For All the Gold in the World by Massimo Carlotto

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Translated by Antony Shugaar

Reviewed by Terence Jagger

This is ‘an Alligator mystery’, latest in a series featuring an independent and unlicensed private investigator, Marco Buratti, tough but not personally violent, and with his own dedication to finding the truth in spite of corrupt police, local politicians, businessmen and so on .. the normal ‘noir’ setting. He is no knight in shining armour, however, he is clearly looking after himself and his friends, two men both knowledgeable in the underworld and prepared to use violence to defend him or obtain information. I confess to not knowing this author or this series, but an Italian friend reported that he is well known and popular, though sometimes pretty violent.

There is a slight sense of déjà vu in these modern European noir novels, all exploiting a series of well known tropes of corruption and toughness, of misfits and illicit passions, for a couple of hundred pages of stories that occupy the grey areas between thrillers and detective fiction, occasionally with some horror thrown in.  So it was with a slightly jaded palate that I opened this one.  Well, the good news is that there is much to enjoy about For All the Gold in the World.  The translation seems good, giving a flavour of Italy (the book is set in Padua, Carlotto’s home town) and a tough urban and often criminal world, giving the impression of an authorial voice, and the resulting English is very readable (though some spellings are American). The plot moves on quickly and intelligibly (am I alone in finding some of this genre impossible to follow?), and a rough sort of justice is done.  The book opens with a prologue, which introduces a character from an earlier case of the Alligator’s, who becomes an important and quite interesting sub-plot for the novel:

Jazz woman.  When she pressed her red lips to the microphone to sing Good Morning Kiss, I’d hold my breath so I could savor every single moment … She’d never make it big, not even in the small town clubs.  She sang jazz songs because they were the one thing that kept her clinging to a life she could barely stand.  Her husband was certain she had a lover … [he] was a good man, still in love … all he wanted to understand was why the love of his life had pulled away from him.

The Alligator knows there’s no adultery going on, she just is living a dream to escape the boredom of her marriage and her day job as a nurse.  But ‘I’d fallen in love. I liked her. I wanted to be her lover.’  He persuades himself he is acting well by returning the client’s retainer, but he’s not and he knows it, and though they become lovers, that dishonesty comes back and haunts him.

Bu the main event is nothing to do with the singer, Cora, but with a two year old double murder he is asked to investigate by a gang of thieves and fences – a proposition he turns down but then investigates anyway as a free agent. They are keen to find the murderers because the victim was robbed of a massive haul of gold and jewellery they had entrusted to him for disposal, and want it back; he is keen to follow up because there’s a young boy orphaned by the murderers who has been left with nothing and could benefit from restitution. He follows up a range of clues while managing his new love affair, and takes a few risks – though most of the violence is off stage – including getting across the local police, with whom he refuses to cooperate.  He uses contacts in prostitution to track down witnesses, finds a complex web of Albanian and Italian criminality, a too wise guy who tries to go it alone and double cross them all, and in a series of tense stand offs and reckless interventions, brokers a deal in which some of the money goes to the right people, and a lot of bad guys are shot or shoot themselves.  The details don’t really matter, it’s the mood and the milieu that you read a book like this for: here’s a taster, when one criminal is talking, as he thinks, to the paymasters of the original burglary:

‘I did what I had to do’, the goldsmith continued. ‘It was my right – seeing as the government protects criminals like you instead of the citizens, does nothing but suck us dry with taxes – to make sure the murderers didn’t get off scot free.  And it was just as fair to save the company by taking back the gold.  And do you guys think, after everything I’ve been through, that I ought to feel guilty because I kicked the shit out of Addo’s housekeeper and then fired a bullet into her head?’

Buratti and his colleagues operate below the radar – they only use cash, they have many phones to avoid being traced, they know criminals, spies and prostitutes – but they are at least trying to investigate the crime, which the police aren’t – and indeed, at the very end of the book, the police threaten the Alligator and his colleagues to protect themselves, pressure which he ducks in the time honoured way, leaving the town and the woman to escape to other side of the Adriatic.

Overall, an enjoyable book, not too in your face, with some interesting writing and a good read.  I will probably look out more Alligators when next at the airport or railway station.

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Massimo Carlotto, For All the Gold in the World (translated by Antony Shugaar) (Europa Editions, 2016). 978-1609453367, 189pp., paperback.

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