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Overview

Second in the renowned Marseilles trilogy following Total Chaos, “one of the masterpieces of modern noir” (Michael Dirda, The Washington Post).

This second novel in Izzo’s acclaimed Marseilles trilogy is a touching tribute to the author’s beloved city, in all its color and complexity. Fabio Montale is an unwitting hero in this city of melancholy beauty. Montale has left a police force marred by corruption, xenophobia, and greed. But getting out is not going to be so easy. When his cousin’s son goes missing, Montale is dragged back onto the mean streets of a violent, crime-infested Marseilles. To discover the truth about the boy’s disappearance, he infiltrates a dangerous underworld of mobsters, religious fanatics, crooked cops, and ordinary people driven to extremes by desperation.

“Noir at its finest.”—The Times Literary Supplement

“Izzo, who died in 2000, is more than adept at noir conventions—gritty light, sudden switches of scene, the pervasive rot of cynicism, which sullies even the best intentions. But what makes his work haunting is his extraordinary ability to convey the tastes and smells of Marseilles, and the way memory and obligation dog every step his hero takes.”—The New Yorker

“Like the best American practitioners in the genre, Izzo refrains from any sugarcoating of the city he depicts or the broken and imperfect men and women who people it.”—Publishers Weekly

“This hard-hitting series captures all the world-weariness of the contemporary European crime novel, but Izzo mixes it with a hero who is as virile as he is burned out.”—Booklist

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609454500
Publisher: Europa Editions, Incorporated
Publication date: 08/14/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jean-Claude Izzo was born in Marseilles in 1945. Best known for the Marseilles trilogy (Total Chaos, Chourmo, Solea), Izzo is also the author of The Lost Sailors and A Sun for the Dying. Izzo is widely considered the founder of the modern Mediterranean noir movement. He died in 2000 at the age of 55.

For Europa Editions, Howard Curtis has translated five novels by Jean-Claude Izzo, including all three books in Izzo's Marseilles trilogy, as well as fiction by Francisco Coloane, Canek Sánchez Guevara, Caryl Férey, and Santiago Gamboa.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

In which happiness is a simple idea when you've got the sea in front of you

There's nothing more pleasant, when you have nothing to do, than to have a snack in the morning and sit looking at the sea.

As a snack, Fonfon had made an anchovy purée, which he'd just taken out of the oven. I'd come back from fishing, and was feeling happy. I'd caught a fine bass, four bream and a dozen mullet. The anchovy purée added to my happiness. I've always been happy with simple things.

I opened a bottle of Saint-Cannat rosé. The quality of Provençal rosés was getting better every year. We drank, to whet our appetite. The wine, from the Commanderie de la Bargemone, was delicious. Beneath your tongue you could feel the warm sun on the low slopes of the Trevarese. Fonfon winked at me, and we started dipping slices of bread in the anchovy purée, seasoned with pepper and chopped garlic. My stomach was aroused at the first mouthful.

"God, that's good!"

"You said it."

It was all you could say. One more word would have been one word too many. We ate without talking. Gazing out over the surface of the sea. A beautiful autumn sea, dark blue, almost velvety. I never tired of it. I was constantly surprised by the attraction it had over me, the way it called to me. I'd never been a sailor or a traveler. I'd had dreams, adolescent dreams, of sailing out there, beyond the horizon. But I'd never gone very far. Except once. To the Red Sea. A long time ago.

I was nearly forty-five, and like many people in Marseilles I liked stories of travel more than travel itself. I couldn't see myself taking a plane to Mexico City, Saigon or Buenos Aires. I belonged to a generation to which travel meant something very particular. Liners, freighters. Navigation. The rhythm of the sea. Ports. A gangway thrown onto the quay, the intoxication of new smells, unknown faces.

I was content to take my boat, the Tremolino, with its pointed stern, out beyond Ile Maire and the Riou archipelago, and fish for a few hours, wrapped in the silence of the sea. I didn't have anything else to do. Go fishing, when the mood took me. Or play belote between three and four. Or a game of pétanque with aperitifs as the stake.

A well-ordered life.

Sometimes, I'd set off along the calanques, the rocky inlets that line the coast: Sormiou, Morgiou, Sugiton, En-Vau, and so on. I'd walk for hours, with my rucksack on my back, sweating, breathing hard. It kept me in shape. It allayed my doubts, my fears. My anxieties. The beauty of the calanques reconciled me to the world. Always. And they really are beautiful. Saying it is nothing, you have to see them. But you can only reach them on foot, or by boat. Tourists always thought twice about it, which was just as well.

