April 4, 2007

A TO Z, R.I.P.:

Michael Dibdin (Daily Telegraph, 04/04/2007)

Michael Dibdin, the bestselling crime writer, who has died aged 60, created the maverick Venetian detective Aurelio Zen, one of the quirkiest sleuths in crime fiction.

Dibdin combined a flair for complex plotting and biting characterisation with a mastery of satire and the surreal.

In all he produced 16 novels, 11 of them featuring Zen, and his work was translated into 18 languages. With popular success came critical acclaim: "During the Nineties," noted the legal commentator Marcel Berlins, "no writer of crime fiction attracted as much praise, and gave as much enjoyment, as Michael Dibdin."

His trademark was the multi-layered literary whodunnit, couched in prose that his contemporary Val McDermid described as "limpid and extraordinary"; another admirer concluded that Dibdin remained "one of an elite cadre of crime fiction writers for whom literary critics break out all of their favourite adjectives".

Dibdin deliberately tapped into British middle-class fantasies in the Aurelio Zen series. The appeal of the books lay partly in his decision to set each one in a different part of Italy (starting in the beautiful medieval city of Perugia), but also in the character of Zen himself: Dibdin invented him as an outsider, coming to Perugia as a stranger, much as Didbin himself had done when he arrived to teach English at the university there in the late 1970s.

Aurelio Zen's initials offered a clue to his creator's methods and motives; in the course of the series, Dibdin pieced together an A to Z of contemporary Italy, a composite of finely-drawn observations about the country and its people. [...]

Although his plots were convoluted ("as tangled as a dish of spag bol," as one reviewer put it), Dibdin was a thoughtful exponent of crime fiction with a literary cast, specialising in unsympathetic heroes (someone noted that Aurelio Zen is not a man with whom one would want to be marooned in a gondola), and he took an academic interest in the history of the genre.

Zen is sufficiently off-putting that I set the books aside the first couple times I tried them, but then got into Cabal and enjoyed the series.

Crime writer Michael Dibdin dies (Sarah Crown, April 4, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

The series often paints an unflattering portrait of modern Italy, as Zen is confronted with political cover-ups, petty bureaucracy and Mafia murders. The books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, although Dibdin admitted they did not sell well in Italy.

"Italians take a very elitist approach to anything that could be labelled as a genre or crime fiction or mysteries," he told January magazine in 1999.

"There's only one publisher that does them and in fact they're sold at newsagents rather than in book shops. But it's the same thing for anyone. That's just the way it is over there."

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2007 12:03 AM

I just learned today that Donald Hamilton, creator of the Matt Helm series of books, died November last in his native Sweden at the age of 90. Besides the 27 Matt Helm stories, Hamilton penned several noir thrillers and westerns in the 50s and 60s several of which were turned into films (Big Country, Rough Men, 5 Steps to Danger).

Don't let the Matt Helm films fool you. The books were in no manner like the slapstick thrown together to capitalize on the James Bond craze and Dean Martin's immense popularity. They were tightly written, featuring a protagonist to which many of us old codgers can relate.

Posted by: Mike L at April 4, 2007 6:07 PM