Monday, October 24, 2022

54. Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo

Beware the trade paperback hyped by mainstream newspapers!  I exaggerate for effect.  I have been keeping an eye out for the Jean-Claude Izzo Marseilles trilogy for a while. I can't remember where I first heard it recommended but judging by the pull quotes on the copy I did find at Pegaus books, the hype reached a fever pitch amongst the literati.  Everybody was saying how hard-boiled his work was.  It's tough and there is some pretty harsh stuff here (unfortunately some of it the tired victimized women to motivate lone wolf male hero who can't make love work troope), but this is not what I call hard-boiled.  From the intro, I guess it is an evolution of the french neo-polar such as Manchette, where the world of crime is also intensely political.  There is a lot of poetic prose, which works okay in english and probably quite better in french as well as many very specific food and wine references.  It's all too flowery to make this book be hard-boiled, no matter the bleakness of the content.

Stripping away the hype and the mislabelling, this was a decent modern crime/mystery novel.  It begins with a man Ugo, returning from 20 years (in jail we presume though it is never explicitly mentioned) to avenge the murder of his criminal buddy, Manu.  An older criminal figure who is well connected points him to a high-ranking crime lawyer, whom Ugo shoots down. He is then gunned down by the police.  This is really just the inroduction to the main story and protagonist, sidelined cop Fabio who was the third friend.  His unofficial investigation into his friend's murder quickly dovetails into several other investigations (including the rape and murder of Leila an Algerian immigrant's daughter with whom he almost had a relationship) which then lead into the complex politics of the Marseilles underworld.

The descriptions of day-to-day life in Marseilles are juxtaposed with more expository (but brief) explanations of the tangled criminal networks in this central port city.  The latter is quite cool, but also often told rather than shown and at such a high scale that I sort of got lost and a bit disconnected.  It all does come together a bit quickly at the end and a bit too satisfyingly.  I accept that I am contradicting myself here, generally wanting a satisfying ending but not too satisfying.  This almost felt pat and a bit too easy after the convincing portrayal of the flexible power of the corruption between organized crime, business and politics in Marseille.

So I am glad that I have read the first book, but I do not feel a strong urge to continue with the trilogy.  I also am happy that Mediterranean Noir is supposedly a thing now and would be interested in other examples.

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