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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Colombian Mule

Massimo Carlotto

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To purchase The Colombian Mule

Title: The Colombian Mule
Author: Massimo Carlotto
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 178 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Colombian Mule - US
The Colombian Mule - UK
The Colombian Mule - Canada
The Colombian Mule - India
Il corriere colombiano - Italia
  • Italian title: Il corriere colombiano
  • Translated by Christopher Woodall

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Our Assessment:

B : decent thriller that gets a bit lost in its own dubious moral code

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 20/5/2004 Tobias Jones

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The complete review's Review:

       The Colombian Mule is part of Massimo Carlotto's 'Alligator'-series, featuring and in large part narrated by Marco (Buratti), known as Alligator. He used to literally sing the blues -- in a group called the Old Red Alligators (hence the nickname) -- but he spent a long seven years in prison and now does so only figuratively. However:

In prison I had become a skillful peacemaker, moving easily between the various criminal gangs. So when I got out I started working for lawyers who needed an entrée into organized crime to get their lients out of trouble.
       He has two colleagues, of sorts -- old-style criminal Beniamino Rossini, with quite the (deserved) reputation, though now he mainly focuses on his thriving smuggling business, and Max the Memory (or Fat Max), here just recently released from prison himself.
       The case Alligator is hired to look into involves a Colombian national arriving in Italy with a bellyful of cocaine. Arrested by the police, he helps them snare the person he was supposed to deliver the drugs to -- or so it seems. The person arrested is Nazzareno Corradi, and it's Corradi's lawyer that hires Alligator.
       An interesting aspect of the book -- perhaps the most interesting one -- is the insight it offers into the Italian legal system, which in criminal proceedings differs considerably from the adversarial American one -- and constrains even the defendant's lawyer in what he is able to do for his client. This complicates matters for Alligator, too -- though fortunately there are (illegal) ways around some of this.
       Among the complications the case offers: the Colombian mule ripped off his aunt, dealer La Tía, and she doesn't appreciate it -- and travels to Italy to deal with the matter. And while client Corradi was clearly set up in the drug bust -- i.e. is innocent of this particular crime -- his history complicates matters: a while back he killed two police officers in a botched robbery and got off at trial, something the police can't and don't want to forget.
       For a while The Colombian Mule moves along nicely, Alligator and friends uncovering the layers of this twisted case and dealing with the various obstructions they face. They get to know La Tía, who is pursuing her own interests, and they help each other out. But the further they go, the more problematic the situation appears. Eventually it's all a bit overwhelming:
The only sensible thing to do was to beat an orderly retreat and leave Nazzareno to his fate. The trouble was that Beniamino and Max would never agree to that. And nor could I.
       Apparently there's some sort of honor among thieves -- and every other sort of criminal here. Nazzareno Corradi has a moral code, which makes it harder to help him, and Alligator and his buddies have a moral code, which means they feel compelled to help him, and on it goes. A problem here is that it is a strange sort of code -- one that has no problem with what amounts to cold-blooded murder, several times over. Sure, some of the victims are deserving scum, but still ..... And, despite a willingness to kill, the code also prevents other action -- notably ratting someone out. (Carlotto even includes a sob-story Author's Note, dedicating the novel to a friend from prison who similarly: "preferred to remain loyal to his lifelong principles" -- and paid for it dearly.)
       Sympathetic as one might be to such ... high-minded standards, it does make for an awful lot of blood-letting and betrayal -- arguably of those who deserve to be betrayed, but nevertheless problematic. Carlotto gets so caught up in this that it ultimately also work to the detriment of the novel, making for a work that become willfully -- almost spitefully -- immoral.
       There are some decent elements in this thriller, and the pieces fall fairly nicely into place, but Carlotto's harping on all this misguided pseudo-morality -- he makes it an integral part of how everything unfolds -- leaves a bad aftertaste. Granted, any story in which the guy the hero is trying to get off is a cop-killer who didn't pay for his crime already sets the sympathy hurdle pretty high, but Carlotto does nothing to make any of his characters decent enough that one might want to root for them. Nihilistic noir is fine, too, but Carlotto doesn't play it that way entirely either -- his trio of investigators are too adept at everything and suffer pretty much no consequences themselves.
       The Colombian Mule works reasonably well as a thriller, even if some of the investigative work seems way excessive, and it moves along nicely enough -- Carlotto writes quite well. But the (im)moral of the tale is hard to take.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 September 2013

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The Colombian Mule: Reviews: Massimo Carlotto: Other books by Massimo Carlotto under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Massimo Carlotto is a popular Italian author.

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