Michael Dibdin's latest Aurelio Zen mystery, A Long Finish (the title refers to the lingering aftertaste of a fine wine), combines an education in wine making and truffle hunting with a witty, wacky, suspenseful plot, a satisfying set of gory murders, and a solution that keeps the reader guessing up to the last paragraph. For those who have not yet met Aurelio Zen, he is an arrogant, bumbling Italian police detective, who, despite his seeming incompetence, manages to solve mysteries that baffle lesser minds. His subordinates view him with awe. As the story opens, Aldo Vincenzo, one of the greatest vintners in Italy's piedmont country, has been brutally killed. His son is being held for the murder. A wine connoisseur, collector, and world-famous film and opera director (and friend of police higher-ups), summons Zen. Now he's dead and his son is in prison, all on the eve of what promises to be one of the great vintages of the century! he says. I want Manlio Vincenzo [the son] released from prison in time to make the wine this year. He tells Zen, Unless we act now, the grapes will either be sold off to some competitor or crudely vinified into a parody of what a Vincenzo wine could and should be. Zen is given a choice. Either get Manlio released from prison, or plan on becoming part of an elite corps of police officers who are being sent to Sicily to wipe out the mob. This, Aurelio Zen does not want, and we are launched into an absorbing (and funny) tale. Dibdin brings the Italian piedmont setting to life: russet and golden foliage sprouting from ancient stumps ; vines heavy with fat blood-red grapes ; the vast, cold damp cellar, its vaulted roof encrusted with a white mesh of saltpetre. He also brings its characters to life, describing three aging partisans, as interchangeable as pieces on a board in their dark, durable patched clothes, each garment a manuscript in palimpsest of tales that would never be told. A Long Finish is Michael Dibdin's 12th book, and after reading this skillful writer's latest tale, you're sure to want to read the entire series.
Cynthia Riggs is a freelance writer on Martha's Vineyard where she runs a B&andB for poets and writers.