A Week in Books: The drive to explore fresh characters and forms

Conan Doyle, of course, famously did. Sherlock Holmes "died" at the Reichenbach Falls in 1893, and returned in "The Empty House" in 1901. This week, David Pirie's BBC2 drama The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle presented the first demise as a spin-off from the author's family traumas. In Arthur & George, Julian Barnes takes a much brisker view, with Holmes's creator embarrassed by the sleuth's snowballing global cult but unable to withstand the financial temptations to bring him back.

Conan Doyle was the first of many successful crime writers to feel tugged between the easy rewards of a serial investigator and the drive to explore fresh characters and forms. The better the author, the sharper the tension. Over the past few years, Michael Dibdin's series about his maverick Venetian detective Aurelio Zen has offered a piquant, double-edged fascination. Zen, whose superbly written early outings in novels such as Ratking and Cabal made a nonsense of the distinction between "genre" and "literary" fiction, has gone on solving his cases, annoying his bosses, and dodging the gruesome beasts that lurk in modern Italy's various underworlds. At the same time, Dibdin has sometimes seemed as frustrated with his hero as Zen is with his job, and just as keen to play games and break rules.

In Back to Bologna (Faber, £10), Dibdin junks the traditional whodunit in favour of a sort of literary operetta. This gaudy squib abounds with in-jokes, caricatures and sitcom-style stunts. The owner of Bologna's soccer team has been found murdered, but that investigation - and the motives of the killer - matters much less than all the satirical routines. Dibdin packs in a celebrity chef who can't cook, a ludicrous private eye, more Sellers than Chandler, and a cartoon version of Umberto Eco as a glib donnish superstar named "Edgardo Ugo". Anyone who remembers the melancholic elegance of the early Zens may feel vaguely insulted. You know that a crime writer has lost his way and his zest when a character prattles self-referentially (as "Ugo" does) about "a deconstruction of the realistic, plot-driven novel". In which case, fans might wonder, why not start to deconstruct Dibdin's sales figures too?

Besides, why stick with a pretend Italian when you can enjoy the real thing? Readers who want a native rival to Zen should hunt down The Voice of the Violin, the latest of Andrea Camilleri's fine Inspector Montalbano mysteries to be exported (translated by Stephen Sartarelli; Picador, £12.99). Here, "Italian" counts as an official term: Camilleri is above all a proud Sicilian. His crime novels convey a quiet devotion to the island's people, places and (mouth-wateringly) its food.

This time, Montalbano has to cope with the death of a glamorous incomer who was building her Sicilian dream home, the fatal blunders of the Flying Squad, and a disfigured violin virtuoso who may hold the key to the murder. Camilleri still respects his readers enough to lavish care and craft on plot and clues, while the local colour comes naturally in unobtrusive strokes. The result is that Montalbano's latest course seems as satisfying as the "substantial dish of lamb alla cacciatora" that he puts away. Zen's escapade, in contrast, feels about as nourishing as a slapdash pile of fake "spaghetti bolognese" thrown down with contempt in an English greasy-spoon.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory