Quai du Polar 2021: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 2
Hannelore Cayre: Richesse oblige (Métailié)
One thing’s for sure now: you can’t find a single 5 foot 1, within thousands of leagues in any direction, for less than 8000 francs. But don’t worry about it, we’ll rip you away from that damned conscription and I’m sure that pretty soon you’ll be able to thank your sister’s husband who has things in hand. As a former military man he knows the cabarets where these people drink and knows better than anyone how to talk to them……
Your brother in law has chosen Brittany where, it would seem he has old friends who owe him one. He’s written to them. Now we’re waiting.***
Hannelore Cayre, the author of The Godmother, has set this her latest crime fiction in two different time periods, both of which have in common unbridled capitalism. The first part of the story is set leading up to the 1870 Franco-Prussian war during the French Second Empire period under Napoleon III. The army is formed by conscription with a draft lottery being held as each age group is eligible , much like in the US during the Vietnam war. But the rich are rich even after the revolution, forget equality, when you are drawn, your only requirement is that someone physically eligible turns up on the enrolment day, for the rich this is known as “military replacement”, where they buy a poor person to replace them. But for the De Rigny family, with the war looming, as Antoine’s enrolment day approaches, well there aren’t many poor left as illustrated in the opening paragraph.
The present day, Blanche de Rigny, from Brittany, poor, wearing orthopaedic leg braces since a drunken accident works photocopying documents for the police, earning a bit on the side by selling lists of numbers from condemned drug dealers telephones to get by, when one day she accidentally finds out that her name is linked to a rich family. She slowly tracks down the link between her and this family which still make money in Africa without worrying how they make it. She tries to contact “her family” but they want nothing to do with her and then slowly the survivors of this rich family begin to die, one being lynched by a mob in Africa, another by a drug overdose…. until there are only two left, the old “doyenne” and Blanche, maybe the rich are no longer the hunters:
My bosses want me to ask you the following question unofficialy: If by extraordinary bad luck another unfortunate event were to take place, what would be your plans for the Trust?
It’s something to do with fiscal efficiency in an island paradise full of palm trees is that it?
Yes, the British Virgin Isles.
If that family pays people to manage their fortune and these people, of their own initiative, decide to send someone all the way over here to check a civil register, there must be a huge amount of money involved wouldn’t you say?
I love island life. Tell your bosses that, it may calm them……***
An interesting book from a historical perspective but not up there with The Godmother
First Published in French as “Richess oblige” by de Métailié in 2020
*** my translation
The quote as read in French before translation
Une chose est certaine à présent: on ne trouve plus à des milliers de lieues à la ronde le moindre cinq pieds un pouce à moins de 8000 francs. Mais ne t’inquiète pas pour cela, nous t’arracherons à cette maudite conscription et je suis sûr que tu pourras bientôt remercier le mari de ta sœur qui a pris les choses en main. Comme ancien militaire, il connaît les cabarets où ces gens boivent et sait mieux que quiconque leur parler……
Ton beau-frère a donc choisi la Bretagne où, paraît-il, d’anciens amis lui doivent des services. Il leur a écrit. Nous attendons.
Mes patrons me demandent de vous poser la question officieuse suivante: si par extraordinaire un malheur arrivait encore, quelles seraient vos intentions pour le trust?
C’est un truc d’optimisation fiscale dans une île paradisiaque avec des palmiers c’est ça?
Oui, aux îles Vierges Britanniques.
Si cette famille paye des gens pour administrer leur fortune et que ces derniers prennent sur eux d’envoyer quelqu’un jusqu’ici juste pour consulter un registre d’état civil, c’est qu’il y a énormément d’argent, non?
J’aime beaucoup la vie insulaire. Dites ça à vos patrons, ça les rassurera peut-être….