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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Blues for Outlaw Hearts
and Old Whores

Massimo Carlotto

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To purchase Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores

Title: Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores
Author: Massimo Carlotto
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 208 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores - US
Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores - UK
Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores - Canada
Blues für sanfte Halunken und alte Huren - Deutschland
Blues per cuori fuorilegge e vecchie puttane - Italia
  • Italian title: Blues per cuori fuorilegge e vecchie puttane
  • Translated by Will Schutt

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable froth -- both bloody and refined

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 4/12/2019 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Carlotto makes even minor characters three-dimensional (...) in this grim tale of violence and corruption. James Ellroy fans will be satisfied." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores is another in Massimo Carlotto's 'Alligator'-series featuring blues-loving "private investigator without a license" Marco Buratti ("I handle cases off the books, and the money I earn rarely comes from legit sources") -- known as the Alligator --, and his two sidekicks, Max the Memory and Beniamino Rossini. As Max observes at one point:

Over the last few years we've been sucked into a vortex of cases where the line between our principles and everything we can't abide has become thin, sometimes nonexistent.
       Guess what -- it's happening again .....
       Their nemesis Giorgio Pellegrini also is back on the scene -- and, indeed, it's Pellegrini who embroils them in this latest adventure, by contacting Buratti and trying to hire him to track down who killed his wife and his mistress. Buratti turns down the job, but by then it's too late: Pellegrini has cut a deal with a local cop, Dottoressa Angela Marino from the Italian Ministry of the Interior, and she quickly ropes Buratti and his friends into her plans -- promising to plant some cocaine on them and send them away for a nice long jail-term if they didn't go along with it. Of course Buratti realizes that: "this operation was too dirty to let witnesses walk -- or live", and the only way he can think of getting out of this mess is by eliminating Pellegrini. That's Plan A, at least; naturally, it proves not to be so easy.
       Pellegrini has long been a thorn in their sides, but he clearly has irritated some other people with quite the (criminal) resources too, as the way his wife and mistress were tortured and killed makes abundantly clear:
     The scene was straight out of Grand Guignol. The killers had wanted to send a clear message, and it couldn't not have been addressed to Giorgio Pellegrini.
       Buratti and his friends make their way from home in Padua to Switzerland and Vienna, on the trail of Pellegrini and trying to piece together what happened (and what is going on -- trying to figure out what Marino is after). They identify who is behind the killings of Pellegrini's wife and mistress -- and learn that it was payback for yet another example of Pellegrini's own nasty business, which itself was a step in Marino's grand scheme, of connecting with her ultimate target, Serj Balakian -- or at least his organization, since:
     No one knew if Serj Balakian actually existed or if he was an artfully assembled myth. What was undeniable was that the organization had been operating for at least twenty years and offered a truly unique -- and therefore highly expensive -- service
       This is only revealed more than halfway into the novel, but it certainly is a clever idea; the organization behind it is also something that's very difficult to take down (or, indeed, even get close to). Marino doesn't seem to have a problem playing at very high stakes -- using someone as dirty as Pellegrini to help her, as well as blackmailing Buratti and his friends and also putting up a lot of money to get in the game.
       Much of the story is narrated by Buratti, but in order to keep readers abreast of some of what else is going on Carlotto lets Pellegrini narrate some of the chapters, recounting his progress, and what he's up to. The watchful eyes of both Marino -- keeping such close tabs on everything that she eventually goes undercover as Pellegrini's girlfriend -- and the very controlling and well-informed Balakian-organization limit his freedom of movement -- drastically, eventually -- but he's a crafty bastard. And his complete depravity make for a cruelly fun contrast with Buratti who, though willing to do a lot, does have a moral code he lives by.
       While staking out things in Vienna, Buratti of course falls for a dame -- working woman Edith, who is under a life-sentence of sorts as well. Buratti wants to do right by her, and his associates are of course on board, making for something of a distraction and complication. The two situations don't quite overlap, but certainly keep Buratti busy -- and, as usual, a bit gloomy; Carlotto's series definitely has a melancholy air, and this installment is no different; typically: "I shielded myself with the blues but knew it wasn't enough". As Buratti comes to admit:
I felt deeply dismayed at how cynical this business had made me.
       The consummate fixer, Buratti is able to serve up Pellegrini on a platter, and simultaneously extricate himself from any hold Marino might have over them; he doesn't even have to get his hands too dirty himself (and, since he refuses to touch a gun, wouldn't be that much help anyway). It's still a messy conclusion -- but looks to be a happy end for Buratti and his friends. Short-term, certainly -- but Carlotto nicely closes the story with a bit of a dark cloud looming unseen in the distance; this won't be the last chapter in the series.
       Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores is a fairly typical Carlotto -- so fast that most of the action just skims by (including what brutality there is -- and, yes, there is quite a bit) and bit messy, but with the philosophical, seen-and-done-it-all Buratti as a guide (and the nasty piece of work Pellegrini getting his say as well, for a change of pace and everything else) it's an enjoyable if slightly bumpy ride. Buratti takes time for the smaller pleasures -- wine, food, and of course the blues -- but that doesn't in any way diminish the background and occasionally very foreground tension. And there's certainly enough action -- a flurry of it, though most of it is over before you know it (or indeed happens basically off-scene).
       Fairly light, but a good quick read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 February 2020

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Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores: Reviews: Other books by Massimo Carlotto under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Popular Italian author Massimo Carlotto was born in 1956.

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© 2020-2021 the complete review

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