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Michael Dibdin: Ulster Questions, 21 April 1988

... What are you?’ As far as I remember, these were the first words ever spoken to me by an Ulsterman. Well, an Ulster child, actually. We would both have been about seven years old and it was my first day at school in the province. I’d previously attended a preparatory school in Cambridge and another in Dunfermline, but neither had prepared me for the question so abruptly shoved in my face that morning ...

Ghosts in the Machine

Michael Dibdin, 5 February 1987

Slaves of New York 
by Tama Janowitz.
Picador, 278 pp., £3.50, January 1987, 0 330 29753 8
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... How do you like to be approached by a strange work of fiction? Do you prefer a hearty handshake (‘Call me Ishmael’), a more discursive line (‘All happy families are alike’), or a low-key manner (‘For a long time I used to go to bed early’)? What about this, for example? After I became a prostitute, I had to deal with penises of every imaginable shape and size ...

How to vanish

Michael Dibdin, 23 April 1987

The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis 
by Humberto Costantini, translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni.
Fontana, 193 pp., £3.50, January 1987, 0 00 654180 1
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Requiem for a Woman’s Soul 
by Omar Rivabella, translated by Paul Riviera.
Penguin, 116 pp., £2.95, February 1987, 0 14 009773 2
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Words in Commotion, and Other Stories 
by Tommaso Landolfi, translated by Ring Jordan and Lydia Jordan.
Viking, 273 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 670 80518 1
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The Literature Machine 
by Italo Calvino, translated by Patrick Creagh.
Secker, 341 pp., £16, April 1987, 0 436 08276 4
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The St Veronica Gig Stories 
by Jack Pulaski.
Zephyr, 170 pp., £10.95, December 1986, 0 939010 09 7
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Kate Vaiden 
by Reynolds Price.
Chatto, 306 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 7011 3203 5
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... To vanish from sight; be traceable no farther; cease to be present; be lost, especially without explanation.’ The verb in question normally behaves intransitively, but in Argentina after 1976 it learned to take a direct object as the military regime disappeared between nine and twenty thousand people. Humberto Costantini and Omar Rivabella both write about this, but their approach is so different that their books in fact complement each other ...

City of Dust

Julian Symons, 25 July 1991

A Den of Foxes 
by Stuart Hood.
Methuen, 217 pp., £13.99, July 1991, 9780413651105
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Dirty Tricks 
by Michael Dibdin.
Faber, 241 pp., £13.99, June 1991, 0 571 16216 9
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A Strange and Sublime Address 
by Amit Chaudhuri.
Heinemann, 209 pp., £13.99, June 1991, 9780434123483
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by Patrick McGrath.
Viking, 221 pp., £13.99, April 1991, 0 670 83684 2
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... imaginative benefits, weakens any intended social point. So it is no surprise that Stuart Hood and Michael Dibdin concern themselves with the present state of society and morality via Science Fiction and a crime story. Both have produced ingenious – indeed, immensely clever – fictions. Hood’s Peter Sinclair, a battered ‘historical ...

Show us the night

Michael Gorra: Michael Dibdin, 26 November 1998

A Long Finish 
by Michael Dibdin.
Faber, 249 pp., £16.99, September 1998, 0 571 19341 2
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... A Long Finish, to the wine and truffle country of the Piemonte, the sue tragicomic adventures of Michael Dibdin’s Venetian-born ‘supercop’ Aurelio Zen have offered many of the pleasures of tourism. Dibdin, however, skips over Italy’s ancient monuments to concentrate on its kidnappings and financial scams, its ...

Diamond Daggers

Stephen Wall, 28 June 1990

Death’s Darkest Face 
by Julian Symons.
Macmillan, 272 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 333 51783 0
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by Michael Dibdin.
Faber, 281 pp., £12.99, June 1990, 0 571 14332 6
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by Barbara Vine.
Viking, 296 pp., £13.99, March 1990, 0 670 83241 3
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... preference – the demands of the form prevail, and person is inevitably upstaged by plot. Michael Dibdin’s Vendetta marks the reappearance of Aurelio Zen, the Venetian cop who cleared up an unsavoury kidnapping in Ratking (Gold Dagger Award, 1988), where the unsparing exposé of depravity among the powerful of Perugia was matched by a command ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, 26 April 2018

... appears in so many legends and quite a bit of history. And in the fiction of Leonardo Sciascia and Michael Dibdin, where a crucial question about any crime is not who did it, but what to do with any knowledge you may have of this fact. Is there anyone you could report it to who might not be the criminal’s friend or protector? The same question arises in ...

