Friday, January 18, 2013

Zagreb Cowboy by Alen Mattich

Alen Mattich’s first of a series may just be the most fun since Tarantino’s movie Reservoir Dogs hit the silver screen. In Zagreb Cowboy , the security landscape during the breakup of Yugoslavia into Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Montenegro (did I miss anything?) is more than a little farcical, with teams of security personnel following each other, carrying Bulgarian knock-offs of Berettas that misfire with ammunition that doesn’t kill. When it makes financial or political sense, the pursuers will align with the object of their pursuit against a third team in a constantly shifting series of pas de deux.

Mattich gets the tone just right by creating a series of hapless but sympathetic characters--some more sympathetic than others—who are less zealous defenders of the political realm than they are working men and women finding ways to keep body and soul together while stoking dreams of emigration. I don’t think anyone actually get killed, though there is plenty of shooting going on. There is much praise given to German engineering and the civilized British lifestyle, comparing everywhere--Italy, Spain, France, and America--more favorably than home.

But one of my favorite passages in this book describes the pleasures and blessings of a simple country life “at home”:
Strumbić had around twenty rows of vines, along with fruit trees, mostly plums and pears, which he picked in the summer, fermented, and then cooked into a potent spirit alcohol. And then there was the ancient cherry tree that turned the ground purple with its juice in August.

The house itself was built on top of an old wine hut. The thick and roughly made concrete-and-stone walls now formed a self-contained ground-level cellar, where Strumbić matured the wine he made from his own grapes, distilled his spirits, and hung cured hams and salamis that he bought from the local villagers. Above the cellar was the house he’d built, one full storey under a steeply pitched roof. In all there was a large sitting room and balcony that looked out over the valley, a kitchen, a bathroom and two bedrooms, one of which Strumbić used as an office.

But mostly when he was there, Strumbić sat in the cellar or at a rickety table by the side of the house under the huge cherry tree’s canopy. It was an idyll…and [our hero, della Torre] always looked forward to invitations there.

Our intrepid hero, Marko della Torre, comes from Istrian stock: “Political maps showed that in her ninety years, della Torre’s grandmother had lived in six different countries without once moving from the village in which she’d been born.” He works for Department VI, the UDBA’s (state intelligence) internal investigative service. He is a lawyer, primarily responsible for investigating extrajudicial killings. He is a good man in a confusing world. He’s someone we’d be pleased to know…I think…unless he comes to visit leading that string of hitmen…

A second book in the series, Killing Pilgrim is due out in the fall of 2013, but do take a look at this while you are waiting.

An interview with Alen Mattich.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

No comments:

Post a Comment