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The Barnes & Noble Review: "Total Chaos is a dark and violent book, yet many of its pages are full of sunshine and celebrate the fundamental pleasures of life."

Date: Jul 11 2013

Total Chaos, first published in 1995, begins with Ugo's return to Marseilles, after twenty years away, to avenge the murder of Manu. It is a question of honor. "Honor was central to Marseilles life. 'You have no honor,' was the worst insult you could say to someone." As the reader gradually realizes, Ugo is actually on a suicide mission. Not that it matters: "If you have a debt to a friend, you have to pay it." When Montale finally arrives on the scene, he is just minutes too late. But the brokenhearted cop hardly has time to mourn before a young Arab girl he cares about unexpectedly disappears, followed by an outbreak of turf warfare among the local gangsters. As the days go by, Montale finds himself searching for answers to the sudden eruption of racism and bloodshed in Marseilles. Could there be a connection to the deaths of Manu and Ugo?

Total Chaos is a dark and violent book, yet many of its pages are full of sunshine and celebrate the fundamental pleasures of life. As Montale says of his own inclinations: "I loved fishing and silence. Walking in the hills. Drinking cold Cassis. Lagavulin or Oban late into the night. I didn't talk much. Had opinions about everything. Life and death. Good and evil. I was a film buff. Loved music.... More than anything, I loathed half-hearted, spineless people." Good wine and pasta, bouillabaisse and soupe au pistou, fresh fish, olives, glasses of pastis, and, to borrow the title of Izzo's essay collection, "garlic, mint, and sweet basil" are central to Montale's view of how life should be enjoyed. Music and poetry are important too, almost as important as friendship and love. Through them suffering and death can be defeated for a while.

In the end, Montale figures out the truth behind all the murders and also manages to achieve what just might be a lasting happiness. Might is the operative word. It would seem that Izzo originally meant to leave Montale in the arms of his beloved, the two of them finally together in this "city after our own hearts." But he eventually decided that in Total Chaos Montale's story was just beginning.
--Michael Dirda