The Columbian Mule by Massimo Carlotto, translated by Christopher Woodall, is a harsh, raw, dark tale of drug smuggling, corruption, revenge, jealousy and murder.
Guillermo Arias Cuevas, the mule of the title, is caught at Venice airport with a stomach full of cocaine. His aunt Rosa Gonzaales Cuevas aka La Tia and her gang follow him to Italy because it is her cocaine he intended to peddle. Arias Cuevas is then used by the police to incriminate Nazzareno Corradi, who while innocent of drug dealing is involved in the deaths of two cops during a jewel robbery.
Marco Buratti aka Alligator is a club owner, ex convict and ex blues singer with an overwhelming need to right injustice and drink calvados. He conducts a fiery on off relationship with his girlfriend Virna, a waitress at his club, La Cuccia.
Alligator, Beniamino Rossini, and Max the Memory are retained by Corradi's lawyer to get him out of prison, by obtaining evidence that he was not the Italian dealer Arias Cuevas has arranged to meet.
This becomes more difficult when the mule is killed in prison by La Tia's hit men.
From then on the plot becomes much more convoluted and complicated.
We come across Corradi's beautiful Colombian girlfriend Victoria, Croatian chemists, ecstasy, super ecstasy, corrupt prison guards, corrupt cops, and the organisation that really frightens Italians.
I am of course not referring to the Neapolitan Camorra, or the Sicilian Mafia, or even Albanian gangsters, but the Guardia Di Finanza.
Alligator, Rossini, and Max are the Robin Hoods of modern day Italy fighting injustice, corruption, people traffickers and drug dealers. Of course their methods are completely illegal, especially those of Old Rossini, who being an old style gangster has no compunction in eliminating the vermin that thrive in the modern day underworld.
As Alligator and Rossini hunt through the myriad of clubs for information they come across ".......the working girls. They were all young, all from Eastern Europe, all blonde, and all had faces etched with disappointment. Italy wasn't such a paradise after all."
I would describe Massimo Carlotto's novels as faction rather than fiction. They are obviously based on his experiences and those of his contacts, and the underworld he describes with such stark honesty does unfortunately exist nurtured by political inactivity and corruption.
The Alligator is a cocktail created by a barman in Cagliari for Marco Buratti. It consists of 7 parts of Calvados to 3 parts Drambuie, with a lot of ice and a slice of apple to chew on.