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Zinedine Zidane

Jean-Claude Izzo, like footballer Zidane, is a native of Marseilles. He was born in Marseille in 1945. Because he was the son of Spanish and Italian immigrants, Izzo was streamed into vocational school where he trained to be a lathe operator. After serving in the military he returned to Marseilles where he eventually turned to writing. His books have been remarkably successful in France and have been the subject of films and t.v. shows. He died, at age 54, in Marseilles.

"Total Chaos" is the first volume in the aptly-named "Marseilles Trilogy". The second, Chourmo, and third, Solea (Marseilles Trilogy)complete the triloy. There are two primary characters in Total Chaos. The first is Fabio Montale. Montale is a cop. The child of immigrants, Montale had a hard life growing up on Marseilles' mean streets. He ran with a "bad-crowd" a crowd that included the two friends. Manu and Ugu, with whom he shared a bond cemented by petty thefts and days spent in an around the harbor. There is also the girl, Lole, who they all loved in one way or the other. Montale escaped his childhood, joined the army and ended up a cop. The others never left escaped the life they were born into. That life results in Manu and Ugu both being killed. Montale spends the rest of the book seeking answers to the question of who killed Manu and Ugu and why. He is a cop and that is what he does. Montale knows there is no justice in the criminal justice system. He knows that life is nasty brutish and short. He knows that, even as intimate as his feelings for his city are that generations of immigrants to Marseilles from around the world (particularly now from the Middle East) are treated in much the same way as the children of Sicilian immigrants used to be treated. Montale (and Izzo of course) is both cynical and fatalistic but, nevertheless, he plods on.

The other primary character is Marseilles itself. I think it fair to say that Izzo loved his native place. Izzo's love for Marseilles imbues Total Chaos almost to the point of consuming it. However, Izzo's feeling for his city does not preclude his viewing his love through rose-colored glasses. Izzo's love for Marseilles is not the puppy love that a teenager has for his first real girl friend. No, Izzo's feelings are more those of someone who has lasted through a long marriage, who has hurt and been hurt. He sees the flaws and the pain but still can see the beauty and the passion.

I very much enjoyed "Total Chaos". This is noir, Marseilles style. While Izzo is a bit more expansive in terms of setting out in print the thoughts and feelings of his characters than a Georges Simenon for example, he does not get excessively florid. He is terser than most and that is to his credit. Izzo also provides some nice atmospherics. His references to both food (its preparation and its consumption) and to music (Montale's taste in jazz and music in general s both provocative and scene-setting) add some very nice touches to the writing. At the end of the day I think a reader's feeling about Total Chaos will depend on whether or not they like the idea of a city playing a central role in the story. It worked for me. Izzo does a remarkably good job of giving the reader a sense of place. You can almost feel the dark streets and smell the aromas of the cafes in the harbor as you read the book. In that sense Total Chaos reminded me of Naguib Mahfouz's The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street (Everyman's Library) which left me feeling I'd actually been to the alleys in Cairo Mahouz wrote about with such passion. Comparing any writer to Mahfouz is higih praise.
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on 8 July 2011
The real star of this story is Marseilles. It is as much a character in 'Total Chaos' as any human being. The story itself is good but not that original. I felt that I'd seen most of the characters and their relationships and motivations more than a few times in just about every cop movie/tv series of the last thirty years. The author also has a tendency to revel in the detail of every meal our hero eats. I know some people like that but it gets a little irritating after a while. That said, I will read the two remaining novels in the trilogy.
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on 16 July 2009
Fabio Montale, the protagonist/narrator of this murder mystery cum love story, is a cop in the French port city of Marseille. Son of Italian immigrants, he had a chequered career with the military that landed him eventually the job of neighbourhood cop. Not any neighbourhood, mind you, but the Arab ghetto, the centre of the city's large underbelly. The recent murders of his closest friends challenge his soft mediator mentality and revenge is increasingly on his mind. Jean-Claude Izzo, a native of Marseille himself, has created a memorable portrait of the city, torn between beauty and opportunity on the one hand and racism, corruption and violence on the other. TOTAL CHAOS is the first volume of a trilogy, a very promising opening for the whole series.

In his youth Fabio had been hanging out with a crowd on the wrong side of the law, gang related petty mostly. While he straightened out later on, his close friends, Manu and Ugo continued in the same vein. With no education to speak of both wanted to strike it rich through strengthening their ties to the underworld. Complicating their relationship was the love for the same woman. While he was the more distant admirer in the past, now that Fabio is the only one left, his need, strong desperate need, for Lole is stronger than ever. But she is not where she is supposed to be. Two other women complicate his life as well, his on and off lover, a high class hooker, and his young protégé friend Leila. Love and urge for physical intimacy are often on Fabio's mind as he wanders the intricate network of Marseille streets, but there is much else that keeps the reader gripped by the story. Sections of introvert musings, alternate with fast action. The familiarity of Marseille and the complex reality of this port city that is seething with racial and social conflicts and challenges speaks out of every page.

Jean-Claude Izzo who died in 2000 at age 55, leaves a short yet lasting body of intriguing and well written stories behind. [Friederike Knabe]
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on 15 March 2014
Total Chaos is the instalment in Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy featuring Fabio Montale. First published in 1995 it is said to be the originator of ‘Mediterranean noir.’ The strength of the story is its very strong sense of place and time, with Izzo placing the reader in the complex social geography of the Marseilles and its mix of immigrants, stalling economy, racial and class tension, corruption, and its sights, sounds, smells and taste (especially food); it's a city he clearly loves despite its tensions and problems. The characterisation is well realised, with a fairly large cast of players. The story itself, however, is a little too complex, entwining two separate plotlines, relying on a couple of plot devices to do so, and overall it feels a little too contrived and with too many cliches in terms of the characters and plot. As a result, I was never quite captured or captivated by the story. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting enough noir read, with a very strong sense of place.
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on 31 March 2016
Great foreign crime, perhaps leaning more towards 'serious' literature in a typically melancholy/thoughtful 'European' way. Some of the themes from the first in the trilogy were carried over with a slight feeling of repetition, and I'm still trying to source 'Solea', the final book in the trilogy. For a change from the French/Italian/Scandi crime try the Czech based ] which I highly recommend for those who like hard boiled modern crime.
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on 21 May 2015
A completely new writer to me but one who has me hooked. Fantastic context(Marseilles),great characters,intriguing plot and a vigorous written style. Whar more could you want? Well... That the 2nd and 3rd books in the trilogy were available at a sensible price for recent paperbacks....which they aren't...are they?
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on 27 March 2015
A friend of mine passed on to me the trilogy in French which I thoroughly enjoyed so I bought this copy as a gift for a friend who doesn't read French - she too is really enjoying it! I was very happily impressed when I received the book just a couple of days after placing my order.
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on 14 November 2008
A thinking man's detective; jazz, food, woman-problems and Marseille as a central character. Rebus in a sexier, sunnier setting. Just buy it - you'll be happy you did and then you will go for the rest of the trilogy.
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on 3 August 2015
While the novel is somewhat entertaining, I wished for a bit more noir, a bit more plot, and a bit less grandiloquent, existential hand-wringing by the first-person narrator.
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on 4 February 2015
It does convey the atmosphere of the Marseilles area,
and the political and social unrest. Noir in the Sun.
I'll certainly read the other two books in the trilogy.
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