Friday, July 20, 2007

Book: Solea, by Jean-Claude Izzo (U.S. 2007)

Total Chaos, the first book in Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy, dazzled me. Chourmo made a brilliant follow-up. Solea brings the series to a close in dizzying, almost punishing style.

The love of ex-cop Fabio Montale’s life has left him. But there are still pleasures to be found on the streets of his beloved city. Glasses of pastis with his small but loyal circle of friends. The Mediterranean itself. A night in the arms of a woman with gray-blue eyes.

But when another woman in Fabio’s life is forced into hiding by Mafia killers, those killers turn up at his doorstep. They want him to track down his one-time paramour, and will butcher those close to him until he succeeds.

Solea isn’t perfect; there are some aspects of the plot that I found implausible. But the book is driven relentlessly forward by Izzo’s cold fury at “how organized crime is poisoning the world economy.” Globalization has thrown ministers, millionaires and mobsters together, all of them putting their interests ahead of the common good. Montale says he feels as if the shadow of death has fallen across his life. That apocalyptic mood infects the entire novel. Montale doesn’t have to descend into hell. Hell is coming for him, for the south of France, for all of united Europe.

Yet as is always the case, Izzo’s prose – again beautifully translated by Howard Curtis – is charged with a hunger for life. It’s an intoxicating blend of passion and fatalism, spiced with literary and musical references that carry real weight. What amazes me is how casually Izzo interrupts his reveries with nuggets of hard-won wisdom. (“Just because you’re used to life doesn’t mean you have to carry on living.”)

The Marseilles Trilogy is, simply put, the pinnacle of crime fiction in this decade. Do yourself a favor and read it now.