cover image Cabal


Michael Dibdin. Doubleday Books, $18.5 (241pp) ISBN 978-0-385-46806-0

Emblematic of the many deceptions and misconceptions upon which the latest stylish Aurelio Zen mystery turn are the layered, radical fashions of a hot new Italian designer named Falco. Introduced in Ratking , Zen is an investigator for Rome's Criminalpol. He is called from the apartment of his mistress, Tania Biacis, when an Italian aristocrat falls to his death from the observation gallery at the top of St. Peter's Basilica. In the tricky position as liaison between the Vatican Curia and Roman police, Zen is willing to confirm the former's explanation that the death was suicide, even though his investigation points to murder. But a second killing, disguised as an accident, and an anonymous letter in the newspapers suggesting the aristocrat's involvement with ``a sinister inner coterie'' in the Knights of Malta called the Cabal, sets him on a different, tortuously intricate course. Trying to promote his own interests--in particular holding on to the independent, entrepreneurial Tania, who wears Falco designs--Zen interprets the mostly unspoken expectations of the Curia and civil authorities in both Rome and Milan, where he uncovers the puzzle's solution in an Austro-French palazzo belonging to the heirs of the Falcones, a wealthy textile family. The dramatic opening in St. Peter's and its secular echo at the end effectively frame Dibdin's masterful portrayal of the complexities of Zen himself and his ornate, bureaucratic milieu in this demanding, satisfying novel. (Mar.)