“The years had gone by,” muses ex-cop Fabio Montale early in Chourmo, after he witnesses the murder of a former cohort, “and that seemed to be all I ever did: crouch to look at a corpse.” This is especially depressing for the likeably tragic Montale, since he turned in his badge at the end of Total Chaos, the first book in Jean-Claude Izzo’s “Marseilles Trilogy
,” to get away from the violence.
Not enough has changed for the ex-cop, but thankfully Izzo sticks to many of the elements that made Total Chaos such mad fun: murders that seem unrelated but aren’t; corrupt cops; racial tension; and poor kids in love. Also intact is Montale’s pursuit of justice, which here becomes even more personal and desperate. He flips between booze and coffee with such gut-shredding frequency you wonder why he doesn’t just mix them to save time.
Izzo, who died in 2000, presents noir in full color, creating a vivid psychogeography of Marseilles—the beauty, the history, the hopelessness. But what makes his lean prose (translated by Howard Curtis) so enjoyable is the way he accelerates through the destective work and saunters unhurruedly when writing about Montale’s loves: food, music, the sea and women (not in that order). Occasionally, Izzo overdoes it with the ex-cop’s musings on his own youth and how it explains his empathy for the poor Arabs in North Marseilles. There are also moments when readers are dangled over the precipice of confusion, but we always feel that Montale is just as baffled. Near the end of this wild ride, our hero buckles under the weight of it all. But what’s killing him is thrilling us.
by Mike Wolf