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by Massimo Carlotto
Orion, December 2003
256 pages
ISBN: 0752857339

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

He's an unlikely private detective. Formerly a blues singer, Alligator could easily be mistaken for one of the criminals that he is pursuing. He's in partnership with two other guys, Rossini and Max the Memory, who have rather dubious pasts themselves. But what is not in doubt is that they have the street smarts and skills to do whatever job needs to be done.

Guillermo Arias Cuevas has made a big mistake. He's stolen 800 grams of cocaine from his aunt, La Tia, and smuggled it from Colombia into Venice in his belly. The police think set up a sting and entrap an art smuggler named Nazzareno Corradi who they believe is Cuevas' drug smuggling contact. Alligator and Company are hired to establish Corradi's innocence. They use some rather unorthodox methods, committing crimes of their own in their pursuit of 'justice.' Rossini is an old-style gangster who is always ready to step over the line. Max the Memory is a real loner, but he's the one who gathers information and comes up with the ideas that make things work for the group.

THE COLOMBIAN MULE is the first of Carlotto's books to be translated into English. He's an excellent story teller, and the characters are a unique breed. No one will ever mistake Alligator for Marlowe. La Tia could more aptly be called La Morticia. Cuevas faces much more harm at her hands than he ever would from the police.

I'm hoping that all five books of the Alligator series will be translated into English. The translator, Christopher Woodall, did a great job of capturing Carlotto's vision. Carlotto was framed for a murder he didn't commit and escaped to Latin America. He was finally arrested, tortured and pardoned in the early 1990s. His life experience has certainly colored the character of Alligator and allowed him to capture the texture of the Italian justice and prison system. The moral ambiguity of the book makes it an intriguing read. What is one to think of 'good guys' who blackmail, threaten and murder, whose investigations are basically illegal? Recommended.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, May 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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