I’ve just finished reading the first of the Aurelio Zen novels by Michael Dibdin – Ratking – which was published in 1988. Like many new Zen readers, I bought the book after enjoying the BBC adaptations, but was also interested to see how the two compared, having heard that the TV episodes diverged somewhat from their source material.
I’d say that the TV adaptation of Ratking is loosely faithful to the novel, in the sense that both the reader and the viewer see Zen operating as a Venetian ‘outsider’ in a corrupt Italian policing system, and are aware of the dangers he faces should he make the wrong investigative/political move. But the Zen of the book is not the sharp-suited Italian of TV’s Rufus Sewell; nor is he shown negotiating with representatives from the higher echelons of government (he’s far too unimportant). And while the framework Ratking’s plot is taken up to some extent in the TV version, some aspects were significantly altered, like (ahem) the identity of the murderer.
I did, however, enjoy the novel exceedingly. Zen is nicely characterised, and the novel provides an intriguing insight into Italian society at the end of ‘the years of lead’ (a period of terrorism and kidnappings that lasted from the 1960s to the 1980s). It also provides a sharp critique of the power wielded by rich Italian families, and their immunity from the normal rules and regulations of society: sophisticated and cultured on the outside, but decadent and corrupt within. Well-written and entertaining, the novel only dipped slightly for me at the end, when the plot became a touch melodramatic. But it’s certainly worth a read, and I’m looking forward to sampling others from the series.
It’s interesting to compare the packaging of Ratking editions past and present: on the left, moody Italian cobbles, shadows and trilby-wearing detective; on the right, the star power of Rufus Sewell as Zen. With thanks to Peabody Jnr for technical assistance with the images.