Cosí fan tutti (People are all the same), by Michael Dibdin

Okay, so I told myself (again) that I wasn’t going to write anymore reviews on Dibdin’s Zen series as I’ve already covered the first four books in two previous postings. The temptation is too great, though, especially when every time I use my coffee machine I can’t help but think about Aurelio Zen, the character all the books are based on.

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to travel in France, and I got so accustomed to drinking coffee the “proper” way, that I swore when I got back to Thunder Bay, I was buying a decent coffee machine that would keep me in the coffee-drinking style I had become accustomed to. Coffee for the French and the Italians is definitely an art form, and there are many strict rules that apply to its consumption and preparation. For example, it is sacrilege to put sugar in your coffee, and drinking a cappuccino after mid-day will set you apart as a tourist (in just the same way that anyone wearing shorts sets you apart as an American – the Italians don’t “do” shorts, and if they ever do, it’s done so stylishly that you wouldn’t even realize they’re wearing them).

So, what has this got to do with Zen? Well, Zen is a man who loves his coffee and who knows the rules that go with it. The reason I love these books so much is that you get an insider’s perspective on the customs and viewpoints of a culture quite dissimilar to North America. I shudder to think what an Italian would do if they caught wind of a double-double. I’m sure there would be much gesticulating and rapid-fire abuse at our insufferable ignorance.

This fifth book in the series is a little different in style from the others as it borrows its name and format from Mozart’s opera, Cosí fan tutte (All women are the same). Dibdin’s version posits Zen in the gritty city of Napoli, where he is his usual Zen self, never quite on the right side of the law, but never on the wrong side either. He’s lying low in Napoli having left a few disgruntled superiors behind in Rome. Instead of transferring to the Neapolitan Questura, though, he takes on a “cushie” job working for the port detail – a branch he figures won’t give him too much work to do. Well, of course he couldn’t be more wrong, as Napoli being Napoli is full of disrepute, and the port detail also happens to double as a brothel. Add to this a group in town called Strade Pulite (Clean Streets) who are taking out as many Mafia chiefs as they can, and transferring to Napoli becomes a whole lot more than Zen bargained for. It’s one thing after another, but, of course, it all comes together in the end in totally outrageous fashion.

I hope you enjoy this installment as much as I did.


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