Monday, February 3, 2014

Total Khéops aka Total Chaos (Jean-Claude Izzo, 1995)

Bad stuff just keeps happening to the police inspector Fabio Montale: his old friend Ugo was killed after avenging the death of their mutual friend Manu, Fabio's platonic love Leila was brutally raped and killed and his not-so-platonic love Marie-Lou was beaten savagely by her asshole pimp. During the routine day our hero also needs to deal with some punk dealer who beat his girlfriend's gay brother. Plus other shit, lots of other shit.

Strangely enough, with his hands full of work, Fabio doesn't really seem to be too eager to get his shit together and to start some proper investigation. He leaves that to his investigating journalist friend and lover Babette(!) and even to the one of the mafia's retired big bosses(!?!). He himself spends most of the time whining about his mid-life crisis, giving us guided tours of Marseilles, sharing some pretty lame philosophy ('ala That's what love is, the possibility of losing) and more than just a few cooking recipes.

Eventually all the above events turn out to be related. Even more, they trigger the gangster war between Marseilles mafia and Camorra from Naples. Total chaos? Definitely! At the end of this thing even our main protagonist himself is so confused that he freely admits that "I couldn't really make heads or tails of it all."

I didn't get some of it also to be honest, but still liked it a lot. Especially the first half is a total page turner. Although it is pretty bleak and at times a bit depressing, it's full of life and genuine emotions. Melancholy, nostalgia, sadness, broken relationships, lost friendships - they give the novel an unique and personal tone so I didn't really mind that story itself was somehow neglected and not very coherent. At least I didn't mind it at the beginning, but slowly all those repetitive digressions (women, food, art, history, politics etc) become quite annoying and even irritating. I'm not saying that it's bad writing because it's actually brilliant one. Sub-plots are fluent and they do develop nicely, it's just that pace is a bit too slow. At least it was for my likening.

Also didn't like Fabio's characterization very much. 20+ years of service and hard life in the army and on the streets should made him more tough (he actually cries at least a couple of times for fuck's sake!) and especially more cynical. There's practically zero humor in this one and most dialogues are unbelievable corny, even Seagal or JCVD would be embarrassed by same of the one liners. Check this one for an example:

"What's the connection?"
"That's what I'm wondering."
"Do you believe in coincidence?"
"I don't believe in anything."


But on the other hand, strictly speaking, Fabio is not exactly our main protagonist here. This honor rather goes to the city of Marseilles. Author seems to be obsessed with this melting pot of cultures and writes about its (mostly) miserable inhabitants with lots of respect and affection. Which is great but what bothered me was this relentless naming of every single fucking street where our hero happens to be. Must be really cool reading this if you know the city but for me it was just one more distraction.

But in spite of everything, it's original stuff. Passionate. And I bought the second one of the trilogy even before finishing this one.



Fabio Montale, a cop

Marseilles. Where cops are playing cowboys. Shoot to kill: that was their basic rule. They followed the General Custer principle that only good Indian was a dead Indian. And in Marseilles, everyone - or almost everyone - was an Indian.

Body count
8 proper corpses + 8 "soldiers" in the gangster war + Fabio's cop partner who dies in the unrelated case (when chasing a Mercedes full of gypsies).

What cards did I have left? Four queens. Babette: friendship found. Leila: a missed opportunity. Marie-Lou: a promise given. Lole: lost but still awaited. Clubs, spades, diamonds, hearts.

Of four of them, I liked Marie-Lou the most I think. "Young West Indian hooker.... A real looker. Like Diana Ross at the age of twenty-two."

Yes, two of them. Both pretty unoriginal: first time he gets beaten to the pulp by the bad guys warning him to stay off the case and second time he faints out of the exhaustion after punching a cop. None of them is described particularly vivid, simply "then everything went black" and "after that, it seems, I fainted".
Refers to either the city of Marseilles or to the inconsistent plot. Also, a song with this title by some hip hop band was mentioned but all I can remember is that their name was an acronym. Any ideas?

Nice retouched picture of (yes, you've guessed it!) Marseilles with appropriate choice of the background color (see body count section above), Credited to Emanuele Ragnisco.

Cool lines
He started to beg. I'd lost all sympathy for him. He disgusted me. I couldn't even stand the thought of slapping him.

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