Aurelio Zen returns to his native Venice to investigate the disappearance of a rich American resident, but he soon learns that amid the hazy light and shifting waters of the lagoon, nothing is what it seems. Set in the unstable Italy of the 1990s, with the old order in disgrace.
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Aurelio Zen is back in his hometown of Venice, ostensibly seconded there to investigate crazy old Contessa Ada Zulian's insistent accusations that her palazzo is haunted. But he's really trying to pick up some lire under the table from the money managers of missing American Ivan Durridge, who'd love to get him certified officially dead or, if necessary, returned to them alive, so that they can get on with spreading his fortune around. A missing American is nothing new for the Venetian questurino, of course, but there's been no ransom demand, and Zen gets interested in the mystery almost despite himself. In the meantime, though, the case of la Contessa's ghosts comes to a head inconveniently when she's almost fatally wounded and a police stakeout flushes two guilty-looking suspects. His work apparently finished, Zen, who's made enemies from the corrupt head of the Drugs Squad to the rabble-rousing mayoral candidate of the Nuovo Repubblica Venetia, faces the summary revocation of his transfer, even though he still hasn't resolved the case of the missing Durridge, the much older mystery he's discovered surrounding the wartime disappearance of la Contessa's daughter - or his own affair with Cristina Morosini, the candidate's wife. Zen (Cabal, 1993, etc.) is sharp as ever in dealing with sneering Venetian lowlifes and bent Venetian cops, and it isn't his fault that this masterfully atmospheric tale winds down, like so many of Zen's adventures, to a bittersweet epilogue that will make most readers wish Zen could have stayed on the case forever. (Kirkus Reviews)