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Medusa (Aurelio Zen Series #9)

Medusa (Aurelio Zen Series #9)

4.4 5
by Michael Dibdin

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Michael Dibdin's veteran Italian police officer is back. The newest addition to this remarkable series -- consistently galvanizing as much for its revelation of the subtle complexities of Italian life as for its page-turning suspense -- is a novel of long-held secrets set against a sweeping background of political and passionate intrigue.

When a group of


Michael Dibdin's veteran Italian police officer is back. The newest addition to this remarkable series -- consistently galvanizing as much for its revelation of the subtle complexities of Italian life as for its page-turning suspense -- is a novel of long-held secrets set against a sweeping background of political and passionate intrigue.

When a group of Austrian cavers exploring a network of abandoned military tunnels in the Italian Alps comes across human remains at the bottom of a deep shaft, everyone assumes the death was accidental. Until, that is, the still-unidentified body is stolen from the morgue and the Defense Ministry puts a news blackout on the case. And is the recent car bombing in Campione D'Italia, a tiny tax haven surrounded on all sides by Switzerland, somehow related? The whole affair has the whiff of political corruption. That's enough to interest Aurelio Zen's boss at the Interior Ministry, who wants to know who is hiding what from whom, and why.

The search for the truth leads Zen back into the murky history of postwar Italy and the obscure corners of modern-day society to uncover the truth about a crime that everyone thought was as dead and buried as its victim.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
As Michael Dibdin's legions of fans already know, his Aurelio Zen novels (Blood Rain, And Then You Die) are accomplished tales of fast-paced action and engaging story development. In his ninth novel of the series, Dibdin uses a deft touch to fuse a suspenseful plot with complex Italian politics in order to produce a first-rate thriller.

When Italian police officer Aurelio Zen is called in to investigate the human remains found in an abandoned mountain military tunnel, Zen finds that the Defense Ministry has become especially interested in the case. Soon, the corpse is identified as Lt. Leonardo Ferraro, member of secret government group called Medusa. When the body is confiscated, former Medusa operatives suddenly start turning up murdered or missing. As Zen probes the mystery he discovers political intrigue, decades-old fascist plots to overthrow the government, and a zealous assassin still on the loose.

The vivid, lively European settings and the colorful, detailed twists keep Medusa moving along at a relentless pace. With a sure hand the author slowly unveils the mystery and gives us fully fleshed characters we can sympathize with. Beautifully crafted, and with a narrative voice that's bound to mesmerize the reader with its pace and finesse, Medusa is dynamic crime fiction.