Fonfon got up about a dozen times, to serve his customers. His regulars, guys like me. Old guys especially, who weren't put off by his bad temper. Or even by the fact that you couldn't read Le Méridional in his bar. Only Le Provençal and La Marseillaise were allowed. Fonfon was an old Socialist Party activist. He was broad-minded, but not so broad-minded that he could ever tolerate the National Front. Especially not here, in his own bar, where so many political meetings had been held. Gastounet, as the former mayor was familiarly known, had even come once, with Milou, to shake hands with the Socialist activists. That was in 1981. Then disillusionment had set in. And bitterness.

One morning, Fonfon had taken down the portrait of the President from over the coffee machine and had thrown it in the big red plastic trash can. We'd heard the glass breaking. From behind his counter, Fonfon had looked at us, one after the other, but nobody had breathed a word.

Not that Fonfon kept his views hidden after that. Nor did he hold his tongue. Fifi-Big-Ears, one of our belote partners, had tried to explain to him the previous week how Le Méridional had changed. Sure, it was still a right-wing newspaper, but on the liberal side. And anyhow, outside Marseilles, the local pages were the same in Le Provençal and Le Méridional. So there was no point in making so much fuss ...

They'd almost come to blows.

"Look, a paper that made its name inciting people to kill Arabs makes me sick. I feel dirty just looking at it."

"Damn! We can't even talk to you!"

"My friend, that's not talking. That's raving. Look, I didn't fight the Boches to hear your crap!"

"Oh, no, here we go again," Momo had said, trumping Fonfon's ace of clubs with the eight of diamonds.

"Nobody's talking to you! You were with the riffraff who fought for Mussolini! Count yourself lucky I even let you in here!"

"Belote," I said.

But it was too late. Momo had thrown his cards on the table.

"Well, I can go play someplace else."

"All right then. Go to Julien's. At his place, the cards are red, white and blue. And the king of spades wears a black shirt."

Momo had left and hadn't set foot in Fonfon's bar again. But he didn't go to Julien's. He just didn't play belote with us anymore. And that was sad, because we liked Momo. But Fonfon was right. Just because you were getting old was no reason to keep your mouth shut. My father had been just like him. Worse, maybe, because he'd been a Communist, and in the world today Communism was nothing but a cold heap of ashes.

Fonfon returned with a plate of bread rubbed with garlic and fresh tomato. Just to soften up the palate. Another good reason to drink more of the rosé.

The harbor was slowly waking up with the first warm rays of the sun. There wasn't the same commotion here as there was on the Canebière. Here it was just a background hum. Voices, bursts of music. Cars setting off. Boat engines being started. And the first bus arriving, and filling up with school kids.

When summer was over, Les Goudes, only half an hour from the center of the city, reverted to being a village of six hundred people. Since I'd come back to live in Marseilles, a good ten years before, I hadn't been able to settle anywhere but here, Les Goudes. In a small cottage — two rooms and a kitchen — that I'd inherited from my parents. In my spare time, I'd fixed it up as best I could. It was a long way from being luxurious, but eight steps led down from my terrace to the sea, and my boat. And that was a whole lot better than waiting to find paradise.

Unless you'd walked all the way here, you'd find it impossible to believe that this little sun-baked harbor town is an urban district of Marseilles, the second largest city in France. It feels like the end of the world. Half a mile away, at Callelongue, the road turns into a white, stony path, and the vegetation becomes sparse. It was from there that I set out on my walks. Through the Vallon de la Mounine and the Plan de Cailles to the Cortiou and Sormiou passes.

The boat from the diving school emerged from the fairway, heading for the islands of the Frioul. Fonfon watched it go by, then turned to me and asked, solemnly, "So what do you think?"

"I think we're going to get screwed."

I didn't know what he was talking about. With him, it could be the Ministry of the Interior, the Islamic Salvation Front, or President Clinton. Olympique Marseilles's new coach. Or even the Pope. But my answer was almost certainly the right one. Because the one sure thing was that we were going to get screwed. The more they droned on about society, democracy, freedom, human rights and the rest of it, the more screwed we were. As sure as two and two make four.

"Yeah," he said. "That's what I think too. It's like roulette. You keep betting, but there's only one hole and you always lose. They always trick you."

"But as long as you're betting, you're still alive."

