cover image Dead Lagoon: An Aurelio Zen Mystery

Dead Lagoon: An Aurelio Zen Mystery

Michael Dibdin. Pantheon Books, $21 (297pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43349-1

Always an erudite crime writer, Dibdin places complex characters into exacting plot puzzles that unfold in evocative prose rich in historical and geographic color. In the fifth case (the last was Cabal) featuring his Italian policeman Aurelio Zen, the sleuth leaves Rome for his native Venice to trace the disappearance of a wealthy businessman. While visiting the haunts of his youth and stirring fleeting memories (the name of a boyhood friend raises ``a host of remembered images... like a flock of disturbed pigeons''), Zen meets old men who confuse him with his father, who vanished mysteriously long ago. On an island used for mass burials, someone thinks he sees a vision, and a bag of heroin is misplaced. A new right-wing party is seizing power in the city, and Zen has the misfortune to fall for the estranged wife of the party leader. An old friend of his mother's, who's convinced that costumed ``Swamp-dwellers'' are invading her house, is far from credible, having been long judged unbalanced for a tale she tells of a missing daughter. Zen trails many lost people through twisting generations and winding waterways to face answers to questions he did not ask. Dibdin's mysteries are as nonlinear as the streets and canals of Venice; his prose is literate and seductive. (Jan.)