"Somehow the Colombian knew he was fucked the moment he met the cop's gaze."
So begins Massimo Carlotto's hardboiled Italian noir novel The Colombian Mule, which opens with Arias Cuevas being detained at Venice airport with a belly full of cocaine. When Cuevas describes his drug-smuggling contact -- "about fifty, medium-height, a bit fat, with light brown hair" -- the Italian police arrest the wrong man. Is it a case of mistaken identity, or are the police bending the law for their own means?
Enter Alligator, an unlicensed private investigator, and his band of borderline-corrupt cohorts, who wants to discover the truth behind the arrest and bust the drug smuggling ring in the process. But in this seedy underworld peppered with shady characters -- greedy, violent and immoral -- the normal rules of engagement do not apply.
Set in Venice and the grimy industrial surrounds of Mestre, this short but action-packed novel delivers a deftly woven storyline that blurs the line between those who break the law and those who enforce it. It is a dark, violent but ultimately compelling novel told in a clear, succinct style that grips from the first carefully measured word.
Think The Sopranos meets Goodfellas -- without the Americanised gloss -- and you might get some idea of the beauty and brutality contained within the pages of this not-for-the-faint-hearted novel by an Italian master. Just don't expect to view (romantic) Venice in the same way again...