Here's the thing about Michael Dibdin's Vendetta (Vintage Crime, ed. 1998), the second Aurelio Zen mystery: it isn't actually that much about the crime that Zen is reviewing when the story starts. It is nominally, and there is a vendetta there, but Zen may also be subject of one, or maybe of several vendettas himself, depending on you read his office's politics and personal life. The plot layering in this novel is a bit like a sfogliatelle - you wonder if you can keep track of all those leaves, but they stick around like little crumbs in your consciousness well after you've finished the book. I found this frustrating at the time of reading, but now having finished, it makes quite a bit of sense. And in fact, Vendetta's bare-bones plotting on each of these is reminiscent of Andrea Cammilleri - nothing extraneous, and you'd better pay attention or you'll miss the key detail.
He's a pretty unhappy fellow is our Zen, in an almost Nordic-crime kind of way, but he doesn't Wallander in it. And he's Italian for godssake so at least he is stylish about it, although I don't see him as a sfogliatelle kind of guy. Coffee is his thing:
"Across the street from the newsstand, at the corner of the next block, was the cafe which Zen frequented, largely because it had resisted the spreading blight of skimmed milk, which had reduced the rich foam of a proper cappucino to an insipid froth. The barman, whose face sported a luxuriant moustache to compensate for his glossily bald skull, greeted Zen with respectful warmth."
I'm never ordering a skim cappucino again.
Part of the reason that I like crime fiction set elsewhere than the US, is the obvious escapist factor. Somehow it's just better on the Palatine Hill (there's a great quiet but nervy scene here where Zen uses the Palatine ruins to lose a tail). But the REALLY good stuff also washes away any sentimental romance you may hold for a place. Case in point with Vendetta: Sardinia. I've always thought it looked lovely, kind of like a more cosmopolitan Corsica, which I loved. But this story bypasses the glamorous Costa Smeralda for a harsh, non-touristed, arid, and terribly dangerous interior, where your life isn't worth much and no one will particularly care if it ends. I'm re-thinking Sardinia now, too.