If I am writing this and you are reading it, it means that we are both survivors. We are those who remain, for one more day at least as the light fades. But that means that there are others whom we have left behind.
Fabio seems to think that the best of his life has passed him by. He thinks he lives in his past more than in the present, haunted by the memories of those whom he has had to let go. That’s an illusion. His present is very busy slapping him around, sometimes literally. Try to imagine Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade, only a Sam Spade who can cook.
The violence in TOTAL CHAOS is graphic, the sex, which Fabio substitutes for a lost emotional involvement, is very direct and can be very civilized. The only porn in this noir is food porn. There are food preparation scenes in TOTAL CHAOS that made my mouth open as I attempted a taste. NOIR. After reading this paragraph over, I wanted to large-cap the word.
Let’s talk about the past which this damaged cop is trying to relive: There’s a channel that lies between two forts, Saint-Nicolas and Saint-Jean, which guard the entrance to Marseilles harbor. In his youth, Fabio and his best friends, Manu and Ugo, attempted the swim from fort to fort. It was something boys did, the harbor being their playground, to impress the girls, especially Lole, who’s a kind of erotic talisman of the feminine for the boys throughout their lives.
On their first try spanning the distance Manu and Ugo were making it. But Fabio was floundering. So Manu and Ugo turned back to help him. Fabio’s life was saved by his friends that day. But as they grew up, it was Manu and Ugo who really drowned, both murdered by the life they had been sucked into.
The three teenagers thought it sucked, that they got by on centimes while their bosses made out like robber barons. So the three enterprising lads took up a career robbing drug and liquor stores, first in their home town of Marseilles and then all over the region.
My favorite part of these crime sprees are when the guys get together to burn cash. They’re a wolf pack of marauders, wearing beautiful clothes, driving cool cars, eating in great restaurants. Tasting all the luxe material treasures that their training, education and professional skills don’t entitle them to. Instead of peering through the glass at what society’s insiders have, they’ve broken through the glass.
But Fabio decides to break off. He joins the colonial army, is stationed abroad for a couple of years, and loses track of his friends. Did I tell you he was the smart one?
Fabio Montale, who by a tentative middle age has ended up as a police detective, is walking down the main pedestrian thoroughfare of Marseilles, the Rue Saint-Ferrreol. It’s one of about a hundred streets in about a dozen different neighborhoods that are cataloged in this first volume of Izzo’s MARSEILLES TRILOGY.
Embedded in this dazzling cartography are about two dozen characters: pimps, pricks, prostitutes, hearts-of-gold women, best friends, immigrants, cops, criminals, crime bosses, fascist freaks, terrorists: innocents whose role is to suffer or die, and the bastards who will cause all the pain.
Fabio, as he walks along the Rue Saint-Ferreol, envies the young men of today. The teenage girls on the street seem much prettier than the ones that he had known in his youth. Let me quote him: “They walked with confidence and pride in their beauty. They were Marseilles girls, and had that languid Marseilles way of walking, and that almost impudent look if your eyes lingered on them.”
Surviving too long. Manu has been murdered. And Ugo, in attempting to avenge Manu’s death, has been gunned down by the police when he may have been unarmed. Ugo had taken out a Neapolitan crime boss in retribution while the oldster was walking his dog on the outskirts of Marseilles by his drop-dead luxury villa. But it’s not clear to Fabio that the gangster chief had anything to do with Manu’s death. He suspects that Ugo was manipulated into killing the Italian mobster, tricked into doing someone else’s killing and then rubbed away to cover all tracks.
Fabio was the most intelligent of his buddies and that’s why he has survived. His reward for being so savvy is that he’s lost the closest friends he’s ever had. Lole, who was Manu’s lover. still resides in Marseilles. Sometimes the cop visits her apartment and lies down in her bed between the cool blue sheets. Sometimes when she isn’t there, trying to set up housekeeping with his ghosts.
When Fabio tries to track down who told Ugo whom he should kill, it’s like he’s pulling on the thread of a bloody sweater that’s about to unravel.
TOTAL CHAOS, TOTAL KHEOPS, is a rap by the French band IAM. TOTAL CHAOS is rap, jazz and folk song saturated. The text beats. On almost every page the coolest music in the world is being played. I’d love to have some discs burned of all the songs that turn up on its pages.
When Izzo was dying, the bookshops in Marseilles set up memorial windows of his books. I was touched by the loyalty of local indie bookstores to his work. When I read that, I realized that I had to read THE MARSEILLES TRILOGY. TOTAL CHAOS releases in May from Europa Editions as part of their noir summer release program.