Book review: The Colombian Mule by Massimo Carlotto

The Colombian Drug Mule

Massimo Carlotto

Title: The Colombian Mule

Author: Massimo Carlotto, translated into English by Christopher Woodall.

Genre: World Noir

Publisher:Europa Editions

Publication date: 3rd September 2013

Paperback:144 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? My boyfriend bought this paperback at the same British Museum exhibition where I bought Delirium (reviewed here) – he heartily recommend it but wouldn’t guest review it so I took on the burden of reading it myself.

Refreshments:Whether you like the taste or not you need to drink Calvados, I didn’t know what this was at first but it’s rather tasty although pretty potent being a Apple Brandy.

To eat, one of the characters keeps creating some delicious sounding yet simple pasta, shocking when it’s set in Italy, so alongside your Apple Brandy try one of these recipes by Antonio Carluccio out – don’t forget to stock up on a couple of Rennie.

Review:

Arias Cuevas sets in motion a chain of bloody events when police catch him trying to carry a shipment of la Tía’s cocaine into Italy. The intended recipient of the coke appears to have been art smuggler Nazzareno Corradi, but Corrardi has been set up and through his lawyer hires “the Alligator” to get him out of the mess he’s in. Meanwhile, la Tía, a notoriously ruthless figure in the Colombian drug trade, is determined to move her operation to Italy where cocaine has become all the rage among the professional classes. There’s only one thing standing in her way: the Alligator, an ex-con turned investigator, and his two companions, former underworld heavy, Beniamino Rossini, and Max the Memory, a once militant political activist.

The important point to note is that this is loosely based on real-life events that took place to not only Massimo Carlotto but an anonymous friend who is represented by the character of Corradi, both men who at one point was wrongly imprisoned by the Italian justice system, the latter who is still imprisoned. This added an extra dimension of interest to a story that already captured my attention due to the shocking and often distressing elements accompanied by a thread of pride and following the criminals ‘code.’

Providing a chill down the spine was La Tia, the Queen of Colombia coke-trafficking and blood-aunt of the foolish Arias Cuevas who we have to thank for her coming to Italy. Her quiet and composed demeanor creates an instant atmosphere in comparison to a hot-headed drug baron. Her colleagues are equally terrifying from the imaginative killer that follows in the shadows to her girlfriend who is tricky with a hair pin. Probably the most sinister is the appropriation of Corradi’s stunning but traitorous girlfriend who she takes back to Colombia.

The pages are stepped in strip clubs and heavy drinking and it is here we learn the most about the Alligator and his inability to let the past and his resentments go to the detriment of a woman who loves and cares for him. The Alligator’s side-kicks are extremely different although inextricably intertwined, Rossini is violent and has cops in his pay he represents the frank acceptance of a situation that isn’t going to change and accepts his place in the system. Then we have Max, who is, I guess the brains behind the plans – he also provides the recipes that resulted in extreme hunger and a desire to fly straight to Italy.

The plot is at times complicated and there are a lot of names, roles and connections to keep track of it’s not something you can read with only half of your concentration and there were a couple of occasions I had to go back a couple of pages. However, the ending is not sugar-coated or tied up neatly in a celebratory bow it’s honest and frank and leaves you satisfied that you haven’t been duped into believing everything will always turn out positive – especially when the criminal underworld is involved.

Finally I have to confess I never usually read the ‘Author’s Note’ at the end as it’s more often than not a list of people the author would like to thank. However, in this instance I urge you to read the note as it’s extremely thought-provoking regarding criminal justice in Italy and also gives further insight into the motivations behind this brilliant book.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Book review: The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen

The Summer of the Bear

Bella Pollen

Title: The Summer of the Bear

Author: Bella Pollen

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Publication date:12th May 2011

Paperback: 464 pages

Why did I chose to read this book? My parents bought me this book for Christmas and during the tumultuous experience of moving house I rediscovered it and decided it was about blooming time I read it!

Where to read this book? Scotland, preferably a Hebridean island alternatively you could visit Bonn as this is the other notable destination within the story. I didn’t actually do either of these I was sat on a pillow in the middle of my moving box fortress but my imagination took me between the two locations throughout the reading of the novel.

Refreshments: The food eaten within this book are really rather random I’m not sure some of the recipes should really be recreated… ever…therefore, I chose to veer towards the Scottish side of things and purchased some smoked salmon along with the requisite cream cheese, lemon juice, cracked black pepper and a bagel.

Review:

In the summer of 1979 a tamed grizzly bear is tempted by the lure of freedom and the wild open sea . . .Meanwhile, the sudden death of British diplomat Nicky Fleming has left his wife closed down with shock. Relocating from Cold-War-riven Germany to a remote Hebridean island, Letty Fleming is haunted by the unthinkable, was it an accident, murder or suicide? And how can she ever begin to explain to her three children that their father may have betrayed his country? Struggling to find solace in a place she loves, Letty begins to unravel the mystery of Nicky’s death, but her determination to protect the children from the truth blinds her to the demons they are already battling. As the family’s secrets threaten to tear them apart it is only the strange but brilliant Jamie who manages to hold on to the one thing he knows for sure: his father has promised to return and Nicky Fleming was a man who never broke a promise.

The multiple narrative that Bella weaves throughout her story is a useful one especially when leaping between the Hebrides and Bonn and intertwining the feelings and emotions of the Fleming family. The voice we hear most is the youngest son Jamie. He is a complex character due to his autistic-style brain functions leading to his literal interpretation of what people say. So when his father is described to him as ‘missing’ he believes that he will return. It is through Jamie that we discover the escaped bear who tracks Jamie and ultimately saves his life.

The bear, a bizarre thread to include in a book, can be interpreted in a number of ways. Notably as a representative of the Cold War situation within Germany and the diplomatic service but also as the manifestation of Nicky Fleming the father of the Fleming family and the basis of the whole story.

The two Fleming daughters are at different sides of the spectrum in their grief. There’s Georgie who was implicated in her father’s duplicity and has to deal with knowing more truth than she should. She is a quiet character and her relationship with the ‘Pakistani’s son’ near to the end of the story is very beautiful and pure.

On the opposing scale we have Alba. Rage is the one feeling she nurtures and she does this very well, from burning her sister’s A Level results to mercilessly bullying her brother Jamie. It is Alba who gives a frank portrayal of a child coming to terms with a confusing and unfathomable life shift.

However, although I enjoyed the characters and reading their different view-point towards the death of Nicky Fleming the story lacked the ‘family secrets’ and ‘traitor’ complexity that I was expecting. There’s a slow progress throughout the story and I felt myself constantly waiting for something to happen. Intrigue is hinted at and the setting of the Cold War is ripe for the taking to create a really interesting plot but it never seems to occur.

We follow-up until the ending still waiting for answers which then come rushed in the last couple of paragraphs. The denouement and explanation regarding the actions and ultimate death of Nicky Fleming peter our and are frustrating and sad rather than engaging. I was disappointing and I really didn’t want to be.

Bella Pollen’s style was brilliant but the substance was lacking. However, I will progress and try her other book ‘Hunting Unicorns’ as everyone like Nicky Fleming deserves a second chance.

Rating: 6 out of 10