247 pp., $23
Death in a Mood Indigo
By Francine Mathews
294 pp., $22.95
Cos Fan Tutti
By Michael Dibdin
However unremarkable the observation, the fact remains: On the way to a murder, plot is all. The more twists and turns a narrative takes within the bounds of logic, the more organized chaos it serves up, the better.
Two mysteries released this summer offer storylines intricate enough to satisfy any would-be sleuth.
In Cos Fan Tutti by British author Michael Dibdin, the suavely urbane and consummately cynical Venetian detective Aurelio Zen willingly banishes himself to Naples where the words "police" and "corruption" have been synonyms for centuries. He commands a lowly harbor detail. His jurisdiction includes the US 7th Fleet. There is a brothel run on the top floor of the police station.
Dibdin's writing is as lush as the Island of Capri floating in a Mediterranean haze across from Naples. He creates his own balmy haze of murder, mayhem, and the mystery of love. The title is from an opera by Mozart. The plot is zany and overtly chaotic. The action swirls around three sets of young lovers forced to disguise themselves becasue of a protective mother.
This being Naples, rival Camorra criminal clans are the backdrop to any of the would-be lovers' stories. Scenes shift from the local police station, to post-opera banquets, to mobsters disposing of each other in the evening garbage collection.
Death in a Mood Indigo takes place in much chillier waters. Francine Mathews crafts in this, her third Mary Folger Nantucket mystery, a plot every bit as complex as Dibdin's only puritanically serious in comparison.
Her deft touch begins with the unearthing of a skeleton by two children innocently digging in beach sand. The family dog runs down the beach with the bones. Has a serial killer found his way to Nantucket Island? His capture involves detective work every bit as complicated as the skills of a captain on a Yankee clippership during a nor'easter.
Mathew's keeps the compassion level high yet realistic as Folger tracks the killer in what her fellow officers consider an unorthodox manner: from the emotionally draining vantage of the victims and their family.