Tangled Web UK Review January 2004
File Updated: 23/01/04

Buy at Amazon Price The Colombian Mule The Colombian Mule by Massimo Carlotto
hbk out January 04 Published by Orion at 9.99

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 being extradited.
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 against Corradi.
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.

( Bernard Knight ex Home Office Pathologist and author of the highly acclaimed Crowner John series)

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