Review: For All the Gold in the World by Massimo Carlotto

The trick to reading For All the Gold in the World, the latest noir from Italian author Massimo Carlotto, is looking for the crime within the crime. Because while one murder scene would be enough for most writers, Carlotto has something larger in mind for the unconventional rogue detective who specializes “in somewhat unusual investigations.” This isn’t a simple case. It’s “a series of fucking Russian nesting dolls.”

Marco “the Alligator” Buratti and his boys, Max the Memory and the ruthless Beniamino, are approached by some, shall we say, associates, to investigate a robbery gone wrong: a man is robbed of 2 million dollars in cash and jewelry, and he and his housekeeper are found brutally murdered.

Buratti turns them down, thinking – correctly – that these are not men to be trusted. But he’s intrigued, particularly when he learns the dead housekeeper left behind a 12-year-old son whose future is very much in jeopardy.

In true noir fashion, Buratti and his boys are principled. They might crack a few skulls, but only in the name of helping someone in need. So while Buratti won’t work for criminals, he will work for a child searching for answers. “We’re the best investigators on the market,” Buratti says to the kid. “Just hand over your spare change, and we can start working for you.” The boy hands them twenty cents – enough of a retainer to put Buratti on the case.

What fuels the story are the sharp character details: when Buratti, Max, and Beniamino need to lay low after a brawl, they hide out at the botanical gardens. When they have an afternoon to kill before roughing up a suspect, they buy swimming trunks and head to the pool. These are men who take their work seriously, as well as their food, their music, and their women. There’s work to be done, yes, but there’s still time to flirt with a jazz singer and take the boat out.

It’s the characters, not the crimes, that makes Carlotto’s Alligator mysteries so successful. For All the Gold in the World weaves off track under the weight of so many plotlines, making for an ending that feels more reckless than orchestrated. There’s leaps in logic, a convenient tornado, a plot – or two – left unfinished.

But it’s the journey with Buratti that keeps readers coming back. Finishing an Alligator mystery is like waking up after an all-night bender with your best friends: your suit’s a mess, you reek of smoke; there’s lipstick on your collar. You’re not 100 percent sure what happened. But you know you had a good time.