Author, Book review, Books in translation, crime/thriller, Fiction, Italy, Massimo Carlotto, Orion, Publisher, Setting

‘The Colombian Mule’ by Massimo Carlotto


Fiction – paperback; Orion, New Ed edition; 184 pages; 2004. Translated from the Italian by Christopher Woodall.

Somehow the Colombian knew he was fucked the moment he met the cop’s gaze.

So begins Massimo Carlotto’s hardboiled Italian noir novel The Colombian Mule, which opens with Arias Cuevas being detained at Venice airport with a belly full of cocaine. When Cuevas describes his drug-smuggling contact — “about fifty, medium-height, a bit fat, with light brown hair” — the Italian police arrest the wrong man. Is it a case of mistaken identity, or are the police bending the law for their own means?

Enter Alligator, an unlicensed private investigator, and his band of borderline-corrupt cohorts, who wants to discover the truth behind the arrest and bust the drug smuggling ring in the process. But in this seedy underworld peppered with shady characters — greedy, violent and immoral — the normal rules of engagement do not apply.

Set in Venice and the grimy industrial surrounds of Mestre, this short but action-packed novel delivers a deftly woven storyline that blurs the line between those who break the law and those who enforce it. It is a dark, violent but ultimately compelling novel  told in a clear, succinct style that grips from the first carefully measured word.

Think The Sopranos meets Goodfellas — without the Americanised gloss — and you might get some idea of the beauty and brutality contained within the pages of this not-for-the-faint-hearted novel by an Italian master. Just don’t expect to view (romantic) Venice in the same way again…

Author, Book review, Books in translation, crime/thriller, Europa Editions, Fiction, Italy, Massimo Carlotto, Publisher, Setting

‘Death’s Dark Abyss’ by Massimo Carlotto


Fiction – paperback; Europa Editions; 152 pages; 2007. Translated from the Italian by Lawrence Venuti. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

If you were the victim of a horrendous crime in which your spouse and child were murdered and you were later given the opportunity to dole out your own form of justice, would you do it? This is the premise behind Massimo Carlotto’s dark and disturbing Death’s Dark Abyss.

In this short but captivating novel, we meet two men — Raffaello Breggiato and Silvano Contin — bound together by a savage crime that took place 15 years earlier in which Breggiato murders Contin’s wife and child as part of a bungled jewellery robbery.

A decade-and-a-half into his life sentence, Breggiato is diagnosed with cancer. He writes to Contin from his prison cell, seeking a pardon so that he can live his last days as a free man.

But what ensues is a tale of twisted morality in which the victim, sick of turning the other cheek, seeks his own form of justice and retribution — with unexpected results.

Carlotto, who is billed as a “major exponent of the Mediterranean Noir novel”, is himself a former convict, having spent eight years in prison for a crime he did not commit. No wonder then that this book, his ninth, holds no punches when it comes to indicting a legal system in which victims are betrayed and criminals left to flounder without hope of rehabilitation.

I found Death’s Dark Abyss to be deeply disturbing if only because it portray a brutal, violent world in which it’s difficult to determine the difference between the good guys and the bad. But the prose — short, sharp, swift and stylish — and the plot — full of twists and turns — is so gripping I churned through the pages at such a furious pace it’s a wonder they did not burst into flames from the friction.

Crime aficionados, especially fans of American hardboiled noir, will find much to admire in this ruthless novel. But others who like their literature to be thought-provoking will find Death’s Dark Abyss, which raises more questions than answers about why ordinary people do extraordinary things, hard to resist.