solea“We had nothing to lose, because we’d already lost everything.” Fabio is in a favorite bar with Hassan, the owner, who comes out with: “Don’t you think working class people are a bit clumsy?”

All through Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy of which Solea is the swan song, we have a community divided between those who are included and those who are left out. Sometimes the people excluded muscle their way in through vice and murder. Then they shack up with the other included folk with whom they make an unholy alliance. The result is noir for the rest of us.

Marseilles is the city on the hill. It’s paradise imagined as urban. But it’s also sliding downward into the muck. It’s encircled by crime families who plan to despoil it of any innocence. The city, all of France, is prey. There’s a North/South divide in Europe. The North will end up ruling. The citizens of the South, the Mediterranean peoples from whom European civilization originally descended, will be reduced to the status of ants scrambling over the surface of a rock, exposed and vulnerable.

Fabio had been playing the Miles Davis track “Solea” since his lover, Lole, had left him. We’ve been following Fabio’s relationship to Lole since two novels ago. A relationship all the dearer since Lole was the girlfriend of his two deceased best friends in succession before she decided to live with Fabio. So you need to understand that in losing Lole, Fabio also breaks the link to his boyhood brothers, Manu and Ugo.

The break with Lole occurred over Babette. But Lole was careful to tell Fabio that what happened with Babette was just the pretext for what Lole was planning anyway. Lole said that she didn’t love Fabio anymore and she couldn’t live with a man that she no longer loved. That has to be the roughest way to break up. Being told: “I no longer love you”.

Babette is a journalist who has made it her life’s work to research the encroachment of the Mafia into France. Her life may be a short one considering her career goal. The result of her research are five computer disks, including an ominous last disk, which is black. The black disk contains names and firms that facilitate the laundering of money between criminal enterprises and legitimate businesses. This form of financial incest works both ways. Legitimate money is being invested in criminal activities as much as crime money is being laundered. European governments will mutate into gangster states. Civic institutions will devolve into instruments of power in which it doesn’t matter if that power is criminal.

Grilled sea bass with fennel: Babette and Fabio would meet at a favorite harbor restaurant when Fabio was still a cop covering the North Marseilles ghetto. They met as lovers even though they weren’t anymore. Babette called them “seasonal lovers” who became friends without ever having said: “I love you.”. And when Lole came back from visiting her mother in Seville, Fabio didn’t tell her he’d been in contact with Babette. He didn’t know how to explain his relationship to Babette. More importantly, he didn’t want to explain. He didn’t want to share that part of his life with Lole.

Lole leaves for Seville again, for a new relationship and a new career as a flamenco singer. Lole reinvents herself. That’s how you know she’s really gone for good. Like Mavros and Pascale, friends of Fabio, where it’s like this: a change in wardrobe signals that a relationship is over. Pascale leaves for a trip without Mavros. Mavros is disturbed that she is wearing a skirt where for the past several months with him she’s worn jeans. And Mavros knows what she’s packed: short mini skirts that come up to the thigh. Temporary absence? Pacale’s not coming back.

Honorine is Fabio’s next store neighbor in Les Goudes, the little harbor enclave of Marseilles where he lives. They are as close as their cottages. They share adjoining terraces separated by a little gate. When I hear that gate swing open as Honorine joins Fabio on his side of the terrace, I can taste how close the friendship is. Honorine is inviting Fabio over for a meal. I know that because she is always having Fabio over for a meal.

Honorine is a generation older than Fabio. She’s a widow. Fabio bought her husband’s fishing boat, the one with the pointed stern, when he died. When you approach middle age, as Fabio has, you sometimes find relationships that substitute for ones you have lost to the past.

Honorine is Fabio’s second mother. Honorine knew and loved all three boys as they were growing up. Now, with Manu and Ugo dead, Fabio is all she has left of those days. Losing him would kill her. So it’s especially telling, towards the end of the story, with the Mafia closing in, that Honorine is persuaded to leave for safety’s sake. Looking over from Fabio’s cottage to see Honorine’s place shuttered up; it’s chilling. Those shutters were never closed when Honorine was in the house.

What is noir? It’s what French composer Edgar Varese puts in his Nocturnes. Varese quotes Anais Nin, from House of Incest:

“You belong to the night.”

Solea is the last fabulous read in Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy, which also includes Total Chaos and Chourmo, reviewed earlier. They are all releasing from Europa Editions this summer. It’s not too much to ask you to read them all. They’re not long. The Marseilles Trilogy will make your summer nights seem shorter in the most pleasant of literary ways.