The New York Times
Although Dibdin's superb Venetian mystery Dead Lagoon is still the finest book in this series, Medusa comes close in the remarkable depth and breadth of its on-the-ground detail. As Zen travels the region on solitary rail journeys, he immerses himself in the history, the customs and, above all, the political secrets of the country contained in the ''cliques, cabals, corruption'' we come to know as ''the endless misteri d'Italia.'' — Marilyn Stasio
The Washington Post
While much of the pleasure of reading Dibdin derives from his palpable love of Italy's culture and people -- his portrait of Zen's new girlfriend, Gemma, is especially affecting -- he is hardly a pushover for Italy. Like his mouthpiece Zen, Dibdin clearly finds the politics wretched. And he seems to share the disapproval of another of his characters for Italy's plummeting birth rate, manifest in "a bunch of flashy yuppies with one spoilt designer child in tow like a pedigree dog." Dibdin is essential reading for those who love mysteries and Italy without illusions. — Richard Lipez
Publishers Weekly
The ninth outing for Dibdin's Italian cop Aurelio Zen ranks right up there with such earlier triumphs in the series as Cabal and Dead Lagoon. The theft from the morgue of a partially mummified body, originally discovered in an abandoned military tunnel in the Italian Alps, aggravates the adversarial relationship between the Italian defense ministry and the Criminalpol, for whom Zen works under the interior ministry. When Zen gets on the case, the Caribinieri make it clear that they don't want the investigation to continue. Undeterred, Zen travels to the crime scene in the Dolomites. He quickly learns that the corpse's arm bore the tattoo of a Gorgon, a distinguishing mark of a covert 1970s paramilitary cell called Operation Medusa. Seeking other surviving members, Zen learns that one of the four was killed 25 years earlier in an airplane explosion, though no remains were recovered. Another is suddenly blown up by a car bomb. Of the two remaining members, one has strangely disappeared, and the last, now a top defense ministry agent, has strict orders to "clarify the situation" by any means necessary. As Zen races all over northern Italy in pursuit of justice, the Caribinieri take increasingly drastic measures to ensure that the dead stay buried, along with the truth. As always, Dibdin shows us in vivid, elegant prose the sociopolitical situation in Italy. The result is a slyly intelligent page-turner by a contemporary master of the form. (Feb. 17) Forecast: Dibdin has always straddled a fine line between literary and genre fiction. With the recent resurgence of interest in international crime novels, in particular Donna Leon's Venice-based Commissario Guido Brunetti series, Dibdin seems poised for discovery by a whole new group of readers. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A long-dead body found in a mountain tunnel piques the interest of veteran Italian police officer Aurelio Zen (Blood Rain), who is especially intrigued by the inordinate attention paid to the case by the Defense Ministry and his own superior in the Interior Ministry. The corpse turns out to be that of Lt. Leonardo Ferraro, reportedly killed in a plane crash 30 years earlier. Its discovery brings to light a secret right-wing military group that prepared to overthrow the government in the 1970s. Zen, who has been content in a small town with a new woman in his life, is sent to investigate. As astute politically as he is skilled at investigating, Zen "facilitates" events to make his superior proud. Dibdin does a superb job of creating a complex background of Italian politics and society for his suspenseful tale, and Zen-in the ninth mystery in the series-continues to be a great pleasure to watch. Crime fiction of the highest caliber; highly recommended.-Michele Leber, Arlington, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a style cribbed from Maigret and Colombo, Dibdin shows Aurelio Zen with a new girlfriend to pamper, a new case to niggle at, and some maddening Italian political intrigue to sort through. The body had lain in a disused military tunnel in the Dolomites for 30 years when a trio of hikers found it, arousing the fears of the Ministry of Defense, the curiosity of the Ministry of the Interior, and a killing spree by secret intelligence honcho Alberto Guerrazzi, former head of the Medusa Operation. Representing the Interior, Zen is called in to identify the deceased and the reasons for his death. But his task is complicated when the carabinieri arrive and confiscate the corpse of Lt. Leonardo Ferrero, a Medusa operative and romancer of the seductive Claudia, wife of his commanding officer. All too quickly another Medusa man dies; yet another goes on the run; and Claudia leaps to her death rather than mentally revisit the deaths of her lover and her husband. Was Leonardo the victim of a fascist military plot to overthrow the government? Was he tortured by the extreme right, the extreme left, or a vengeful husband? And was that husband's fatal fall down the stairs merely a tragic accident? Dibdin, a champion assayer of politics and bedfellows (Blood Rain, 2000, etc.), herein masters the art of misdirection, leading the reader on a merry chase from villa to farm, from the gardens of Rome to the casinos of Switzerland. Agency: Sterling Lord Literistic
From the Publisher
“Gripping.... The tangle of Italia criminale and Italia lite is irresistible; and well worth not resisting.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A suspenseful, complex mystery that is beautifully written and filled with humor, rich insight and deep feeling.” —The Denver Post

“Dibdin’s Italy-based Aurelio Zen tales are among the best in the mystery genré. Dibdin’s a special writer, onw who is a joy to read.” —Boston Globe

“A wholly pleasing and satisfying novel.” —San Jose Mercury News

"Exceptional. . . . If you like your thrillers impeccably written and sharpened with a political edge, Michael Dibdin's Medusa provides everything from car bombs to secret societies to military intrigue. . . . Zen is appealing human, while Dibdin's insights into Italian history, culture and landscape are packed with atmospheric detail enough to keep readers hanging on through the final page." —San Antonio Express-News

“The mercenary and the political are . . . sinisterly intertwined. . . . Dibdin is essential reading for those who love mysteries and Italy without illusions.” —The Washington Post

“Tense and elegantly plotted.” —Newsday

"Dibdin is superb at evoking the exaggerated politics of an era of Italian turmoil and uncertainty. He has always been a master of ambiguous atmosphere, and Medusa is a splendid example of his writing and plotting excellence, as well as his social and political acuity." —The Times (London)

"Remarkable [in the] depth and breadth of its on-the-ground detail." —The New York Times Book Review

"Crime writers don't get much better than Michael Dibdin. . . . His prose is characteristically supple, expressive and seductive." —The Independent (London)

"[Zen is] a wonderful creation. . . . Dibdin's characters, his wit, his comedy and his loving description of the details of Italian life make this book a special treat." —Pittsburg Post-Gazette

