Ratking by Michael Dibdin (Faber and Faber, £7.99).

The first of Michael Dibdin’s Inspector Zen series, written in 1988, is a fairly bleak affair.

Zen - in disgrace after an earlier operation went wrong - is pulled out of a mundane office job in Rome and sent to Perugia to take over the case of a powerful industrialist, Ruggiero Miletti, who has been kidnapped.

He soon finds there are many obstacles in his way. The local authorities see him as an interloper while the victim’s family, a group of damaged individuals, is hostile to his attempts to resolve the case.

What is terrific about this novel is the character fo Zen himself - dogged, put-upon, but with an amazing insight and a brave determination to get to the heart of the matter, despite numerous difficulties.

Perugia also comes alive in Dibdin’s descriptions and there is some really good writing in this novel. The following passage comes as Zen and two other officers search for clues in the empty home of a lawyer who has been murdered.

“Ubado Valesio himself made a ghostly fourth presence, smiling at them from photographs, haunting a wardrobe full of clothes, proclaiming his taste in books and records, even trying to lay claim to a non-existent future by way of a scribbled note on his desk jotter reading ‘Evasion Thursday re: plumbing’ “