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.


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


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