Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Mediterranean Noir: Jean-Claude Izzo, Massimo Carlotto, Maurizio de Giovanni by Daniela Petracco.

In celebration of Europa Edition’s World Noir Season, UK director of Europa Editions Daniela Petracco blogs about Mediterranean Noir.

At long last it’s sunny and warm outside and we can imagine – however fleetingly – we are on the shores of the Mediterranean.  Blue skies and bright sunshine, almost as summery as Marseilles or Naples.  Bright sunshine and blue skies can dazzle but we only need to don our shades in order to see there is a very dark side to these sun-kissed locales.  The books in Europa’s World Noir collection explore this dark side. 

The criminal underbelly of Marseilles, the city with the highest incidence of gun crime in Europe, is Jean-Claude Izzo’s domain.  Izzo shot to fame overnight in France when Gallimard published the first volume of The Marseilles Trilogy.  One of those authors lucky enough to be appreciated both by critics and the reading public, he believed that the way to really know a city is through the crimes that are committed there.  That’s exactly what he does for Marseille, exploring the racial and social tensions that lie at the heart of this apparently paradisiac city, in writing that is at once lyrical and mercilessly hard-boiled. 

The Marseilles Trilogy is now available in the UK for the first time in Howard Curtis’ exquisite translation, at the same time as we’re reissuing the three volumes in the US.  Once you’ve read Total Chaos, you’ll be compelled to continue with Chourmo and Solea to following ex-cop Fabio Montale as he travels through the city and the ruins of his career.

With the Trilogy we are launching also a little companion volume, Garlic, Mint & Sweet Basil, a selection of essays and short writings, a treat for lovers of Jean-Claude Izzo, who died prematurely in 2000. 

Italian writer Massimo Carlotto is a long-time admirer of Izzo’s writing, and also a subscriber to the idea that a place is best known through the crimes committed there.  From the affluent North-East of Italy, the hinterland of Venice, he is a meticulous researcher with personal contacts from the criminal world and the police.  The stories he tells in his violent, sparely written novels, are all based on real events, true crimes that we have not yet heard all about as they are still being investigated – or have been successfully buried!  In a region of Italy where politics and organised crime are inextricably linked in a merry-go-round of illegal speculation, prostitution, fraud and money laundering, he manages to avoid the fate of Roberto Saviano – the author of Gomorra, who’s been living under police protection since his book, and the film based on it, became an international sensation – by keeping his stories strictly within the boundaries of fiction.   

Carlotto is a master at creating deeply unsympathetic characters.  Giorgio Pellegrini, the anti-hero of The Goodbye Kiss and of the new At the End of a Dull Day, is a truly nasty piece of work.  Violent and misogynistic, never touched by moral considerations and utterly ruthless, especially when his own well-being is at stake, Pellegrini is nonetheless, or maybe precisely because of this, a compelling figure.   When the powerful politician he works for as “fixer” attempts to defraud him and put him under the strict control of the criminal organisation “ndrangheta”, he is quick to shrug off his relatively tranquil lifestyle in his quest for survival and revenge, and quickly learns that murdering people is a bit like riding a bicycle.

Also out in May, the second book in the series The Seasons of Commissario RicciardiBlood Curse by Maurizio de Giovanni is, again in tune with the weather, the Springtime volume.  In the UK it comes after I Will Have Vengeance, published by Hersilia Press last year and shortlisted for the International Dagger Award.  In June there will be a further taste of de Giovanni’s skills when British readers will be able to read the standalone thriller The Crocodile, to be published by Abacus.  A nice upward trajectory for this author, and proof that fiction in translation is making inroads in the UK!

Back to Commissario Ricciardi, this atmospheric series is set in Naples in the 1930s, and built around a central character who has the singular gift – or rather curse – to be able to see the lingering shadows of those who have recently died a violent death, and hear their very last thought.  You would think this helpful to a police inspector involved in a murder inquiry but those last words are often cryptic and difficult to place in context.  Blood Curse, like the previous book, is a page turner full of local colour, much of it of a dark hue, as de Giovanni tells the story of a city where poverty and extreme wealth face each other at close quarters; where exponents of the camorra and grandees of the fascist regime are often closely linked, if not the very same; and where in the everyday scramble for something better emotions can run very high indeed. 

More about these titles in our free World Noir Reader – a selection of essays and extracts from the novels we’re publishing this season.  The digital edition of the World Noir reader can be downloaded following these links: epub (Nook), mobi (Kindle) or PDFOr tweet me @DanielaPetracco for a bound copy (until stocks last….).  You can also contact her by email.  Europa Editions may also be found on Facebook.

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