Sunday, 3 April 2011

Ratking - Michael Dibdin

I watched the TV series Zen earlier this year and really enjoyed it.  My posting The Books of Zen described it and I have eventually managed to get some of Michael Dibdin's books out of the library and Ratking is the first in the eleven book series.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book even though the characters and story bear little resemblance to the BBC TV series.  They are both very good in their own right.

This first book of the series introduces Aurelio Zen, the Venetian detective who has been demoted to a desk job in the Ministry of Interior in Rome, following his working involvement in the Aldo Moro kidnapping and murder in 1978.  Someone had to carry the can and it was Zen! Now a married but separated fifty - something, he lives with his elderly mother in Rome and works as a Ministry snooper making trips to provincial capitals and typing up reports.

When a rich and powerful businessman is kidnapped and after over four months hasn’t been found, “they” need “someone” to investigate as a gesture.  Eventually they think of Zen!  All the while Zen has to watch his back and keep out of trouble.

Have to say the story kept me guessing until the end as the culprit wasn’t the same one as in the telly programme!

This is no ordinary detective story, it is very well written.  There is great humour, political comment, descriptive passages about the beauty of Italy and its cities as well as wonderful characters often typifying the different parts of Italy.  Although you have to bear in mind that the book was published in 1988 so things have probably changed a bit since then!

A mark of a good book for me is one that not only entertains me but makes me feel something about the characters and the setting.  It’s an added bonus if I learn something from it.  I certainly enjoyed this book, loved the characters and I felt as though I learned a lot about Italy and its people as well as its problems.  Have to say I particularly liked the humour and the way it is woven into informing us about Italy’s peoples.  

Zen and his mother are from Venice, the North and they are now living in Rome, the South!  (Obviously the North South divide is not peculiar to the UK!)   Well I remember learning about the Re-Unification of Italy in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries in our history lessons but I hadn’t really thought about the implications of this before, that these cities were independent until then and now Rome rules!  

There are a few really humorous conversations about this divide which I loved.  Here’s an example from the beginning of the book where Zen, a Veronese and a Roman are stuck on a train due to an unofficial stoppage.  Zen is listening whilst the Roman and the Veronese are arguing about the state of the country which the Veronese thinks is in chaos:

         ….there are worse things than chaos.”  (The Roman)
 “What might they be?” (The Veronese)
 “Too much order.”
The Veronese made a contemptuously dismissive gesture.
“Too much order? Don’t make me laugh. In this country too much order wouldn’t even be enough.  It’s always the same.  The trains are late?  Build a new railway!  The South is poor?  Open a new factory!  The young are illiterate?  Hire more teachers!  There are too many civil servants?  Retire them on big pensions!  The crime rate is soaring?  Pass new laws!  But for the love of God don’t expect us to make the railways or factories we have run efficiently, or make the teachers or bureaucrats do an honest day’s work, or make people respect the existing laws.  Oh no!  Because that would smack of dictatorship or tyranny, and we can’t have that!”
The conversation goes on comparing the North and South to order and chaos and all the while Zen is sitting thinking that although he's a Northerner, he doesn’t want to live in an ordered Northern land where everything runs like clockwork.  Life’s not about that, it’s about ordinary working people like the two working class lads in the corridor who have energy, drive and flair.  Then the two lads come into the carriage and proceed to rob them.  Brilliant!


I've just read that the BBC in their wisdom????? have not commissioned a second series of Zen. How stupid can they be?  It had very good reviews and pretty successful Sunday night viewing figures. Crumbs what on earth will we be watching in future on Sundays.  At the moment it's Antiques Roadshow which isn't exactly Sunday night viewing, followed by Waking the Dead. Now I do like Waking the Dead but this is the last series!  So come on BBC get your act together!

There's a backlash against the decision and you can post a comment to indicate your support here.  They may have a change of heart.  After all ITV did with Foyle's War when enough fans complained. Otherwise we'll just have to hope some other channel has the good sense to pick it up. 


  1. My husband & I both loved the Zen TV show, too, & will really miss it! I'll give the books a read, tho'- thanks for posting about them. Susan

  2. I want to read this book now. I just finished one and have been searching for another, so I hope I can find it on the e-reader. Great review of it Winifred!

  3. Sounds like a good read. I don't watch TV -- haven't had it on in weeks and it will probably be weeks before I turn it on again -- but I do love my books!

  4. Now I'm glad that I wasn't able to find the ZEN shows. I am pretty perturbed about the way DOWNTON ABBEY came to a screeching halt with too many questions unanswered. Is there more as the war begins?

  5. Susan - I'm hoping some channel picks it up before too long.

    Brenda - The books are turning out very different to the series though. Much darker and Zen is not exactly whiter than white as the stories develop! I loved Cabal which I think is the third one. Very funny. Dark Lagoon is quite dark and Cosi Fan Tutti wasn't particularly humorous until the end. Might read that one again to see if I missed something. I have to finish the book before I go to bed so maybe I started skimming!

    Grannie Annie - Yes they're filming a second series of Downton Abbey at the moment which covers WW1. They're not daft are they, leaving you wanting more!

  6. Interesting. Sounds like it would be worth buying. Not what I would normally read but I do find it good to read something different occasionally.

    Films hardly ever are true to the stories I find.

  7. I never heard of it...

    But that doesn't mean anything. I never heard of Christmas until I was a teenager and Easter was always a rabbit or a chicken dyed and sold in a ten cent store.

    Want to read something try scribble, scribble, scribble by Simon Schama. Especially notable about Churchill and his mother.

  8. Abe - I'd never heard of the books either until the BBC series. Sad because Michael Dibdin was a really good crime writer.

    I'd never heard of that Simon Schama book. It's in our public library but I'll give the Churchill bit a miss. He was never popular in the North of England despite his war record. He was far too arrogant and against the workers. Despite the war he never redeemed himself.

  9. Thanks Winifred..I truly think Claire is a lovely name and glad it is making a come back..I hope your daughter liked her name..she is the same age as my son Jeremy..interesting isn't it..I hope you had a good Easter and all is well in your world!
    My reply to the comment on my post came back to I am trying it this would not go to your email address :(

  10. Dagmar - Yes Claire does like her name. We gave her a second one Marisa, just in case she didn't like Claire. She didn't like that one!

    We had a lovely Easter & another lovely Bank Holiday weekend this week too for the wedding.

    I've checked my email address & it should be OK now. Thanks for letting me know.


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