Gauz’ ‘Standing Heavy’

“Booker International Prize 2023: Books that made my shortlist for this prize.
“Standing Heavy”: In order of reading book number 3.

Employers are all too willing to overlook official status. The morphological profile is supposedly appropriate. Morphological profile . . . Black men are heavy-set; Black men are tall; Black men are strong; Black men are deferential; Black men are scary. It is impossible not to think of this jumble of “noble savage” clichés lurking atavistically in the minds of every White man responsible for recruitment and every Black man who has come to use these clichés to his advantage.

Gauz, a writer from the Ivory Coast, is both politically engaged and a satirist, and this book, released in France in 2014 tells the story of young and not so young black men arriving in France from west Africa. He takes us from the sixties to the present day. The opening quote is both is an example of his writing style, concise, pared back to the message. This work is full of pertinent observations and the definitions, for instance that money is more easily available in the wealthy shopping areas such as the Champs Élysée than in poor areas, the message given as here in a definition:

Fast STM. 7 seconds, typing the code included, is the time needed for an HSBC ATM on the Champs Élysée to cough up 20 euros. At the Crédit Lyonnais on the rue Louis Bonnet in Belleville, the same operation takes 43 seconds! On the Champs Élysée money spent as fast as it is given…In the poor quarters, even the ATMs think twice before giving you money.

The story loosely follows characters from the Ivory Coast in Paris as the times change, from the students of the sixties invited over to study and to work in their run down accommodation to the next generation after the oil crisis, of often undocumented migrants living in these same student flats, sub-let to many more of them by the previous generation, but where work was still plentiful, through the aftermath of the twin towers to the current day.

A clever book, fun but gets its message over.

First Published in french as “Debout-payé” in 2014, by Le nouvel Attila. Translated into English by Frank Wynne and published in 2022 as “Standing Heavy ” by Maclehose Press.

The quotes as read in French before translation

les regards sont volontairement bienveillants sur les situations administratives, le profil morphologique est prétendument adéquat. Profil morphologique…Les noirs sont costauds, les noirs sont grands, les noirs sont forts, les noirs sont obéissants, les noirs font peur. Impossible de ne pas penser à ce ramassis de clichés du bon sauvage qui sommeillent de façon atavique à la fois dans chacun des blancs chargés de recruitment, et dans chacun des noirs venus exploiter ces clichés en sa faveur.

Fast GAB. 7 secondes, composition du code comprise, c’est le temps qu’il faut à un guichet automatique de la HSBC des Champs-Élysées pour cracher 20 euros. Au Crédit Lyonnais de la rue Louis Bonnet à Belleville, la même opération prend 43 secondes! Aux Champs-Élysées, l’argent est vite donné, mais aussi vite dépensé… Dans les quartiers pauvres, même les distributeurs automatiques hésitent à vous refiler de l’argent.

Laurent Mauvignier ‘The Birthday Party’

As though by watching him she can guess what he’s thinking, when maybe he’s just waiting for her to come out of this police station where he’s brought her for the how many times now, two or three in two weeks, she can’t remember – what she sees, in any case, elevated slightly over the car park which seems to incline somewhat past the grove of trees, standing near the chairs in the waiting room between a scrawny plant and a concrete pillar painted yellow on which she could read appeals for witnesses if she bothered to take an interest, is, because she’s slightly above it, overlooking and thus observing a misshapen version of it, a bit more packed down than it really is, the silhouette, compact but large, solid, of this man whom, she now thinks, she’s no doubt been too long in the habit of seeing as though he’s still a child

Laurent Mauvignier’s writing, here as in previous books, examines the protagonists feelings precisely and in detail, allowing us the time to piece together our own view of the story from the sum of the feelings described. Here in this book shortlisted for the Booker International Prize, there are four main characters leading up to the birthday party living in a little hamlet of three houses. We are introduced initially to Christine, an aged artist living in one of the houses and a family of three, Bergogne, his daughter, Ida and his wife Marion who will be celebrating her fortieth birthday the next day. The description illustrated here in the opening quote of Christine looking out of the police station window at the beginning of the book is an example of the precision of Mauvignier’s descriptive writing, we hear what Christine is thinking, the relative position of watcher and watched and how she sees him.

