Day 368: Dead Lagoon

Cover for Dead LagoonDead Lagoon is the most atmospheric of the Aurelio Zen mysteries I have read. In the novel, Zen returns to his home town of Venice, ostensibly to look into the “haunting” of the Contessa Zulian, his mother’s old employer, who is convinced that costumed “swamp dwellers” are invading her home. The contessa has long ago been deemed batty because of a tale she has been telling for years about a missing daughter. Although Zen has hitherto been incorruptible, he is actually there to work on the case of a missing wealthy American businessman, being paid under the table by the businessman’s family.

As Zen wanders or boats through the misty winter setting of Venice, visiting places he knew in his youth, he keeps stumbling over “ghosts,” some from his own past, and some actual dead bodies. A fisherman who spotted a ghost on the Isle of the Dead is drowned, then a crooked cop, head of the Venice drug squad, is found smothered in a sewer. In the search for the ghost on the cemetery island, an unexplained skeleton is found.

Zen’s investigation leads to a string of discoveries, of dishonest police, drug smuggling, and ambitious local politicians. His biggest discovery, though, is about his own family, including that nothing is what he thought it was.

I think what makes this Aurelio Zen book stand out is its depiction of Venice. The plot itself is rather disjointed and difficult to explain. Zen is able to solve both cases, but some readers have expressed frustration about the conclusion.

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