"Atmospheric. . . . [A] well-crafted literary mystery." —Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"[Dibdin] delves so deeply into Italy's unsavory past and distinctly dodgy present it will have you choking on your grappa. . . . [His] writing is rich with the kind of texture that comes from a profound love of place. There is horror in Medusa, and some unforgettable images of fear, but beneath Dibdin's authorial harshness there lies a tender poetic sensibility. The combination is every bit as effective as Zen's unorthodox methods of detection." —The Herald (Glasgow)

“Seductive. . . Very satisfying. . . . Plunge[s] into the murky politics of Italy in the 1970s.” —Hartford Advocate

"One of the most adrenaline-producing outings for Aurelio Zen in some time." —The Express (London)

“Dibdin’s work deserves comparison with such . . . giants as Raymond Chandler.” —The Oregonian
"A detective who can slip the boundaries of genre without losing the pace of the chase, from a writer capable of giving a tangible substance to his creations' habitats and haunts." —The Independent on Sunday (London)

"Slick. . . . Dibdin is a master of his craft." —Roanoke Times

Product Details

Random House of Canada, Limited
Publication date:
Aurelio Zen Series , #9
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.57(d)

Read an Excerpt


An oily fog had mystified the streets, sheathing the façades to either side, estranging familiar landmarks and coating the windows with a skein of liquid seemingly denser than water. Gabriele tried to edge away from the fat woman in the next seat, who was phoning in a gruesomely detailed account of some elderly relative's colostomy, but her bulk still left him no room to open his newspaper in comfort. The only thing he could read with any ease was the headline, which referred to hostilities in progress in some distant land where young men were killing and being killed. Outside, the stalled traffic snarled and yelped. The tram rumbled along its dedicated right-of-way through the shrouded city, the bell clanging intermittently in warning of its approach.

'God knows!' the fat woman was saying. 'First I have to pick up the car from Pia, assuming she's there yet, which I doubt, and after that it's anyone's guess with this damned fog.'

Gabriele hugged the window, turning up the collar of his green loden coat in a symbolic attempt to screen the woman out. He liked the fog, the world quietened down and closed in. Glossy turned to matt, every stridency was muted, substance leached out of the brute matter all around. Things became notions, the brash present a vague memory.

By some parallel process of slippage, his innumerable childhood memories of foggy days morphed into other memories. The fog of illness, real or feigned, of fevers and flu and febril-ity. 'I don't feel well, Mamma.' She was always eager to believe him, and knowing that he was giving her pleasure alleviated whatever slight guilt he might have felt in faking or exaggerating his symptoms. His mother liked him to be ill. It made her feel needed. Sometimes he had even suspected that she knew he was malingering, but forgave him, perhaps even encouraged him.

Fog to Gabriele also meant the feather duvet that his mother fluffed up and floated down over him while the impotent clock insisted that he should be in school, with its horde of bullies and swots. 'My cloud,' he'd called it. Weightless and warm, flung back as soon as his mother had left the room so that he could run to the bookcase and pick out a selection of novels to take back to bed, folding the cloud over him again. Books were another form of fog, dipping down to infiltrate and insidiously undermine the authoritative, official version, showing it up for the sham it was. He knew the stories were all made up, the characters puppets, the outcome predetermined, so why did they seem more real than reality? And why was no one else shocked by this gleeful scandal?

The tram squealed to a halt and the fat woman got up, still talking continuously on her mobile, stepped out into the street and instantly evaporated. The doors closed again and the tram lumbered into motion. With the seat next to him now empty, Gabriele spread out his paper and briefly skimmed the ongoing international and political stories. As usual, they reminded him of his mother's dictum regarding left-over food: 'Just add one new ingredient, and you can serve it up again and again.'

Here in the old centre of the city, the fog seemed even thicker, far more real than the transient hints of stone and glass formed and dissolved in the opaque vistas it offered. Gabriele turned to the Cronaca pages and read about a domestic homicide in Genoa, a drug death in Turin, and the discovery of a corpse in an abandoned military tunnel high up in the Dolomites.

The tram slowed to its next stop, the one before his. Gabriele closed the paper and folded it vertically so that it formed a tight short baton, then thrust it into his pocket and got off along with seven other people. He waited by the stop, feigning a coughing fit, until they had dispersed in the fog. The tram rolled away with its cargo of light, leaving him purblind in the miasma.

He crossed to the pavement, hurrying to avoid the lights of a car which turned out to be much closer than it had appeared, then stumbled along in the direction the tram had taken, stopping every so often to look and listen and to sniff the laden air. After a few blocks a café appeared, botched together at the last moment from fragments of gleam and glow. Gabriele paused for a moment, then pushed open the door.

