Franz Bartelt ‘Ah les braves gens’

Quai des Polars 2020: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 4

Sites to visit linked to this proud event unfortunately now cancelled.
Emma, Marina-Sofia and the official event site Quai des Polars In order to support this event, hopefully I’ll manage to write articles on all six of the short listed thrillers and propose my winner before the official announce on the 4th of April.

In order to reach the largest readership possible for this attempt, I have created a website to publish my six articles and to propose my winner ****in French*** please go to my French website and don’t hesitate to make it viral

All work deserves wages, you payed the husband I suppose. — that’s to say that him, he breeds rabbits. He was supposed to pay me with rabits. A free rabbit every week for a year. That only partly satisfied me. I don’t particularly like rabbit. So when I caught the woman red handed, well you can imagine —, she proposed to buy my silence, payment in kind. I was weak enough to accept. — You betrayed your client? You broke the bond of trust? That’s outrageous! — First off the husband deserved to be cheated on. He’s a nasty piece of stuff. What’s more the woman was more appealing than the rabbit. So let’s not over dramatise. That day I made three people happy: the husband, the wife and myself. I saved their marriage.***

Bartelt has created small town France in the imaginary town of Puffigny with the outsider, Julius Dump, breaking down just out of town in his yellow Cadillac at the start of the book and being brought into town on the back of Polnabébé’s moped. Polnabébé, who can’t stop talking but who takes him to the local Bistro where he organises for Dump’s Cadillac to be repaired and finds him somewhere to stay. Everything in Puffigny is centred around the Bistro, as we later learn if you want to get reception for your cell phone you need to catch a bus to the neighbouring town. At the Bistro Polnabébé tells Dump about the town:

I do my shopping in Puffigny, because it’s closest. Between you and me, I take the opportunity to oil my throat at the “bistrot de la gare”. You hear all sorts at Gromard’s, there’s always someone there. A bistro is for dropping by, but it’s not a meeting place. You stop off, sometimes for a few hours. If we just said what he had to say we’d soon run out of conversation. So we fill in, we make things up, we fantacise . Around here that’s all there is: bar talk. Mind you, we lie but they’re not real lies because we all only pretend to believe them. Me, genetically speaking, I’m not really a lier, but when I go to sink a glass or two at Gromard’s, I’m like the rest: I don’t count! I adapt to the local culture! I’m a convivial lier if you like.***

Dump has come to Puffigny on the trail of the last living link to his father’s last heist, gone wrong, a certain Nadereau that no one in Puffigny admits to knowing, so quite naturally he calls in on the town’s detective, Helnoute Ballo, famous for having solved the case of the stolen desert spoons at the bistro, amongst other cases as illustrated in the opening quote.

Whilst Dump is in Puffigny, one of the three town teenagers, Nadège goes missing, the only trace being a red high heeled shoe being found in the forest near a retired civil engineer’s house. Farruque soon finds himself being questioned by the police:

Except that some of your ex-colleagues still can’t understand that you never got married! — Why? It’s against the law to stay single? — We know that you visit prostitutes. – It has to be done. Its for health reasons. For the same price, I could have joined a sports club. But I don’t like sport. If you come back on that, then you don’t know anything about life. Do you think I would have waited to be retired to become a rapist? Rape is like music or figure skating, if hou want to makea career of it you need to start young. You won’t find many rapists of my age.***

As you may have gathered, this mystery is a satire where Bartelt creates a world of improbable small town characters with their no holds barred way of speaking and where the furthest any of them has been is to Larcheville, the biggest nearby town, which of course no one has heard of. I remember laughing out loud at some passages.

First Published in French as “Ah les braves gens” in 2019 by Le Seuil.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Pour les commissions, je vais à Puffigny, parce que c’est plus près. Entre nous, j’en profite pour me lotionner l’arrière-gorge au bistrot de la Gare. On en entend, chez le Gromard. Y a toujours du monde. Un bistrot, c’est un lieu de passage, mais c’est aussi une salle de réunion. On y stationne. Des fois, pendant deux ou trois heures. Si on se limitait à dire ce qu’on a à dire, on serait vite à court d’arguments. Alors, on brode, on invente, on se laisse aller à des fantaisies. Par ici, on n’a que ça: la causerie au coin de la chope. Remarquez, on ment, mais c’est pas des mensonges, puisque tout le monde fait semblant de les croire. Moi, génétiquement, je ne suis pas menteur, mais quand je vais me sécher une mousse chez le Gromard, je suis comme les autres: jamais à une près! Je m’adapte à la culture de l’endroit! Si vous voulez, je pratique le mensonge de convivialité.»

Toute peine méritant salaire, le mari vous a rémunéré, je présume. — C’est-à-dire que cet homme-là est éleveur de lapins. Il devait me payer en lapins. Un lapin gratuit par semaine pendant un an. Ça ne me plaisait qu’à moitié. Le lapin, je n’en suis pas friand. Quand la femme a été prise la main dans le sac – façon de parler, vous imaginez bien –, elle m’a proposé d’acheter mon silence, en me payant en nature. J’ai eu la faiblesse d’accepter. – Vous avez trahi votre client? Vous avez brisé le pacte de confiance? C’est scandaleux! –D’abord, le mari méritait d’être trompé. C’est un sale bonhomme. Ensuite, sa femme était plus appétissante que le lapin. Donc, ne dramatisons pas. Ce jour-là, j’ai fait trois heureux: le mari, la femme et moi-même. Et j’ai sauvé un couple.

Sauf que certains de vos anciens collègues s’étonnent encore aujourd’hui que vous n’ayez pas trouvé à vous marier! – Pourquoi ? C’est interdit de rester célibataire ? – Nous savons que vous fréquentiez des prostituées. – Il faut bien que ça se fasse. C’était mon hygiène. Pour le même prix, j’aurais pu m’offrir un abonnement dans un club de sport. Mais j’aime pas le sport. Si vous trouvez à y redire, c’est que vous ignorez tout des choses de la vie. Vous croyez que j’aurais attendu d’être à la retraite pour devenir un violeur? Le viol c’est comme la musique ou le patinage artistique, si on veut faire carrière, il faut commencer tôt. Des violeurs de mon âge, ça ne court pas les rues.

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