The Colombian Mule by
hbk out January 04
Published by Orion
A good straight-forward cops-and-robbers thriller with a beginning, middle and end, with
no flashbacks or tortuous sub-plots!
The author is as interesting as his books, as Carlotto spent five years in prison before
being pardoned following Italy's most famous campaign for a miscarriage of justice.
There is no mention of what he was convicted for, but it is apparent that he has great
familiarity with the criminal world in north-east Italy. Since his release, he has written
eight novels and is now acclaimed as his country's best-known crime-writer.
His lead character is obviously partly autobiographical, as he is an ex-con known as 'The
Alligator', who has become a private-eye, in association with two other men who were in
prison with him. One is Rossini, an elderly gangster, and Max, a reclusive genius.
The story starts with the arrest of a Colombian 'mule' at Venice airport, who is trying to
smuggle in a stomach-full of cocaine, which he has stolen from his auntie in Bogota. The
police and the Guardia di Finanza (an armed militia which seems to be a cross between
Customs and the Inland Revenue) take the opportunity to fit up Corradi, a local gangster
who had been acquitted on a charge of shooting two policemen. They entice him to a
meeting with the mule and trap him on a false charge of being the recipient of the drugs.
Corradi's lawyer hires Alligator and his pals to dig up evidence to expose the frame-up.
From here the story becomes more complex, as the mule's Auntie, a ferocious dame with
assassins in tow, arrives to rub out the nephew. Two of her men deliberately get arrested
for shop-lifting so that they can get a couple of days in jail to poison the mule, before
The action is fast-paced and most of it takes place in the bars, clubs and brothels of the
environs of Venice and Treviso. There is much racing up and down the autostrada, tailing
and surveillance, with a few casual murders thrown in. It becomes apparent that a major
police operation against a designer-drugs factory is in progress and Alligator and his pals
try to use the threat of blowing this operation to bargain for the withdrawal of charges
This is the first of Carlotto's novels to be published in English and as foreign-language
books stand or fall by the quality of translation, Christopher Woodall is to be
congratulated on his efforts. It captures the casual, almost contemptuous indifference
of violent criminals to human life and the subservience of all moral feelings to the greedy
and hedonistic life of drugs, prostitution and fast cars. On the other side, it also portrays
the nonchalance with which the police and similar agencies look upon the rule of law.
From this and other crime novels about present-day Italy, it seems that in a country where
paying taxes is looked on as an eccentricity, corruption seems the norm amongst a
significant proportion of the population.
ex Home Office Pathologist and author of the highly acclaimed Crowner John series)