The tense, fast-paced U.S. debut by Italian crime writer Carlotto is both familiar (in form, tone and plot, this hearkens back to 1930s noir by masters like Hammett, Chandler and Cain) and exotic (in its European settings—these are the mean streets not of Los Angeles or Chicago, but of Padua).
Nearing 50, Marco "The Alligator" Buratti is a retired mobster, or anyway a mobster who would dearly like to be retired, left to sip Calvados and listen to blues in the dive he co-owns, "The Dog's Bed." He's now a small-scale private investigator and fixer, also a part-time righter of wrongs against mistreated prostitutes. But when his old friend Beniamino Rossini's beloved is kidnapped and put into sexual bondage by the diabolically vengeful partner of a man Buratti, Rossini and their pal Max the Memory killed years earlier, the three have no choice but to re-enter the game. Part of the reason they've stayed alive into middle age is that they've studiously avoided drug trafficking, with its unpredictability and extreme violence, but this case takes them quickly and deeply into conflict with a savage Eastern European drug cartel that's been funneling drugs from the former Yugoslavia into Italy and beyond. All the hallmarks of noir are here: bloodbaths galore, a false-floored plot, a plainspoken and staccato style (the translation is smooth), and a hero who's simultaneously ruthless and sensitive, with a quirky but precisely calibrated moral sense that Carlotto explores and explains with panache. And the setting is beautifully—if grimly—realized.
La dolce vita it ain't—but this is top-notch Mediterranean noir.