered plots that brought greater depth and meaning to crime fiction, Dibdin successfully tested the boundaries of mystery and thriller conventions throughout his life. Keenly observant and blessed with a well-developed sense of dark humor, he produced the homage to the classical detective, The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (1978). He paid tribute to Agatha Christie and others from the Golden Age of traditional mysteries with The Dying of the Light (1993). He produced a historical sleuth (A Rich Full Death, 1986), subtle studies of psychological suspense (The Tryst, 1989, and Thanksgiving, 2000), social satire(Dirty Tricks, 1991), and a chilling examination of random American violence (Dark Specter, 1995).

However, the contribution that Dibdin will undoubtedly be best remembered for is his creation of Aurelio Zen, the cynical, philosophical Italian detective who in the course of his investigations prowls the length and breadth of his native country attempting to bring order out of chaos. Dibdin presents the grimy underbelly of Italy unknown to tourists—contradictory, corrupt, and culturally heterogeneous, a nation with a long and volatile history that has seen everything and seemingly grown blasé about crime—and sets his protagonist to work at almost impossible tasks in a milieu where his job is often undermined by the authorities in charge. Dibdin, who often stated that he never planned a series but was merely fictionalizing his experiences from his sojourn in Italy during the 1980’s, was forced by popular demand to continue writing about Aurelio Zen; the books have been translated into more than fifteen languages. Critics (except those in Italy, who are apparently indifferent to the crime genre) have been almost universal in their praise of the Zen novels. For his efforts, Dibdin won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Golden Dagger Award for the initial entry, Ratking, and a New York Times notable book citation for a nonseries novel, Dirty Tricks.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Kaner, Stefan. “Elementary.” Review of The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, by Michael Dibdin. Time, July 31, 1978, 83. A favorable review of The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, pitting Holmes against the bloodthirsty Jack the Ripper.

Library Journal. Review of Cosi Fan Tutti, by Michael Dibdin. 122, no. 8 (May 1, 1997): 144. A favorable review of the Zen novel Cosi Fan Tutti, which finds the detective in Naples, where, in a darkly comic turn he is mistaken for a mafioso while helping a wealthy widow prevent her daughters from marrying men who are connected to the Mafia.

Ott, Bill. Review of Blood Rain, by Michael Dibdin. Booklist 96, no. 14 (March 25, 2000): 1333. A highly favorable review of the Aurelio Zen entry Blood Rain, wherein the detective heads to Sicily to spy on the state police’s anti-Mafia operation for the rival Interior Ministry. Ott calls it a welcome and darker novel, compared with several previous entries that had a comic flavor, and terms Blood Rain “Crime fiction at its multifaceted best.”

Petrusza, David. Review of The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, by Michael Dibdin. National Review 30, no. 23 (August 18, 1978): 1036. An unfavorable review of The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, which, though praising the...

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