By Jean-Claude Izzo, translated by Howard Curtis
Europa Editions, Sixth Printing, 2012 ($15.00 US)
Format: Trade Paper
ISBN-13: ISBN: 978-1-60945-126-4
Reviewed by Larry Jung
Izzo's crime-noir story didn't work for me because I never warmed to the protagonist Detective Fabio Montale. It didn't help that the story, except the first chapter, was narrated by Fabio. Fabio tries to come across as some sort of tragic romantic hero. The dragon he occasionally battles is social and economic inequalities of modern Marseilles, France. It might be because being an American and not plugged into the social and economic problems in France, I got tired fast with Fabio's "woe is me" litany. He beats himself up throughout the book because his childhood friends turned to crime to survive the racial prejudice and lack of economic opportunities in Marseilles. As a cop, Fabio fights a rearguard action against the fascists tactics sanctioned by the police and politicians to quell violence in the racially segregated project housing. His bosses don't trust him because of his good relationship with the Arab minority.
Fabio knows he hasn't the influence to change anything, so he goes through the motions of being a cop. He retreats to the little house outside of Marseilles bequeathed to him by his father. There he goes out alone to fish. He remembers the old days. His comfort is good food and good wine; music and film. He seeks comfort also with women but he is not able to have a mature relationship with any woman. Instead Fabio has plenty of substitutes: Honorine for mother who never questions but is always there to console him, Lole the ideal woman figure because she is unattainable, the young girl Leila who is an old man's fantasy, and Marie-Lou, the young West Indian hooker...the prostitute that is classy and gives sex without strings.
For me the character of Fabio Montale is not able to carry the story. His perceptions and feelings are, for me, derivative. His guilty feeling about the violent deaths of his friends is just more self-pity since he was in no position then or now to influence the outcome. Even the resolutions to the various murders were not due to any solid police work, but by information from a newspaper friend of his. In the end, Fabio is the same person as he was at the beginning of the book.
There are plenty of comments and reviews that praise Izzo's Mediterranean Trilogy, of which TOTAL CHAOS is the first book. Many of these focus on the social commentary on contemporary Marseilles, and how well Izzo captures the mood and setting of this port city. Others praise the trilogy for launching the genre called Mediterranean Noir. But for me, these things couldn't compensate for the lackluster lead character.
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