"These days, you have to play for big stakes. And I don't have enough chips anymore, my friend."

I finished my drink and looked at him. His eyes were trained on me. The big purplish rings below them accentuated the thinness of his face. I hadn't noticed Fonfon get old. I wasn't even sure how old he was. Seventy-five, seventy-six. Not as old as all that.

"You're going to make me cry," I said, as a joke.

But I knew he wasn't joking. It was a major effort for him to open the bar every morning. He couldn't stand the customers anymore. He couldn't stand being alone anymore. Maybe one day he wouldn't be able to stand me anymore either, and I was sure that worried him.

"I'm going to quit, Fabio."

He made a sweeping gesture to take in the whole of his bar, a vast room with twenty-odd tables, table soccer in one corner — a rare specimen from the sixties — and a zinc and wood bar counter, which Fonfon polished carefully every morning. And the customers. Two guys at the counter, the first engrossed in L'équipe and the second peering at the sports results over his shoulder. Two old guys, almost facing each other, one reading Le Provençal, the other La Marseillaise. Three school kids waiting for the bus, telling each other about their vacations.

Fonfon's world.

"Come on, you're talking crap!"

"I've always been behind a bar. Ever since I arrived in Marseilles with my poor brother Luigi. You never knew him. We were sixteen when we started. At the Bar de Lenche. Then he became a longshoreman, and I carried on. The Zanzi, the Jeannot bar at the Cinq-Avenues, the Wagram on the Vieux-Port. After the war, when I had a little money, I settled here. In Les Goudes. It felt good here. That makes forty years.

"We all used to know each other. One day you'd be helping Marius repaint his bar, the next day he'd be giving you a hand to fix up the terrace. You'd go fishing together. Honorine's husband, poor old Toinou, was still around. The things we caught! We'd put it all together and make huge bouillabaisses. One time at my house, another time at someone else's. With the women and children. Twenty or thirty of us there were, sometimes. We had a good laugh! I'm sure your parents, God rest their souls, wherever they are, still remember."

"I remember, Fonfon."

"Yeah. You always made a scene, because the only thing you'd eat was soup with croutons. No fish. Your poor mother was so embarrassed."

He stopped speaking, lost in memories of "the good old days." I was a worm in those days. I'd pretend to drown his daughter, Magali, in the harbor. We were the same age. Everyone thought we'd get married. Magali was my first love. The first girl I ever slept with. In the blockhouse above the Maronnaise. In the morning they bawled us out because we hadn't come home till after midnight.

We were sixteen.

"That was a long time ago."

"That's what I'm saying. You see, we each had our own ideas. We bawled each other out, worse than fishwives. And you know me, I was as bad as any of them. I've always been loud. But all the same, we had respect. Nowadays, if you don't dump on those who are poorer than you, they spit in your face."

"What are you going to do?"

"Close down."

"Have you talked to Magali and Fredo?"

"Don't make yourself out to be stupider than you are. When did you last see Magali here? Or the kids? For years now, they've been playing at being Parisians. With all the things that go with it, the car and everything. In the summer, they prefer to get their asses tanned in Benidorm or Turkey or on some island or other. This is just a place for deadbeats like us. As for Fredo, maybe he's dead. The last time he wrote me, he was going to open an Italian restaurant in Dakar. The blacks have probably eaten him alive! You want a coffee?"

"I'd love one."

He stood up. He placed his hand on my shoulder and leaned toward me, his cheek brushing against mine.

"Fabio, put one franc on the table, and the bar is yours. I've been giving it a lot of thought. You're not going to spend the rest of your life doing nothing, right? Money comes and goes, but it never lasts. I'll keep the cottage, and when I die you just make sure they put me next to my Louisette."

"You're not dead yet, dammit!"

"I know. So you still have time to think about it."

He left me and walked to the bar before I could say another word. Not that I knew what to say. His proposition had left me speechless. So had his generosity. But I couldn't see myself behind a bar. I couldn't see myself anywhere.

I was waiting to see what the future would bring.

What it was bringing, right now, was Honorine. My neighbor. She was walking briskly, her shopping bag under her arm. For an old woman of seventy-two, her energy never ceased to amaze me.

I was finishing my second cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. I could feel the gentle warmth of the sun on my back. It helped me not to despair completely about the state of the world. The war was still going on in the former Yugoslavia. Another had just broken out in Africa. Another was brewing in Asia, on the borders of Cambodia. And it seemed almost inevitable that all hell was about to break loose in Cuba. Or Central America, or somewhere in that neck of the woods.

