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Globe and Mail: "Izzo's Marseilles is ravishing. Every street, cafe and house has its own character."

Date: Nov 26 2005

Have A Killer Christmas

The French love noir. They've done great translations of lowbrow authors like Jim Thompson or great ones like Raymond Chandler. Their own homegrown stuff can sometimes be over the top (who can forget the estimable Lemmy in the film Alphaville). Not Jean-Claude Izzo, however. In fact, the subtext of this novel -- the "Frenchman" who feels anything but French -- could apply to the streets of Paris, Lyon and Toulouse today, although Total Chaos was first published in France in 1995.

This superb translation by Howard Curtis maintains the grotty feel of the original, and that's essential. This is the first of Izzo's Marseilles Trilogy, and that city is as much a part of the story as the central characters. Everyone here really is from somewhere else. Izzo has turned Marseilles into Casablanca, a city where you can "trust nobody . . . nobody."

Manu, Ugo and Fabio grew up together in the harsh neighbourhood by the docks -- Italian, Algerian, foreign. They banded together, tough kids who could defend themselves. Manu and Ugo grew up to become criminals, international con artists and thieves. Fabio Montale became a policeman, but even so, he wasn't "really" French. All three loved Lole, another exile-by-birth. Then Manu is murdered. Ugo comes to avenge him and he's killed too. Lole has disappeared. Fabio is the only one left to discover the threads.

Izzo's Marseilles is ravishing. Every street, cafe and house has its own character. Following Montale as he dips into his memories of the Italian families, the "old" Marseilles, is a trip through history. If you want to understand the riots in France, Total Chaos might be an excellent place to begin. It's also a wonderful love story and a solid mystery. The publisher promises parts two and three by next year. Hurrah!

by MARGARET CANNON