Same old story

And Then You Die

Michael Dibdin<em> Faber and Faber, 166pp, £12.99</em>

ISBN 0571210325


After months in hospital, recovering from a bomb attack on his car in Sicily, Aurelio Zen is taking an enforced holiday on the Tuscan coast. He has nothing but a false identity for company, and pleasant but meaningless days on the beach to indulge in obligatory holiday flirtations and to contemplate an unwelcome retirement. As a string of bodies appears around him, however, it seems only a matter of time before the Mafia will turn up to finish the job they bungled a few months earlier, as described in Michael Dibdin's previous novel about the fictional detective, Blood Rain. So Zen is forced to flee undercover on a journey that takes him to Iceland and Rome, in an attempt to escape the threats on his life.

After the ambiguous ending of the last novel, Zen is shown to have risen, Holmes-like, from his particular Reichenbach Falls. There is an initial flurry of deaths among innocent people, in true Agatha Christie style, some Elmore Leonardish humour, a gadget straight out of James Bond, and a romantic sub-plot, making this a novel rich in generic references, but considerably less ambitious than Dibdin has led us to expect.

From the opening scene - an analysis of a beach hierarchy in which a place near the sea is treated with the same reverence as a box at La Scala - he creates a series of stylish tableaux that both vividly describe and understand this particular society. There are some imaginative cameo roles, including a frustrated artist who burns everything he paints. Zen himself is as intriguing as ever, struggling to come to terms with the recent death of his mother and a gloomy future. Dibdin's reputation has been enhanced by his academic interest in the crime fiction genre, and there is no shortage of allusion here. But in the end, And Then You Die reads more like a 166-page epilogue to Blood Rain than an original work.

The eponymous resurrection men of Ian Rankin's latest Rebus novel are six of Scotland's less orthodox detectives who are all suspicious of the institution that houses them. For this reason, they are sent back to the Scottish Police College for retraining. Rebus is included, having been taken off a murder inquiry into the brutal death of an Edinburgh art dealer, after throwing a mug of tea at a high-ranking officer. At the college, Rebus is set to work on an old unsolved case that is rather too close to home. In a complex layering of allegiances and interweaving of parallel plots, this soon becomes linked to the murder he left behind in Edinburgh, to a secret past shared by his new colleagues, and to Edinburgh's most notorious criminal.

Resurrection Men is Rebus's 13th outing, and it bears all the qualities that have established Rankin as one of Britain's leading novelists in any genre: a powerful sense of place; a redefinition of Scotland and its past; persuasive dialogue; and a growing compassion among its characters. What it lacks, however, is the originality of Rankin's previous novel, The Falls, which revelled in Edinburgh's blood-soaked history. This tale of drug war and corruption is conventional by comparison, and while Rankin's second best is still far ahead of the field, the sense of familiarity suggests that Rebus is perhaps not the only one covering old ground.