Chourmo Paperback – May 7 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Fans of gritty noir who haven't read Total Chaos, the first title in Izzo's Marseilles trilogy, will still be gripped by this sequel. Ex-cop Fabio Montale, whose compassion puts him at odds with his colleagues and superiors, gets an appeal from his attractive cousin to trace her missing son. Tragically, Montale soon finds the boy was killed by gunmen targeting someone else. The apparently related death of a friend, a social worker dedicated to working in Marseilles's poorest neighborhoods, further spurs Montale to risk his life to track down those responsible. Like the best American practitioners in the genre, Izzo refrains from any sugarcoating of the city he depicts or the broken and imperfect men and women who people it. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
The second in the late Izzo's Marseilles Trilogy, following Total Chaos (2005), once again finds Fabio Montale--now at loose ends, after quitting the corruption-riddled Marseilles police force--entangled in somebody else's troubles. This time it's his cousin, the beautiful Gelou, whose son has disappeared after running away to be with his Arab girlfriend. Fabio agrees to look for the boy, but he finds instead a hydra-headed tragedy--murder and deceit fueled by the racism that threatens to turn the once vibrant seaport town into a cauldron of violence. This hard-hitting series captures all the world-weariness of the contemporary European crime novel, but Izzo mixes it with a hero who is as virile as he is burned out. And lyrical, too, as when he muses on the infinite shades of blue visible to those who take the trouble to really look at the sea and the sky, "to caress the landscape with your eyes." But Fabio quickly turns away from lyricism, stubbing out another cigarette and preparing for the worst that humankind has to offer. Bogart lives. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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It seems her teenage son has gone missing and probably came to Marseille to meet an Arab girl he became sweet on. Alas, a prologue shows the reader the tragic outcome of this assignation, and it doesn't take Montale long to discover that the boy was shot to death -- possibly in connection with the killing of an exiled Algerian intellectual. Meanwhile a social worker who spent a lot of time in the projects and was a friend of Montale's is killed before his eyes in a drive-by shooting. It's the book's one significant weakness that these two seemingly unrelated victims both happen to have ties to Montale, since this coincidence is what allows the plot to unravel in the manner it does.
As in "Total Chaos", things get very convoluted very quickly as Montale runs around Marseille getting entangled with all kinds of characters. There are racist cops, fundamentalist Algerian immigrants with ties to the civil war back home (the book was originally published in 1996), a cruel junkyard owner, a Vietnamese vixen, a struggling heroin whore, and various mafia bosses. The coincidence noted above puts Montale in the driver's seat, as he's the only person with the access to all these different strata who has the drive and desire to put all the pieces together. With a rather sympathetic police detective backing his play, Montale runs amok, disrupting the plans of several groups of people in his drive to get at the truth.
Like his protagonist, the author was born and raised in the seedy city of Marseille, and watched it turn from a Southern European melting pot to a post-colonial melting pot of 1.5 million people. Like his protagonist, he had a front-row seat (as a journalist) to the major social and economic shifts of the last several decades, and the xenophobia they have engendered. As in "Total Chaos", Izzo conveys a very Gallic sense of disenchantment and fatalism. It's a complicated portrait of a city, loving and nostalgic, yet sad and angry. In that sense, the book works much better as a social portrait of a city than it does as a crime story. I'd really recommend it much more to those with an interest in Southern France or who might be visiting Marseille, than I would to crime buffs. It would also, along with the film Hate, be useful for those seeking to understand the last year's Paris riots.
The title of Jean-Claude Izzo's "Chourmo" is taken from an old Provencal word describing the rowers in Roman galleys. Izzo writes that "In Marseilles, you weren't just from one neighborhood, one project. You were chourmo. In the same galley, rowing! Trying to get out. Together." But the melancholy subtext here is that either by design or fortune (good or bad) all the rowing in the world never gets the characters that inhabit Izzo's world very far from Marseilles. This is not really surprising when you consider that Marseilles never really let Jean-Claude Izzo get away. Izzo was bon in Marseilles in 1945. He died, at age 54, in Marseilles. Chourmo is Volume II in what is known as Izzo's Marseilles Trilogy. Total Chaos (Marseilles Trilogy) is Volume I; Solea (Marseilles Trilogy) is Volume III.
"Chourmo" reintroduces us to Fabio Montale, Montale, now retired from the force, is content to listen to his music and work on his cottage overlooking the bay he swam in as a child. But his cousin Gelou, asks him to find her son who snuck out of the house one night to see a girl and who has not returned. Montale next sees an old friend gunned down in a low-income housing project. The rest of the story is devoted to resolving how these two seemingly parallel story lines play out. Along the way we are exposed to the many social forces that shape the nature of crime and punishment in Marseilles. Izzo, looking through the eyes of Montale, takes us into a world of corrupt police and politicians, organized crime, and an immigrant population struggling for acceptance in a world in which they are less than welcome.
As has been noted in other reviews the parallel plot lines and the many secondary characters introduced by Izzo diminish some of the force of the story line. In that sense Volume II was not quite as effective as Volume I in terms of sharpness and clarity. However, Izzo's powerful portrayal of Montale and of Marseilles itself more than made up for any flaws in the storytelling. Montale is powerfully drawn and by Volume II I was `sold' on his character. In the best series the reader can get into the head of the main character and Izzo makes it hard for any reader not to get sucked into viewing the world through Montale's eyes. And Marseilles as portrayed by Izzo is a special place. At the end of the day I think a reader's feeling about Chourmo (and the other books in the trilogy) will depend on whether or not they like the idea of a city playing a central role in a story. It worked for me. Izzo does a remarkably good job of giving the reader a sense of place. You can almost feel the dark streets and smell the aromas of the cafes in the harbor as you read the book.
Chourmo is a good story and the enjoyment of reading it was heightened by Izzo's ability to make the "idea" of Marseilles so central to the story. Recommended. L. Fleisig