Closer to home, things weren't exactly rosy either.

"Burglary in the Panier Leaves Two Dead," read a headline in the local pages of Le Provençal. It was a brief item, in the stop press. Two people had been found murdered in a house whose owners had spent the weekend in Sanary. It wasn't until last night that they'd discovered the bodies of two friends who'd been staying there. The house had been emptied of anything that was worth reselling: TV, VCR, stereo, CD player, and so on. According to the police, the victims had died during the night of Friday to Saturday, about three in the morning.

Honorine came straight up to me. "I thought I'd find you here," she said, putting her shopping bag down.

At the same moment, Fonfon appeared, smiling. The two of them liked each other.

"Hi, Honorine."

"I'll have a coffee, Fonfon. But not too strong, eh, I've already had too much." She sat down, and pulled her chair toward me. "Guess what? You have a visitor."

She looked at me, waiting for my reaction.

"Where? At my place?"

"Yes, of course at your place. Not at mine. Who do you think would come see me?" She was waiting for me to question her, but I could see she was burning to tell me anyway. "You'll never guess who it is!"

"No, I can't."

I couldn't imagine who'd be visiting me. Just like that, at nine-thirty on a Monday morning. The love of my life was with her family, somewhere between Seville, Córdoba and Cádiz, and I had no idea when she'd be back. I didn't even know if Lole would be back at all.

"You're going to be surprised." She looked at me again, a crafty gleam in her eyes. She couldn't hold back anymore. "It's your cousin. Your cousin Angèle."

Gélou. My beautiful cousin. That really was a surprise. I hadn't seen Gélou for ten years. Since her husband's funeral. Gino had been shot dead one night as he was closing his restaurant in Bandol. As he wasn't a crook, everyone thought he'd fallen foul of racketeers. The investigation ended up forgotten, like so many others, at the back of a drawer. Gélou sold the restaurant, took her three children and left to start a new life elsewhere. Since then I hadn't heard from her.

Honorine leaned toward me. "The poor woman doesn't seem like her old self," she said, in a confidential tone. "I'd swear she's in trouble."

"What makes you say that?"

"It's not that she wasn't nice. She gave me a kiss, and lots of smiles. We had coffee and chatted a little. But I could see that under all that, she's going through a hard time."

"Maybe she's just tired."

"In my opinion, she's in trouble. And that's why she's come to see you."

Fonfon returned with three coffees, and sat down facing us. "I thought you'd like another one, OK?" he asked, looking at us.

"It's Gélou," Honorine said. "Do you remember?" He nodded. "She's just arrived."

"What of it?"

"I think she's in trouble."

Honorine was never wrong about things like that. I looked at the sea, and told myself that my peaceful life looked as if it might be coming to an end. In a year, I'd put on four and a half pounds. I'd been so idle, I was starting to get fat. So, whether she was in trouble or not, Gélou was welcome. I emptied my cup and stood up.

"I'm going."

"How about I bring a focaccia, around noon?" Honorine said. "She'll want to stay for lunch, won't she?"

CHAPTER 2

In which, when you open your mouth, you always say too much

Gélou turned, and the whole of my youth caught me by the throat. She'd been the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood. She'd turned a lot of heads, none more than mine. She'd been there all through my childhood, and had haunted my adolescent dreams. She'd been my secret love. My inaccessible love. Because Gélou was a grown-up. Nearly three years older than me.

She smiled at me, and two dimples lit up her face. A smile like Claudia Cardinale's. Gélou had always known she looked like her. Almost the spitting image. She'd often played on it, even dressing and doing her hair like the Italian star. We never missed any of her movies. Luckily for me, Gélou's brothers didn't like going to the movies. They preferred soccer matches. Gélou would come and get me on Sunday afternoons and we'd go together. Where we lived, a girl of seventeen never went out alone. Even to meet up with her girlfriends. There always had to be a boy from the family with her. And Gélou liked me.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Chourmo"
by .
Copyright © 1996 Éditions Gallimard.
Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher


“Like the best noir writers—and make no mistake, he is among the best — Izzo not only has a keen eye for detail . . . but also digs deep into what makes men weep.”—Time Out New York

"Rich, ambitious, and passionate." — Washington Post

"Izzo provides another guided tour of the underbelly of Marseilles (so extensive that it seems to swallow the whole city) that's bracing in its wit and velocity." — Kirkus (starred review)

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