Firstly, an update on my 20 Books of Summer – I’ve read 9, all from my TBR and owned before 2023. But I am falling behind my 20 goal, so I have decided to be an even bigger cheat than normal. Due to the number of wonderful new books recently published that I’m desperate to read, I’m going to include them for the rest of the period – any book counts except a blogtour one.
However, I’m delighted to be able to kill two birds with one stone on this read, as July is the month where we celebrate everything French (not just Paris) in ‘Paris in July‘ which is hosted by Emma of Words and Peace blog this year. I’m also trying to squeeze in a second French read before the month is up with Antoine Laurain’s latest confection, An Astronomer in Love. But lets turn to Izzo now…
Chourmo – The Marseilles Trilogy book two by Jean-Claude Izzo
Translated by Howard Curtis
Last year, I reviewed the first book, Total Chaos, in this trilogy for Paris in July – see here. I’d recommend reading them in order if you can, as the second, although the main plot is self-contained, refers back to events and characters from the first, and there is less scene-setting needed.
The title, Chourmo, is a Provençal word that derives from “chiourme”, the rowers in a galley – with no escape. This is certainly the case for Fabio Montale, the trilogy’s protagonist. He had been forced out of the Marseilles police force for his liberal views towards inclusion and working with youth worker Serge to help the disadvantaged teens rather than locking them up. That hurt, and he now spends his time in his cottage along the coast, fishing and propping up the local bar, when one day his neighbour Honorine tells him he has a visitor.
She is his beautiful cousin Gélou, who has come to Marseilles to ask him to find her youngest teenage son Guitou, who has run away there with a girl. He can’t refuse Gélou, even when she betrays her views on race:
There was a look of panic in her voice now, and an evasive look in her eyes. We were getting close to the truth.
‘What do you mean you don’t know? Didn’t you talk to her?’
‘Alex threw her out.’
‘Alexandres. The guy I’ve been living with since . . . almost since Gino died.’
‘Oh! And why did he do that?’
‘She’s . . . She’s an Arab. And . . . well, we’re not crazy about Arabs.’
Despite his revulsion, Fabio agrees to investigate, and heads off into the city towards the architect’s house where Guitou and Naïma were said to be staying with his son Mathias, but they’re not there. On the street, he stops to watch kids playing basketball, when he catches sight of Serge, whom he hasn’t seen for a long time – only to see him gunned down in broad daylight from a passing big black car. Being on the scene, rushing to his friend’s aid – but too late – Fabio gets hauled in by the police and finds himself in front of Inspector Pertin, one of the most right-wing and racist policemen who had no time for Serge. It’s not until he extricates himself, and sees a newspaper the next morning that he sees the reports of a double murder at the architect’s house – Guitou was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But how can he tell Gélou?
He decides to carry on investigating, and delay the bad news, but does liaise with one of the good guys on the police force, Inspector Loubert who, luckily, is in charge of the case. Naturally Loubert tells him not to interfere, but Fabio is ahead of him. Naturally, it gets more and more complicated as it turns out that not only the Mafia, but also Islamic fundamentalists are involved as Fabio discovers when he discovers a split in Naïma’s family.
Fabio is determined to avenge Guitou and Serge, but things are about to get very dangerous. He has a reckless, fatalistic streak, fuelled by too much Scotch, and he’s up against the Mafia, don’t forget, but as this is the middle volume of a trilogy, we can be forgiven for perhaps presuming that he will prevail.
Fabio, himself the child of Italian immigrants, is someone that we really care about, as he cares about others so much. It’s sad that he remains unlucky in love, the love of his life Lole having left him to return to Spain, but ever the commitment-phobe, it seems he’s happier on his own, giving that melancholic streak that reinforces the Meditteranean noir.
Once again, Howard Curtis has done an amazing job of translation, bringing Marseilles (he uses the ‘s’ on the end), Fabio and the wide cast of characters to life for us in English. We really get the sense of a city that lives permanently on the edge, a melting pot of races and religions, beliefs and politics. However, we are reminded in Fabio, Loubert, Honorine and others that there is yet good to be found too.
The trilogy concludes with Solea, but I hope I won’t leave it a year before I read it. This second volume totally lived up to the promise left after the first. I loved it!
Chourmo (1996, transl. 2006) Europa editions flapped paperback, 250 pages.
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