The Aurelio Zen series begins as fairly traditional mysteries featuring the bemused Italian detective. Gradually, they become more and more comic. In Back to Bologna, Dibdin presents us with more of a spoof than a mystery novel.
Zen is not feeling his normal self. He is just recovering from a stomach operation, and he is also coping with troubles with his girlfriend, Gemma. She is leaving for Bologna to meet her son when Zen is also recalled to duty and sent to Bologna to solve the murder of a football team owner.
The victim is Lorenzo Curti, a millionaire entrepreneur who was found dead in his Audi, stabbed by a Parmesan cheese knife. Zen actually has little desire to investigate. His main reason for coming to Bologna is to keep an eye on Gemma.
A ridiculous situation is created by a celebrity cook-off between local semiotics professor Edgardo Ugo and the singing TV chef Romano Rinaldi, or Lo Chef. Ugo has suggested in a newspaper article that Lo Chef can’t cook, which has sparked a rivalry and this competition. Gemma gets tickets to the cook-off, and Zen ends up being arrested after Ugo is shot in the wake of the comic event.
Dibdin presents us with a large cast of characters, including a rich student of Ugo’s who is an “ultra” football fan, the student’s illegal immigrant girlfriend “Princess Flavia of Ruritania,” and the worst private detective imaginable. Despite the large number of characters, the solution is not at all difficult to guess.
Zen does very little detecting as we watch a series of incredible mishaps result in the murderer being delivered right at Zen’s feet. Although I found this novel mildly amusing, my interest in this series has been winding down, and I think this is a good place to stop.