Interesting Fellows

Walter Nash, 4 May 1989

The Book of Evidence 
by John Banville.
Secker, 220 pp., £10.95, March 1989, 0 436 03267 8
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by Patrick McCabe.
Aidan Ellis, 252 pp., £11.50, March 1989, 0 85628 180 8
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The Tryst 
by Michael Dibdin.
Faber, 168 pp., £10.99, April 1989, 0 571 15450 6
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by James Hamilton-Paterson.
Macmillan, 264 pp., £12.95, March 1989, 0 333 45194 5
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... time is teasingly twisted, like a Möbius strip. That would perhaps not be a fair description of Michael Dibdin’s The Tryst, but it is nevertheless a novel of complex structure, the recurrent theme of which is the operation of the past in the present. ‘The past is dead,’ psychiatrist Aileen Macklin tells her young patient, Steven ...

Cold Winds

Walter Nash, 18 December 1986

Answered Prayers 
by Truman Capote.
Hamish Hamilton, 181 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 241 11962 6
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A Rich Full Death 
by Michael Dibdin.
Cape, 204 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 9780224023870
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Leaning in the Wind 
by P.H. Newby.
Faber, 235 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 571 14512 4
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The Way-Paver 
by Anne Devlin.
Faber, 155 pp., £8.95, November 1986, 0 571 14597 3
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... Monsters and delusions of a more agreeable kind lurk in the stylish, elaborately skilful pages of Michael Dibdin’s A Rich Full Death. Ostensibly this is a detective story, a species of Holmesian charade penned by a paranoiac Dr Watson: yet even at this level it teases the reader with mysteries that go beyond the conventionally mysterious. The story is ...


John Sutherland, 21 April 1988

by Stephen King.
Hodder, 320 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 340 39070 0
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The Tommyknockers 
by Stephen King.
Hodder, 563 pp., £12.95, February 1988, 0 340 39069 7
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by Elmore Leonard.
Viking, 245 pp., £10.95, February 1988, 9780670816545
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by Charles Willeford.
Gollancz, 293 pp., £10.95, March 1988, 0 575 04197 8
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by Michael Dibdin.
Faber, 282 pp., £10.95, April 1988, 0 571 15147 7
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... crime of the day, kidnap and ransom is the Italian equivalent and forms the main business of Michael Dibdin’s Ratking. The title, incidentally, alludes to an unwilling syndicate of rodents, whose tangled tails oblige them to act as a unit: I suspect the image is not zoologically sound. The novel’s detective hero, Aurelio Zen, is a Venetian ...

Hanging out with Higgins

Michael Wood, 7 December 1989

Silent Partner 
by Jonathan Kellerman.
Macdonald, 506 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 356 17598 7
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‘Murder will out’: The Detective in Fiction 
by T.J. Binyon.
Oxford, 166 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 9780192192233
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Devices and Desires 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 408 pp., £11.99, October 1989, 0 571 14178 1
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by Elmore Leonard.
Viking, 287 pp., £12.95, October 1989, 0 670 82258 2
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by George V. Higgins.
Deutsch, 213 pp., £11.95, November 1989, 0 233 98513 1
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Polar Star 
by Martin Cruz Smith.
Collins Harvill, 373 pp., £12.95, October 1989, 0 00 271269 5
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... How many of our highbrows, for example, the ones who get the lead reviews, write as well as, say, Michael Dibdin, author of the haunting Ratking? P.D. James’s new novel seems to return us straight to Auden’s theology. It is set in rural East Anglia, and takes its title from the Anglican prayer book: ‘We have erred and strayed from thy ways like ...

Motherly Protuberances

Blake Morrison: Simon Okotie, 9 September 2021

After Absalon 
by Simon Okotie.
Salt, 159 pp., £9.99, January 2020, 978 1 78463 166 6
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... to is Zen – not Aurelio Zen (the detective who featured in eleven crime novels by the late Michael Dibdin) but the meditative self-awareness associated with Zen Buddhism (the dedicatees of Okotie’s three novels – Maitreyabandhu, Danayutta and Sanghasiha – are all associated with the London Buddhist Centre). The Okotie detective is ...

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