Massimo Carlotto, who has achieved as much fame for his noir mysteries involving the Mafia in Italy as he has for his seven year incarceration for a murder he did not commit, puts his knowledge of law enforcement, lawyers, the criminal justice system, and the Mafia to use in this up-close-and-personal look at the growing power of international Mafias. Set primarily in Padua, the novel introduces Marco, "the Alligator" Buratti, the owner of a small bar called La Cuccia, in which he shares ownership with Max La Memoria. Together they also do private investigations. Beniamino Rossini, a smuggler and armed robber, who was in prison with both of them, is also available to help out.
When Sylvie, Beniamino's belly dancer-lover vanishes without a trace, the three men set to work turning the underworld upside down, finding evidence to suggest that the kidnapping was related to a huge drug robbery from two years ago. The Institute of Legal Medicine of the University of Padua had stored fifty kilograms of narcotics, including thirty kilograms of heroin and ten kilos of cocaine, for toxicological testing of the active principles, and the robbery was clearly an inside job.
Shifting back and forth between the robbery and the present, Carlotto crafts his dark and terrifying story from the viewpoint of Buratti and his friends, none of whom have any qualms about doing whatever is necessary to gain information that will allow them to find Sylvie. They are helped in their investigation by their friendship with Morena Borromeo, a prostitute who has become an informer, a woman who can often get information through pillow talk with influential people. Despite their willingness to use violence and/or murder to accomplish their ends, however, Marco Buratti, Max La Memoria, and Beniamino Rossini somehow remain "human" in the hands of the author. All have ordinary interests that make it possible for readers to identify with them, despite everything else.
Carlotto compresses time throughout this novel, telling what amounts to a three-hundred page novel in fewer than two hundred pages, and readers may find themselves flipping back and forth to the table of contents to remind themselves whether they are in Padua, Grenoble, or Lugano and whether the date is 2004, 2006, 2008, or 2009. Buratti and his associates must investigate criminals and criminal enterprises that cross the boundaries of many countries and territories, all with their own internal Mafias. The Croatians, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanians, Turks, Russians, Serbian intelligence services, and Kosovar Mafia are all angling for power in northeast Italy, trying to control the flood of drugs coming from Morocco, Algeria, and elsewhere. Though the action is fast and furious, and the many characters are often hard to keep track of, Carlotto's novel is a satisfying noir achievement, written with insight, intelligence, and passion, even as its characters often seem to be living hopeless lives. Mary Whipple
Poisonville (World Noir)
The Goodbye Kiss