He had never got off the tram at this stop before, and never been in this café, so it was only natural that he should take a vivid interest in every detail of the layout, décor, and above all the clientele. He inspected the other customers carefully, paying particular attention to those who entered after him. When his cappuccino and brioche arrived, he took them to the very end of the marble bar, where it curved around to meet the wall. From there he had a view of the entire room, and of the only entrance. The patrons appeared to be just the sort of people you would expect to find in that sort of café in that area of Milan at that time in the morning: solid, professional, well-heeled and preoccupied with their own concerns. They all stood in couples or larger groups and none of them paid him the slightest attention.

Gabriele took the newspaper out of his pocket, unfolded it furtively and read through the article again. Then he tossed it into the waste bin and wiped his hands on a paper napkin drawn from the metal dispenser on the counter. Whoever would have thought it? After all these years.

If it hadn't been for the postcards, he himself might have succeeded in forgetting by now. Apart from that time some Communist journalist had come around asking about Leonardo under the pretext of wanting to buy a book. But Gabriele had got rid of him in short order.

The series of postcards had begun the year after Gabriele had resigned his commission. Since then, they had arrived annually wherever he happened to be living at the time, all sent from Rome and postmarked on the anniversary of the day Leonardo had died. Since 1993, they had arrived at the shop. They were always the same, a cheap tourist postcard of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence showing Cellini's bronze statue of Perseus holding the severed head of Medusa. Gabriele's name and address were printed on the right-hand side of the reverse. The space intended for the message had been left blank.

'We'd better get going,' said one of the men at the bar. 'They'll be waiting for us.'

And they would be waiting for him, thought Gabriele. If not today, then tomorrow. If not at work, then at home. What made it worse was that he had no idea who 'they' were. Medusa was something he had put behind him long ago. He had even had the tattoo removed, a surgical intervention which had cost him quite a lot of money and some minor discomfort. All he had ever known about the organization had been the other three names in his cell, but there must of course have been many more besides theirs, and above all an over-arching command structure which no doubt reached up very far indeed into the military and political hierarchy. He had learned from an article in the press some years before that Alberto — now Colonel — Guerrazzi was now someone very high up in the secret services. Those people had unimaginable powers. If they felt threatened, as they undoubtedly must, by the potential disclosure of the truth behind Leonardo's death, their response was likely to be immediate, pre-emptive, and totally unpredictable.

Outside, the fog was as persistent as ever. Gabriele dodged into the first doorway he came to and glanced back. No one emerged from the café he had just left. He walked slowly on, head down, seemingly intent on keeping his footing and avoiding obstacles. A chirpy clanging announced the arrival of another tram. It ground to a halt at the stop where he normally got off every morning. He waited until the group of commuters had dispersed and then inspected the street carefully. The row of shops on the ground floor of the big eighteenth-century palazzo was beginning to open. They were mainly fashion and accessory outlets, with a jeweller's, a hair salon and his own antiquarian bookshop interspersed. There were very few people about, and no conspicuous watchers, but he knew that that meant nothing. Realizing that he was rapidly becoming conspicuous himself, he turned left and started to walk around the block.

I'm no good at this, he thought. Never had been, never would be. He'd tried hard, he really had, but do what he might he'd never been a natural like Alberto, Nestore and poor Leonardo. 'Not really officer material.' He'd never forgotten that comment. It had stung, even though an officer was the last thing he'd wanted to be, if he'd been honest with himself. And it had made no difference. Strings were pulled and buttons pushed, and he got his commission just the same, thanks to the influence of his father, who of course had never let him forget the fact.

But that martinet at the military academy had been right. He wasn't officer material. He could follow orders as faithfully as a dog, but he couldn't give them in such a way as to inspire the same unthinking obedience in others. Or even in himself. Above all, he lacked the initiative to improvise successfully when things got tough and there was no superior around to tell him what to do. Such as now.

What was he to do? Where was he to go? He hadn't spoken to his sister for months, and anyway they'd find him there easily enough. The same went for his few close friends, even supposing he could impose on them without explanation. A trip abroad was tempting, but that meant credit cards and identification and all the rest of it, a paper trail that could be traced. What he really needed to do was just disappear until the situation resolved itself.

He strode on with fake purposefulness through the eddying currents. When another café loomed up, he turned into it blindly and ordered a whisky. Gabriele rarely drank, and never before lunch. He knocked the foul-tasting spirit back like medicine, staring at his image in the mirror behind the bar, surprised as always by his sturdy, wiry body and determined gaze. He always thought of himself as tiny, weedy, frail and terminally inadequate. The joke that life had played on him was putting such a personality inside the body of a professional welter-weight boxer. It had saved him from getting beaten up at school, and later at the academy, but even those victories felt hollow, won by deceit. And the women in his life, unlike the men, had never been fooled. On the contrary, they had loved him, those few who had lasted longer than a week or two, precisely for the weakness they had so perceptively diagnosed. For a while it had seemed sweet to be mothered again, but in the end it felt like another defeat.

