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Zen - First episode reviewed

Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen and Caterina Murino as Tania

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

AURELIO Zen is the latest in a long line of TV detectives, some illustrious, others somewhat less so. The question is: do we really need yet another crime buster on our screens? Well, if Sunday night’s episode, the aptly entitled Vendetta, is anything to go by, the answer is a very definite yes.

Adapted for television from one of British author Michael Dibdin’s series of Roman crime novels, Vendetta introduces viewers to this most enigmatic and charismatic of Italian detectives, played, not as you might expect by an Italian, but by British actor Rufus Sewell.

Oddly, despite delivering his lines in flawless English – there’s not even a hint of an accent – Sewell becomes the archetypal Italian male – or at least what is generally perceived to be the archetypal Italian male – a feat achieved, no doubt, by his own good looks and Zen’s impeccable style and flirtatious manner, in particular with regards to new assistant Tania, played seductively by Sardinian-born actress Caterina Murino (Casino Royale).

But there’s more to Zen than meets the eye. No genius, he fails more often than he succeeds and although he’s prepared to be sneaky, he’s basically an honest man.

Moreover, where women are concerned he has a chequered past though, somewhat surprisingly, is currently living with his mother who, it has to be said, is anything but the archetypal Italian ‘Mama’.

Furthermore, there are two intriguing storylines cleverly interwoven yet remaining completely separate and involving a figure from the past seeking revenge and a murder confession which may or may not be false.

And it’s here, as he seeks to discover the truth, that Zen is caught between the demands of his police chief, who wants a conviction, and the shadowy officials who demand otherwise – an unwelcome dilemma indeed for an honest man.

There were some genuinely heart-stopping moments, not least when our intrepid detective unwittingly enters some underground caves far from his usual stomping ground in Rome. Seldom has fear induced by claustrophobia been better depicted than in the dark and narrow confines of the tunnels and the swirling waters within, not to mention Zen’s look of utter terror.

But Zen, it would appear, is indestructable and lives to tell the tale – not just once but three times.

Yet who am I to complain when his survival is crucial to a series that got off to such a promising start?

Filmed on location in Italy, it combines Italian je ne sais quoi with great storylines and smouldering sexual tension. What more could you ask of a Sunday evening?

Zen airs on Sunday nights on BBC1 at 9pm.