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For All the Gold in the World

Author: M.A.Orthofer
Newspaper: Complete Review
Date: Jul 7 2016

For All the Gold in the World begins, more or less, with some professional thieves approaching Marco 'the Alligator' Buratti, who dabbles -- unlicensed -- in criminal investigation: "I specialize in somewhat unusual investigations", as he explains. A confederate of theirs, Gastone Oddo, was brutally killed two years earlier in a home invasion, as was his housekeeper. The group have been looking for the perpetrators, but like the police have come up empty: it doesn't seem to have been any of the usual crews of robbers. They're interested in finding out who did it -- and finding the two million the robbers stole.

Buratti turns them down: he doesn't want to get involved in the likely messy retribution the gang would want to mete out, and he doesn't think it fair that they have no intention of helping out the dead housekeeper's family if they find the stolen valuables and cash. But Buratti is intrigued enough to sniff around, and the one whose plight he takes an interest in is the poor housekeeper, who left behind a now twelve-year-old son. To look into the case they have to get someone to hire them, and so Buratti approaches the boy and explains the situation:

"We're the best investigators on the market, and we're cheap, too," I retorted, holding out my hand. "Just hand over your spare change, and we can start working for you." Twenty cents is all the kid has on him, but that'll do for Buratti; together with his usual sidekicks, overweight Max and almost retired smuggler Beniamino, they look into the case.

The robbery and murder really does seem to have been a one-off, making it all the harder to find the perpetrators. In fact, it doesn't prove all that hard to learn who at least the organizer was, and his motive for the crime -- retribution. But even when they identify the man responsible it's not easy getting justice -- he feels justified in his actions, and is convinced: "things have changed", with society admiring those willing to stand up to those who rob and steal.

"This wasn't going to end well for anyone", Buratti recognizes -- but he's still stuck in the middle, determined to at least see that the housekeeper gets some justice. And if identifying the organizer of the heinous crime isn't enough, then he'll have to find the guy's partners. All he knows -- or can guess -- is that they were also simple businessmen or the like, not career criminals, who at some point had been the victims of a crime and thus felt similarly justified in what they had done: They felt sure they were on the side of the angels and they'd be an endless source of problems.

That's where things stand halfway through the story, at the end of part one of this three-act novel. The death of the one perpetrator they identified -- sold as a suicide, but clearly the work of his cohorts -- doesn't stop Buratti's investigation, and with a sigh he recognizes that he'll have to sort the mess out, if he wants to avoid a complete senseless bloodbath: To put an end to the feud, it was necessary to remain within the context of that twisted criminal logic. Fortunately, Buratti has some jailhouse-honed experience in that department. Still, it's clear to him that sacrifices -- yes, human sacrifices -- will be required. Buratti nudges things along, and the right pieces fall into place -- but it isn't tidy. Justice is served, in a way, but as always with Carlotto, justice isn't entirely straightforward, and there are casualties of various sorts along the way. At least he and his friends can extricate their young client from the situation, and set him up with something of a future, one small feel-good part of the story.

All along the way Buratti also struggles with a new love interest, a messy situation that he realizes is pretty hopeless from the start, but a welcome distraction alongside the more brutal rest of the story.

An epilogue that introduces the next case Buratti will have to tackle finds an old nemesis reconnecting with him -- a teaser for the next novel in the series -- and gives the whole story more of an episodic feel than is maybe necessary, Carlotto overeager in moving his characters on to their next adventure -- but at least it sounds reasoanbly promising.

Like most of Carlotto's novels, For All the Gold in the World explores justice in a pretty ugly modern world, where neat finality is rarely in the cards and cruelty and violence are widespread. There are quite a few casualties here, of one sort or another -- though Buratti's heart is only bruised, not battered, as he and his colleagues are able to keep out of most of the fray.

Melancholy-tinged, Carlotto's novel is quite nicely turned and solid entertainment.