Tuesday, December 27, 2011

REVIEW: Total Chaos, by Jean-Claude Izzo

Total Chaos, by Jean-Claude Izzo. Published 2005 by Europa Editions. Translated from the French.

Total Chaos is a noir as well as a love letter to author Jean-Claude Izzo's hometown of Marseilles. It's also the first in his famous Marseilles trilogy, three novels starring police officer Fabio Montale, a down-and-outer investigating the links between the deaths of his childhood friends Manu and Ugo and the rape and murder of Leila, a young woman whose father came to France from Algeria looking for a better life. Leila was the family's hope, a success story getting her degree in Paris with a bright future ahead of her. She was also dear to Montale, and her death send him into a tailspin.

Izzo treats the reader to loving descriptions of Marseilles along with its people, a mix of European immigrants and their descendants, speaking their own French patois and mixing uneasily with new immigrants from North Africa. Racial tensions make up the baseline pressures of the investigation and of day to day life; Montale must navigate a difficult path between Marseilles underworld, his colleagues in the police and the disaffected youth all around him.

I really enjoyed Total Chaos, more so than most of the crime fiction I've read in the past couple of years. It's gritty and violent and dark, but it also has a lot of heart. Montale loves three women, and each woman has her own sad trajectory, her own story of the way her life has been changed by Marseilles. Montale doesn't so much choose between them as accept what life is going to let him have, and in the end though their lives are colored by tragedy; most of all, he loves Marseilles. His musings are beautiful and  a little poetic, just like the book.

Rating: BUY

This book counts towards the Europa Challenge! Tomorrow I'll have my final review.
I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales. 

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Zibilee said...

This does sound a little bit different than most of the other noir that you have read, and you've made me curious. I like that it's not only about the darkness and crime, and that there are poignant bits about the city included as well. I am going to have to see if I can grab this one when I can. It sounds super interesting!

bermudaonion said...

I love crime fiction, especially when it's gritty. This sounds really good to me.

Col (Col Reads) said...

This does sound very interesting to me. I have been thinking about reading the Marseille trilogy, and this review is definitely urging it up the TBR pile.

Kathleen said...

I love a good crime fiction novel and the setting of this one is very intriguing to me.

Meytal Radzinski said...

I read Izzo's A Sun for the Dying several years and though it was one of the strangest, most difficult reads I'd encountered at the time, it's stuck with me over the years. Like Total Chaos (which I haven't read yet, being somewhat averse to crime fiction), it's best described as gritty and dark. But it's good. If you want to read something else by Izzo, I definitely recommend A Sun for the Dying.