Fans of the late Michael Dibdin's novels featuring Roman police detective Aurelio Zeno -- best known as Zen -- will find much to like in Zen, the new series that is part of PBS' Masterpiece Mystery! The episodes will air on three consecutive Sundays, beginning at 9 p.m. July 17, July 24 and July 31.
Those unfamiliar with Dibdin or Zen also will be so wrapped up in the evocative TV series that they will want to read the author's 11 novels.
Zen translates well to the screen, thanks in part to actor Rufus Sewell (The Pillars of the Earth) who portrays the insightful, incorruptible and compassionate Zen, and because of the respect the Left Bank Productions, and especially producer Michael Casey, have for Dibdin's work.
Dibdin's novels give an in-depth look at the vagaries of Italian police work and Italian society. Zen is an honest cop who is up against corruption each day, including from the police force. Too often, Zen battles criminals and his bosses, who seem to side more with crime gangs and want his cases wrapped up quickly to avoid political fallout. Because of this, Zen is more than a little cynical about justice and has no problems taking radical approaches or cutting corners so that he can right wrongs. Often he feels as if he is the only one interested in justice.
Zen lives with his mother (Catherine Spaak) because his marriage is failing. While he has no shortage of love interests, Zen is no lothario. He's almost too busy between his job, mom and failing marriage to think about romance. That is until he gets to know Tania Moretti (Caterina Murino) who is his chief's new secretary.
Dibdin, who died in 2007, received the Crime Writers Association's Gold Dagger Award for best novel for Ratking, the first novel in his Aurelio Zen series.
In addition to the characters, the TV series shows the breath-taking beauty of Rome and the Italian countryside that will have you wanting to pack a suitcase -- immediately.
"Vendetta," the episode airing July 17 is a good indicator of the series attention to detail and quality. In this episode, a killer is targeting those who he thinks wrongly imprisoned him. Although Zen had little to do with the man's conviction, he also is being hunted. Meanwhile, Zen is being pushed by his scheming boss to wrap up a politically charged murder.
"Vendetta" combines action and perspective on Zen. Each scene -- and this is true of the entire series -- is tightly packed so there is no lull in the story. Zen's plunge into a cave is a tension-filled scene that is beautifully filmed.
Zen airs at 9 p.m. July 17, July 24 and July 31 on PBS. Check your local station for additional airings or change in times.
Photo: Rufus Sewell, Caterina Murino in Zen. PBS photo