Ever since The Name of the Rose conquered the world in the 1980s, every new Umberto Eco novel has been a fully-fledged literary event—without any quite matching the sustained brilliance of that debut. In truth, Numero Zero doesn’t either. 

Numero Uno
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
 

There’s still plenty to enjoy and at an unusually slim 200 pages, Numero Zero is also a pretty effortless way for new Eco readers to see what all the fuss is about. 

The latest book, like many of its predecessors, is based around a conspiracy theory—in this case, rather a good one.

Mussolini didn’t die in 1945. Instead, that famously disfigured corpse belonged to somebody else, while Il Duce himself was smuggled to Argentina. (In Eco’s hands, this becomes surprisingly convincing.)

What follows, again not for the first time, is a combination of a conventional thriller and a whole lot of other stuff that Eco wants us to know about.

Not all the tangents he goes off on—sports-car specifications, fraudulent orders of chivalry—are as rewarding as he seems to think.

Nonetheless, where the book is at its considerable best is its angry and persuasive depiction of the essential rottenness of post-war Italian politics.

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