Besides, they had all wanted to be real mothers, and he had no intention of collaborating in a re-run of that sad sorry farce. Hippolyte Taine, whose collected works Gabriele was currently reading, had as usual got it ruthlessly right: 'Three weeks flirting, three months loving, three years squabbling, thirty years making do, and then the kids start again.' He wasn't going to let that happen to him. Besides, it might turn out to be a boy. He'd had enough of father-and-son routines to last him several lifetimes. The women had sensed this and moved on, and by now Gabriele had lost all interest in the whole business. If you didn't want children, what was the point? At his age, sex seemed a bit disgusting and stupid, and the present cultural obsession with it depressing and sick. According to various comments that his mother had let slip from time to time, this was at least one thing that he had in common with his father.

The café was starting to fill up now. It was small and rather seedy for this area, and the clientele was very different from that at the previous establishment: tradesmen, street sweepers, delivery drivers, city cops, pensioners, janitors . . .

It took another moment before the penny dropped, and when it did Gabriele had enough sense not to use his mobile. The café's pay phone was at the rear of the establishment, in an overflow zone where the tables and chairs began to peter out and be replaced by stacks of mineral water cases, cardboard boxes of crisps, unused advertising materials and a broken ice-cream freezer with its lid up. On the wall nearby hung a framed black-and-white aerial photograph of a small town somewhere in the alluvial flatlands to the south, Crema or Lodi perhaps. It must have been taken shortly after the war, for there was still little extensive development outside the walls, just a few suburban villas and the railway station. After that the vast plains spread away, faintly lined with dirt roads and dotted at intervals with isolated cascine, the rectangular complexes of clustered farm buildings characteristic of the Po valley.

He stood there, phone in hand, staring up at the photograph. Eventually the dialling tone changed to an angry whine. Gabriele hung up, fed in a coin and redialled. He knew what to do now, and it could be done.


'Fulvio, it's Gabriele Passarini.'

'Salve, dottore.'

'Listen, you remember that time, years ago, when I locked myself out of the shop?'

A brief laugh.

'It's happened again?'

'It's happened again. And I want you to do the same thing you did last time. Do you understand?'

'You mean go down to . . .'

'Yes, yes! Exactly what you did last time. I'll be waiting.'

There was a pause. When Fulvio finally spoke, he sounded flustered, perhaps by the intensity in Gabriele's voice.

'Very well, dottore. I'm up to my ears with work this morning, but . . .'

'I'll make it worth your while.'

He hung up, wiped his palms on his coat and returned to the bar, where he ordered and downed a coffee and then paid his bill before leaving the café.

Fulvio was waiting for him just inside the doorway. The janitor was a lean, stooping man whose perpetual expression of amazement, due to the loss of his eyebrows in an industrial accident, gave him a slightly gormless air. In fact, Fulvio was the intermediary, when not the instigator, behind everything that happened in the building. Gabriele had recognized this early on, and had always taken good care to ensure that Fulvio was aware that he both understood and appreciated the situation: a panettone from one of the city's best pastry shops every Christmas, some chocolates for his wife on her birthday, the occasional but satisfyingly large tip now and again.

Meet the Author

Michael Dibdin was born in England and raised in Northern Ireland. He attended Sussex University and the University of Alberta in Canada. He spent five years in Perugia, Italy, where he taught English at the local university. He went on to live in Oxford, England and Seattle, Washington. He was the author of eighteen novels, eleven of them in the popular Aurelio Zen series, including Ratking, which won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger, and Cabal, which was awarded the French Grand Prix du Roman Policier. His work has been translated into eighteen languages. He died in 2007.

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Medusa (Aurelio Zen Series #9) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dibdin's usual cynical take on the Italian police and justice system, which I understand is well deserved.As usual, it moves quickly and is very enjoyable as the reluctant police inspector, who tries his best to goldbrick ends up backing into the case reluctantly and solves it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A little short but it did retain interest.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I fall on to the ground. My ssscratches are poisonous you'll never survive she yelled. She then turned into dust. Evelyn then steped out of hiding. Who are you, you know what never mind just get me out of here. She then kisses him on the check and waited to go home.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Takes evelyn by the hand and they go home