Izzo, Jean-Claude 1945-2000

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Izzo, Jean-Claude 1945-2000


Born 1945, in Marseilles, France; died of cancer, January 26, 2000, in Marseilles, France.


Journalist and novelist. Military service: Served in French army, 1965.



Total Khéops, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1995, translation by Vivienne Menkes-Ivry published as One Helluva Mess, Arcadia (London, England), 2002, translation by Howard Curtis published as Total Chaos, Europa Editions (New York, NY), 2005.

Chourmo, 1996, Gallimard (Paris, France), 2001, translation by Howard Curtis, Europa Editions (New York, NY), 2006.

Soléa, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1998, translation by Howard Curtis, Europa Editions (New York, NY), 2007.


Poèmes à haute voix, P.J. Oswald (Honfleur, France), 1970.

Terres de feu (poetry), P.J. Oswald (Honfleur, France), 1972.

Paysage de femme (poetry), Chambelland (Paris, France), 1975.

Clovis Hughues: Un rouge du midi (biography), J. Lafitte (Marseilles, France), 1978.

Les marins perdus (novel), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1997, translation by Howard Curtis published as The Lost Sailors, Europa Editions (New York, NY), 2007.

Le soleil des mourants (novel), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1999, translation by Howard Curtis published as Sun for the Dying, Europa Editions (New York, NY), 2008.

Du bon usage de la réalité (bound with Je t'écris de mémoire, by Jo Ros), Temps des Cerises (Pantin, France), 2002.

(With Jean Aicard) Maurin des Maures, Phebus (Paris, France), 2002.

Also author of screenplays for motion pictures and television. Author's works have been translated into Italian.


Izzo's novels featuring his fictional detective Fabio Montale were adapted as the film Fabio Montale starring Alain Delon and directed by Jose Pinheiro, c. 2001.


Unfortunately for his many fans in both his native France and Italy, the fiction career of journalist and screenwriter-turned-novelist Jean-Claude Izzo was cut short only a few years after it began. Publishing the first of his novels to feature the popular sleuth Fabio Montale in 1995 at the age of fifty, Izzo died of cancer only five years later. At his death he left only three "Montale" novels: Total Khéops, Chourmo, and Soléa. Total Khéops gained a greater following for Izzo when it was translated into English in 2002.

Readers meet Izzo's detective in Total Khéops. Raised in a poor immigrant neighborhood, Montale, who was named for the prize-winning Italian poet, grows up to be a policeman, a fan of the novels of Joseph Conrad, and a lover of fine things; meanwhile his two childhood friends, Ugo and Manu, take paths that lead them into lives of crime. When Manu winds up dead, shot by an unknown policeman, Ugo returns to Marseilles to avenge his friend's death, and Fabio must decide whether to join Ugo in using somewhat questionable techniques in determining the killer. After Ugo, too, winds up dead, the plot thickens as police conspiracy and the rape and murder of a young immigrant also seem to be related to the two deaths. Reviewing the English-language translation, One Helluva Mess, for the Times Literary Supplement, David McAllister questioned whether the novel would be as popular among English-language readers. Although noting Izzo's popularity in France and his renown as the author of "a new breed of Mediterranean crime thriller, in which the detective's flask of bourbon is replaced with a well-chilled Cassis blanc," McAllister faulted the translator: "There are few things that revoke the willing suspension of disbelief quite so suddenly," he quipped, "as an Armenian Frenchman in the slums of Marseilles who speaks with a … [working-class British] accent."

Izzo was born and died in Marseilles, and he set much of his fiction in that city, including the remaining two "Montale" novels. Chourmo finds Montale off the force due to his friendship with criminals such as Ugo and his anger over the way the Marseilles police deal with immigrants. However, as a civilian his sleuthing skills come in handy when a young man who was known to date an Arab girl winds up dead and racism, Islamic fundamentalism, and criminal goings-on in the port city are all involved. Soléa finds Montale aiding a former girlfriend, a journalist who has uncovered a Mafia secret and caused the death of her current boyfriend. Noting the cinematic quality of the novel, an Economist reviewer wrote that Izzo's "characters have a shape of their own and the dialogue is refreshingly sharp." A popular fictional character, Izzo's detective was brought to the screen by noted actor Alain Delon in the film Fabio Montale, the screenplay drawing its storyline from the three-volume novel series.

Howard Curtis translated the trilogy, as well as The Lost Sailors and Sun for the Dying, for Europa Editions. With these new translations, more of Izzo's most popular work is available in English.

The Lost Sailors, published in French as Les marins perdus, is the story of a Lebanese sea captain and the one remaining member of his crew who await the sale of their ship, a freighter, because its owner has gone bankrupt. The enforced solitude forces the men to confront their past and the reasons they chose to go to sea, and ultimately propels them toward tragedy. Inspired by an actual incident, the book was praised by Times Literary Supplement contributor Elizabeth Beyer, who noted that Izzo "pays tribute" to his characters "by portraying tender, human and strong personalities and by staging their odyssey with all the complexity of their feelings."

In evaluating the characters in The Lost Sailors, a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted "their sad stories revealed inch by inch through whiskey-fueled conversations and casual shore-side liaisons."

Izzo wrote Le soleil des mourants, translated as Sun for the Dying, a year before his death. It is the story of a man who seeks, but never finds, intimacy, which results in the loss of everything he has.

An Economist reviewer spoke with Izzo before his death and in a subsequent article commented that in his novels, he addresses subjects seldom touched upon by others, including joblessness in The Lost Sailors and homelessness in Sun for Dying. He noted that the novels featuring Montale are set in Le Panier, the old Italian quarter that is home to the Mafia, and the crime-ridden suburbs that are "so often excluded from more salubrious social maps." He also wrote that Marseilles "has also been excluded by the literary tradition—sustained by such authors as Jean Giono, Albert Camus, Aldous Huxley and D.H. Lawrence—that made the sensuous beauty of Provence and the Riviera the locus of a Mediterranean myth, where life is imbued with a pre-Christian pagan wisdom and an instinctive understanding of conflict." The writer concluded: "For Jean-Claude Izzo, Marseilles is a place of contrast. Caught between pride and crime, racism and fraternity, tragedy and light, messy urbanisation and generous beauty, the city is for him a Utopia, an ultimate port of call for exiles. There Montale, like Mr. Izzo himself perhaps, is torn between fatalism and revolt, despair and sensualism."



Booklist, October 15, 2005, Bill Ott, review of Total Chaos, p. 32.

Economist (US), September 12, 1998, review of Soléa, p. S17; October 30, 1999, "Sunlit Suspense: Mystery Writer Jean-Claude Izzo and His Depiction of Marseilles," p. 95.

French Review, May, 2001, Tom Conner, review of Le soleil des mourants, pp. 1281-1282.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2005, review of Total Chaos, p. 1109; July 1, 2007, review of The Lost Sailors.

Library Journal, October 1, 2005, Bob Lunn, review of Total Chaos, p. 65.

Publishers Weekly, September 5, 2005, review of Total Chaos, p. 33; July 9, 2007, review of The Lost Sailors, p. 32.

Times Literary Supplement, October 10, 1997, Elizabeth Beyer, review of Les marins perdus, p. 25; July 26, 2002, David McAllister, review of One Helluva Mess, p. 22.


Jean-Claude Izzo Web site,http://www.jeanclaude-izzo.com (January 7, 2008).