There's an evoking area of European crime fiction known as Mediteranean Noir that may challenge the Nordic hold on mystery readers. Its origin can be traced to a revitalization of French mysteries in the aftermath of the May 1968 uprisings. Following those politically unsettling events in Paris and lsewhere, French crime writers, such as ean-Patrick Manchette in THE PRONE GUNMAN (City Lights, 2002), added olitical and social criticism into their stories. But the real change came in the 1990s. Led by Jean-Claude Izzo, the author of the "Mediterranean Trilogy," problems of racial tension, neo-fascism, economic inequalities, politica! corruption and transnational crime became an integral part of crime novels. Their heroes were often anti-heroes, winning only short-term victories, if any at all.
The politicization of noir was not limited to France. Italian author Massimo Carlotto, whose stories are set in northeast Italy, focused on similar problems and became one of the most popular contemporary authors in Italy. While only recent French and Italian writers are considered here, the trend as caught on around the Mediterraean.
Themes of corruption, economic inequality and racism underlie the Mediterranean Trilogy of Jean-Claude Izzo. TOTAL CHAOS (Europa, 515, 2012) recounts the friendship ofUgo, Manu and Fabio, who grew up in the Marseilles slums and were destined for a life of petty crime. After a robbery turned violent, Fabio chose a different road. He enlisted in the colonia! army and later returned to Marseilles to join the police. Ugo and Manu remained in the criminal underworld until they were murdered in related circumstances. In spite of various warnings, Fabio is deter- mined to find his friends' killers.
Fabio has left the Marseilles police force in CHOURMO (Europa, $15, 2013) and is living in Les Goudes, tending bar for a friend. His wealthy cousin, Gelou asks for help finding her missing son, Guiteau. Fabio discovers that he was staying with his girl friend when he saw the assassin of an Algerian, radical in- tellectual, who lived nearby. Then Serge, a social worker from Fabio's police days, is gunned down in a drive-by shooting near a bidonville ("tin town" or shanty town for illegal immigrants). He had been investigating links between right- wing fascists and Arab militants. Both murders come together in a melange of militant Islam, right-wing extremism and politica! corruption. Izzo was interested in their effects on people at the bottom and margins of society. Tue book title, Chourmo, refers to rowers in Roman galleys, who were people at the bottom. Originally published in France in 1996, CHOURMO foreshadowed the violent 2006 riots.
In the final volume, SOLEA (Europa, $15, 2013), the Mafia is after Fabio's friend, journalist Babette Belini, who investigated their operations in southern France. She has disappeared, hiding her research on severa! computer discs that they wrongly believe are in Fabio's possession. He tries to ignore their threats until they kill Sonia, a woman that he has just met, and then move on to other friends. Now that they have his attention, he realizes where the discs are hidden. Fabio tracks down Babette and tries to persuade her to deal with the Mafia.
Tue Izzo's trilogy would be unbearably depressing if not for descriptions of food, Marseilles, beautiful women and jazz. Sadly, there are no more novels to come. Izzo died in 2000, at age 55, leaving three Mediterranean Noir classics as his legacy.