Carlotto, Massimo - 'The Colombian Mule' (translated by Christopher Woodall)
THE COLOMBIAN MULE is the first of the 'Alligator' novels to be translated but (I think) it is the fourth in the series.
Marco Buratti aka Alligator is a blues singer who was falsely accused and sent to prison. After his release, he was unable to sing and now runs a club, La Cuccia, as well as working as a private investigator trying to get justice for those who need it. He works with a smuggler, Old Rossini, who he met in prison and Max the Memory a marvel with computers.
The Colombian mule, one Guillermo Arias Cuevas, is stopped at Venice airport carrying a stomachful of cocaine. He agrees to co-operate with the police to help them trap his Italian contact but in fact the person he is most scared of, is the original owner of the cocaine, his aunt and drug lord, La Tia, who is on her way to Italy.
The police carry out the trap but arrest the wrong man, Nazzareno Corradi, who though a thoroughly 'bad guy' has never been involved with drugs. Corradi's lawyer asks Alligator to help his client so that he won't die in jail.
It soon becomes clear that Corradi's been set up and that this arrest is revenge for the murder of two policeman in a bungled robbery a few years ago for which Corradi was acquitted even though it turns out he was guilty. Even so, Alligator agrees to help Corradi as the Italian police are not working within the law. Alligator, Rossini and Max find themselves working with underworld types and the dangerous La Tia to find evidence that the police are acting illegally.
THE COLOMBIAN MULE is a fascinating glimpse into Italian culture and justice system. It's sparely written and though quite short, there's a lot of action. The dark and gritty feel to the book is accentuated by the events taking place in early January. Like a noir 'The Three Investigators' the gang work to their strengths; Rossini is not shy of using violence, Max provides the data and ideas (and is a mean chef) and Alligator tries to do what's right without being caught. He is a sympathetic character and I can't wait to get more of the back-story on his arrest. Even though the book cover shows Venice, most of the story is set in neighbouring towns. The translation is mostly into British English with a few American English words.
What adds a sense of realism to this tale is that a) it is based on a true experience and b) the author himself was wrongly arrested and served several years in prison before being pardoned.
Karen Meek, England