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.

Renaissance Florence

Renaissance Florence is an old textbook from a Renaissance History class I took in college back in the 1990s. Why have I kept moving it all these years? Who knows. But it came in handy when, after watching a few episodes of Medici on Netflix, I found myself thinking “I don’t think that actually happened, but I don’t really remember.” I was pretty sure that Cosimo de Medici wasn’t an artist at heart, but did he pay to fund the completion of the Duomo? I couldn’t remember. (No, no he did not. His father did.) And Savonarola is a character in the latest season. Were Savonarola and Lorenzo the Magnificent around at the same time as the Netflix series would have you believe? Not really, but I also haven’t watched the last season yet, and I don’t know what claims the series makes.

In short: Renaissance Florence is an academic history of Florence that I revisited so I could understand what liberties the very entertaining show was taking, as well as put some context around who the various families are and what was driving the economic and artistic growth in Florence at the time. I enjoyed it; however, it was also written in the late 1960s, and, not being a scholar of Italian history, I’ve no idea what updates it might need. Not to mention that I wasn’t reading it critically – I was reading lightly. It’s not a book I’d recommend reading for fun, unless you’re into that kind of thing, but it was helpful for my purposes.