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Commissario Zen

Updated on September 19, 2014

Commissario Aurelio Zen

I like to get stuck into a good crime mystery and I thoroughly enjoy Inspector Zen.

My favourite fictional detectives in modern times are Italian but whereas Montalbano is in Sicily, Zen is most decidedly in Rome. And what a Rome it is!

The ancient Roman politicians would recognise it. The wheels within wheels of intrigue, scandal and political corruption. A Rome in which connections mean everything, men scramble for favours and where Aurelio Zen fights crime, despairs of bureaucracy and frets about his mother.

The Adventures of Inspector Zen

Commissario Zen

The Aurelio Zen novels, written by Michael Dibdin and turned into three episodes of a television series are simply a delight. They're perceptive narratives about Italian culture and Italian politics with a likable main character. Even better for me, they're in English.

Rufus Sewell plays Zen in the TV series.

Scandal in high places

Cabal: An Aurelio Zen Mystery
Cabal: An Aurelio Zen Mystery

Zen is summoned to the Vatican to investigate the suicide - or murder - of Prince Ludovico Ruspanti, a Knight of Malta, who plummeted to his death from the dome of the basilica.


Zen is handicapped by honesty

Almost all the time

Zen is an unusual detective in Rome.

He's subtlely foreign, scion of a notable and ancient Venetian family and somehow he doesn't quite fit into the blokey atmosphere of the office. He's different.

He has a reputation for integrity too.

Everything, the clothes, the dialogue, the coffee bars, the villains are thoroughly Italian in setting and tone. No, I'll amend that, Everything is thoroughly Roman.

These novels aren't translations, they're written in English. They have puzzling mysteries, dark secrets, explosive characters all the way from dubious back streets to the Vatican. Highly enjoyable books


Your scruples do you credit, detective, but, really it's no way to get ahead, is it?

Zen is a Real Roman

Right down to his socks

One reason, apart from his educated language, that Zen doesn't have many friends at work is his first class wardrobe. All the men we see dress well (they're Roman after all) but Aurelio is impeccably attired.

He looks the part of a suave, sophisticated lady-killer but he's actually a loner. At least until he meets the new receptionist, Tania.

Separated from his wife, Zen lives in an apartment with his mother. A real romance-killer.

There's constant slight tension at home, he wants Mama to go home to Venice (she won't because Zen, minus a wife, needs 'looking after'). She, meanwhile, wants him to reconcile with his wife (so she can finally go home to Venice).

Zen is now a television series

With just 3 episodes in the series

BBC Scotland and Left Bank Pictures produced three feature-length dramas based on the Zen novels, all filmed on location in Rome during 2010 and aired in January 2011.

BBC axed the show after just one series but the producers hope to make further adaptations for another broadcaster. I hope they do!

Sewell is how I had pictured Zen

From reading the novels I had a picture of Zen in my mind already. Often this can kill my interest in a filmed portrayal of a character but not so with Aurelio.

Rufus Sewell is magnificent--funny, oddly sexy, and suitably befuddled, as the Zen character was originally writte.

He is so very much as I had imagined Zen to be, albeit better looking.

Zen, the Series - DVD

This is a Collectors Item already!

Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking
Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking

Zen finds it tough being the only honest cop in town.

As admirable as this may be, it's made him enemies and held back his career. Plotting politicians, a stressed-out boss and vengeful gangsters don't make it any easier but the addition of the clever and ambitious Tania to the team sees Zen's vigour reawakened


Breakfast in Rome

Zen waits for his first caffe and cornetto of the morning.

The locations in the series are just wonderful. Naturally, this is Rome after all.

© 2012 Susanna Duffy

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @Mickie Gee: Have you heard anything specific on the TV show. I too loved it and was very sad to see it fold. Thanks.

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 6 years ago

      Disappointed to hear that BBC axed the TV series. I loved it. Hope PBS in the USA twists some arms and more of those fabulous shows are made featuring Zen.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 6 years ago from Iowa

      I'm amazed that I hadn't heard of this especially since it is now a tv series.Intriguing.

    • DuaneJ profile image

      DuaneJ 6 years ago

      Thanks for the introduction!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      Looks pretty interesting! Thanks for letting me know about this!

    • Burningwoodarts profile image

      Burningwoodarts 6 years ago

      Great lense. Looks like I have a new book series to read :)

    • APackageAtTheDoor profile image

      APackageAtTheDoor 6 years ago

      We love mystery books. Hadn't heard of Zen or Montalbano, but we will have to check them out. Thanks!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 6 years ago

      This looks quite good.

    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 6 years ago from Jersey Shore

      Nice lens - love to read and this sounds right up my alley! thanks

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 6 years ago

      I have seen Montalbano on TV here, but have missed Zen! Must do something about that.

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 6 years ago

      I haven't read a mystery in a long time, but it looks like now's a good time to start up again. Thanks for the recommendation! Very nice lens!