Ratking is a book from my shelves, first bought over 20 years ago (and originally published in 1989). It’s a mystery that takes place in 1984-ish Italy, scarred by the political kidnappings of the late 1970s. It’s not a cozy mystery or one that wants you to see how beautiful Italy is. That black and white photo on the cover with the prominent shadow? Yeah, this is a film noir version of Italy, maybe hardboiled? Ratking has more in common with Raymond Chandler than it does with Under the Tuscan Sun.

Our hero, Aurelio Zen, is a disgraced police detective who gets put on a kidnapping case in Perugia because someone important is leaning on someone else important, and something needs to be done. Zen is the only person available, and no one really thinks there’s anything to this anyway, so it’s fine.

Plot-wise, it’s your standard mystery. But I love this book for its atmosphere – so weary and tired and full of crumbling beauty – and its description of what a ratking is. “A ratking is something that happens when too many rats have to live in too small a space under too much pressure. Their tails become entwined and the more they strain and stretch to free themselves the tighter grows the knot binding them…” It just seems so appropriate for this political season in which we find ourselves.

I will always love Ratking for its atmosphere and cynical beauty. If you want to see actual beauty, there is a three part series called Zen that you can buy on Amazon. Ratking is the third episode, even though it’s the first one in the book series.