When the corpse of the shady industrialist who owns the local football team is found both shot and stabbed with a Parmesan knife, Italian police inspector Aurelio Zen is called to Bologna to oversee the investigation. Recovering slowly from surgery, and fleeing an equally painful crisis in his personal life, Zen is only too happy to take on what at first appears to be a routine and relatively undemanding assignment.
But soon a world-famous university professor is shot with the same gun, immediately after publicly humiliating Italy's leading celebrity television chef, and the case-intertwined with the fates of an earnest student of semiotics and a mysterious young immigrant who claims to be from Ruritania-spins out of control, and Zen is in no condition to rise to the challenge. There's also a wild card in the pack, Tony Speranza, Bologna's most flamboyant private detective.
Back to Bologna is dazzlingly plotted, features a cast of vivid and idiosyncratic characters, and along the way delivers both comic and serious insights into the realities of today's Italy.