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Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo


There’s no point beating about the bush, I might as well say it now, I loved this book.

The author, Jean-Claude Izzo, was born in Marseille of immigrant parents (Spanish and Italian heritage).  Set in Marseille, the story follows protagonist Fabio Montale, a Marseille cop, as he investigates the death of two of his friends.  The character is based, at least in part, on Izzo himself.  Izzo admitted there were likenesses, but was keen to stress that he had never been a policeman and he hated fishing!

It is a perfect example of noir fiction.  Indeed, Izzo is credited by some as the inventor of Mediterranean noir.  As well as murder and intrigue, the book is full of friendship, love, food, wine, literature and music.  The dark side of Marseille is revealed, but so too is a zest for life and an infectious love of the city.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am fond of Marseille myself.  Reading this book brought it to life again on the pages in front of me.  I could taste the freshly cooked fish, smell the pastis and see the narrow streets of Le Panier, where much of the action takes place.  I could imagine Montale drinking in the Bar des 13 Coins, trudging the narrow streets, crossing the Vieux port on the ferry:

The joys are simple – food, friends, music.  The grief is at times overwhelming. The joy for life wins through, though.

Although not initially intended by the author, this is the first in a trilogy.  I bought the other two at the weekend and shall be reading them very soon.  I’ll let you know what I think.


Izzo died at the age of 55 in 2000, but his son has set up a website giving more information on his father’s life and writings.  You’ll find there a list of music and literature referred to in the Marseille trilogy together with a map of the area featured in the books.   You can even listen to some of the music.  And if you’re in Marseille you can visit the square named after the author.

Place Jean-Claude Izzo in Le Panier

Place Jean-Claude Izzo in Le Panier

Total Chaos / Jean-Claude Izzo. – Translated from the French by Howard Curtis. – Europa Editions, 2005.  (Total Kheops originally published 1995)

Related post:
Shopping in Marseille
Cup of Tea in Marseille



8 replies »

  1. As I was watching your gallery above the smell of freshly grilled fish came back to me though I never had it in Marseille. Your review of the book has sparked my curiosity. I will try to find the time to read it.


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