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The tense, fast-paced book by Italiancrime writer Carlotto is both familiar (in form, tone and plot, this hearkens back to 1930s noir by masters like Hammett, Chandler and Cain) and exotic (in its European settings—these are the mean streets not of Los Angeles or Chicago, but of Padua).
Nearing 50, Marco "The Alligator" Buratti isa retired mobster, or anyway a mobster who would dearly like to be retired, left to sip Calvados and listen toblues in the dive he co-owns, "The Dog's Bed." He's now a small-scale private investigator and fixer, also a part-time righter of wrongs againstmistreated prostitutes. But when his old friend Beniamino Rossini's beloved is kidnapped and put into sexual bondage by the diabolically vengeful partner of a man Buratti, Rossini andtheir pal Max the Memorykilled years earlier, the three have no choice but tore-enter the game.Part of the reason they've stayed alive into middle age is that they've studiously avoided drug trafficking, with its unpredictabilityand extreme violence, but this casetakes them quickly and deeply intoconflict with a savage Eastern European drug cartel that's been funneling drugs from the former Yugoslavia into Italy and beyond.All the hallmarks of noir are here: bloodbaths galore, a false-floored plot, a plainspoken and staccato style (the translation is smooth), and a hero who'ssimultaneously ruthless and sensitive, with a quirkybut precisely calibrated moral sense that Carlotto explores and explains with panache. And the setting is beautifully—if grimly—realized.
La dolce vita it ain't—but this is top-notch Mediterranean noir.
Posted September 22, 2011
"This was underworld business: it was a mathematical certainty that it was going to end badly. Somebody was going to die. That was the only thing we knew for sure as the car raced eastward in the night."
It starts with a kidnapping that makes little sense, and moves nonstop into one of the most enjoyable literary treats I've read this year. Even though this crime novel is serious business, there's an air of humor that surrounds a trio of ex-cons and bad guys that are called in to solve the crime. Yep, these guys, having paid their dues as tough guys and retired from that life of crime, now just want to sit back and drink Calvados, eat pasta, and listen to the blues. Except for the lead, Marco Buratti, who also happens to be addicted to home shopping television shows.
The action is non-stop as it crosses through Italy and into the Balkans as the three men try to solve two mysteries. They had previously got involved in a hit that went wrong, the moral of which was, "know who you do business for and why before you shoot someone." Since they didn't obey that rule, they have to backtrack and solve that before the kidnapped woman can be found.
The characters that they run into are just that: characters. Carlotto makes them memorable, with little clues that make them feel much more complicated than just a simple definition of "bad guy". Drug smugglers have egos and their own tragic flaws, of which these experienced searchers exploit, while at the same time they lament,
"Why do Mafiosi always seem to have one useless son?"
This leads to an amusing conversation as they analyze The Godfather and The Sopranos to point out just which characters were intellectually-challenged. The rapport between the three is priceless, as they unquestionably back each other up, which would seem unlikely for the world they live in. And what a world that is, when drug smuggling and police corruption is impossibly powerful, with so many innocents thrown into the conflict.
I can't even begin to explain why this book was so much fun, given the subject matter was serious and at times, appalling. Perhaps it's the universal simplicities that unite everyone-good or bad-the power of a good meal? A view of the sea? The comfort of a regular table at the trattoria?
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