There’s a flashy new interloper in the domain of Hercule Poirot and Endeavour Morse.
Italian detective Aurelio Zen makes his debut in the PBS “Masterpiece Mystery!” series “Zen” Sunday night, July 17. Played by English actor Rufus Sewell (“Middlemarch,” “Pillars of the Earth”), Zen is not your average PBS crime-solver. He looks more like James Bond than Poirot — darkly handsome in Italian-cut suits, easy on the eyes in a sensual, unself-conscious way. He fits into the beautiful Roman scenery as comfortably as a Michelangelo statue.
Not that we haven’t seen our share of charming and attractive lawmen in the “Mystery!” franchise. Inspector Morse (the late John Thaw) was the mature thinking-woman’s crush, with his literary bent and love of opera and crossword puzzles. In a similar vein was Commander Adam Dalgleish (Roy Marsden, Martin Shaw), a widower-poet with a lonely, cerebral intensity.
For those who liked their police officers exceedingly well-bred, there was Inspector Thomas Lynley (Nathaniel Parker), 8th Earl of Asherton, with his patrician good looks and a really nice car. And, most recently, there is Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh), the brooding, Teddy-bear of a Swede with just a few too many issues to put him in the hot-detective category.
Zen, the subject of a series of mystery novels by British crime writer Michael Dibdin, is not without baggage of his own. His wife has left him, and he’s living with his mother as he approaches (perhaps passes) 40. An honest man in an environment where the line between right and wrong is a little fuzzy, he’s not always the most popular guy among his peers. But, as portrayed by Sewell, he is one sexy cop, a fact that does not go unnoticed by his boss’ new secretary, Tania Moretti (Caterina Murino of “Casino Royale”). Let’s just say that sparks fly around the Questura di Roma in each of the three 90-minute “Zen” episodes.
First up is “Vendetta,” in which a killer is out to get the people he believes wrongly imprisoned him. Zen, who may be a target himself, is distracted by lovely Tania and the office pool on who will bed her first.
July 24 brings “Cabal,” which begins with the mysterious death of a disgraced aristocrat. While it may well be a suicide, the beautiful and aggressive female prosecutor in the case wants to find a murderer — and a way into Zen’s well-tailored trousers.
The series ends July 31 with “Ratking,” actually the first book in the Dibdin series. In this case, Zen is assigned by his tyrant of a boss to investigate the kidnapping of a wealthy industrialist, whose annoying family doesn’t seem all that concerned about his disappearance.
If you’re already a fan of the “Mystery!” series, you won’t be disappointed by this new addition. And it you haven’t discovered it yet, what are you waiting for? It doesn’t get any better than this.