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The Complete Review: "Full of noir swagger."

Date: Sep 13 2010

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Bandit Love is another of Massimo Carlotto's books featuring 'the Alligator', Marco Buratti, a former blues singer and ex-con turned low-key (and unlicensed) private investigator, the third in the series to be translated into English after The Columbian Mule and The Master of Knots. 


Life isn't bad in 2006, even if Buratti's girlfriend has left him: he's part-owner of a nightclub and he's living pretty comfortably. But when close friend Beniamino Rossini walks in one day everything changes:


The past: it was going to rip through all our lives with the blind fury of a Force 12 hurricane.


The past in this case involves an incident in 2004, where someone wound up dead. For Buratti and his buddies he was a nobody -- they had no idea who he was -- and that's part of the problem when Rossini's woman Sylvie disappears, the only sign of her kidnapping exactly the same message that they had sent two years earlier, when they had offed this guy. Whoever he was, someone cared, and someone was now out to exact revenge; it's a woman, and:


She had certainly concocted some intricate and diabolical plan for a vendetta.


Indeed, Sylvie isn't killed, but rather dangled -- very nastily -- in front of Rossini and his friends, to lure them out and have them get what she thinks they have coming.


Drugs, smuggling, the sex trade: it's a corrupt world, and everyone seems to be involved in it. Buratti and his friends turn to a Serbian crook for the information they need, which leads them to confront some Kosovar mafiosi -- people who never forget, and always get their vengeance.


Buratti knows what he's doing, but that only gets them so far: once they're in deep enough to put an even bigger target on their backs they have to give up most of what they have and lay very low for a while, realizing just a bit too late:


"It means that none of this adds up. We have to figure out what kind of spider's web we've wandered into ..."


Another two years later, in 2008, they resurface for the next round, as the convolutions continue. Love and friendship still mean something in this world, but little else does: Buratti and his friends find everyone has a price and is willing to sell out most anybody else (and certainly sell information); they also find out that the very unpleasant Kosovars do hold their grudges. Extricating themselves from this mess -- and finally getting at the person responsible, or at least a shot at her -- takes another bold and dangerous plan.


Full of noir swagger, Bandit Love is a strange mix between laid-back and ruthless; the times intervals between the main periods of action also give the book an odd flow. Violence is almost casual: there's a code of conduct -- Buratti gets a man who didn't treat a woman he knows properly beaten up to teach him a lesson -- but in many cases simply getting rid of a person is the easy and obvious solution that is taken, the only consequences being that someone might (or rather: will) be around to exact revenge, or at least give it their best shot..


Much of the novel makes for entertaining noir -- the mutual suspicion at every meeting and the safeguards people take, the different levels of corruption of the police (and everyone else), etc. -- but it is all bit rushed and simple too. Decent stuff, but it feels a bit lazily written and put together, as if the complexity of the reason(s) behind what happens were sufficient to mask all the flaws in the steps along the way. Carlotto seems to overreach here, stuffing too much in without worrying nearly enough about how it all fits together.

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