But who is Marion? This question is not immediately apparent but it is made clear to us that Christine, who looks after Ida after school each day, and has known Bergogne all of his life, has no affinity for Marion and thinks that this glamorous looking woman who comes from nowhere to live in this out of the way hamlet with Bergogne, a small time farmer, is not what she seems. We learn from Bergogne’s guilty visit to town to see a young prostitute that all is not straightforward in their marriage.
Marion is a breath of fresh air for her female colleagues at work, she will not be submissive with her management to keep her job, we learn of her view of the “project leader”.

As the birthday party nears, this slow moving preparation turns into a thriller as Marion’s party is hijacked by the arrival on the scene of three dangerous and diversely armed brothers from Marion’s past. This was an enormously enjoyable story, some 600 pages long and keeps you interested right up to the last gunshot!

First Published in french as “Histoires de La nuit” in 2020, by Les Éditions de Minuit. Translated into English by Daniel Levin Becker and published in 2023 as “The Birthday Party ” by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Violet Kupersmith ‘Build Your House around my Body’

“You are clever children,” he said brightly. “I can see that. Calculating. Entrepreneurial. But foolish—talking about desecrating tombs, provoking spirits…most people would be too afraid to do that here. You think you’re not afraid of this place…” He swept out a hand to indicate the cemetery around them. The briefcase clicked open. “But how brave are you? My offer—my wager, really—is that I can show you something that will frighten you so badly you’ll run away screaming, and you’ll never be the same again. If not, I’ll give you each five thousand đồng. What do you say?”

In 1986, Binh, a young Vietnamese woman disappeared for several days in Ia Kare in the central mountainous region of Vietnam and was never the same again and then twenty five years later a second Vietnamese-American woman, Winnie, goes missing. As this story flits backwards and forwards in time some loose ends are left for the reader who as he puts them together slowly becomes able to understand what happens to Winnie.

In the early 1980’s some children in Ia Kare try to trick a passer-by out of some money, the girl is Binh and the two boys are her friends, Long and Tan, their meeting is illustrated in the opening quote. The two boys run off but the girl stays to see the man transform into a green smoke snake.

We go back to the late forties before Dien Bien Pfu and two Frenchmen who had lived some evil moments as guards on a prisoner Island and have decided to start a plantation at Ia Kare, the same plantation that years later are where Binh disappeared:

But after three days, when no ransom note had been sent, the detectives ruled out kidnapping. The only place they had not searched extensively was the old rubber plantation. This was because, in addition to being overrun by snakes, it was allegedly haunted by the ghosts of the two Frenchmen who had originally planted the trees, and the spirits of the half dozen bite victims from over the years.

Binh’s father calls in help from a fortune teller, who is the same stranger that the young Binh had met those years earlier and who manages to find her on the plantation amongst the snakes.
Moving forward to Winnie coming from America, we learn of her possible link through adoption to this initial tale.

Even before moving to Saigon, Winnie had anticipated that she would be a mediocre English teacher at best, as she lacked any prior experience or real interest in the job. But after only a couple weeks of working at Achievement! International Language Academy, it was clear that she would fail to surpass even her own low expectations. Winnie was incompetent.

All of this leads to Winnie’s disappearance, Winnie who meets both Long and Tan, to the spirits, the snakes, the smoke and more.
This was an intriguing book which keeps you following link after link and a magical tale born from difficult past secrets, it kept me interested until the end.

First published in English by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2021 by Oneworld Publications.

Georgi Gospodinov ‘Time Shelter’

“Booker International Prize 2023: Books that made my shortlist for this prize.
“Time Shelter”: In order of reading book number 1.

Becoming attached to people here is painful because you realise you are getting attached to someone who will soon leave you. I feel especially close to mr M, his is likely a case of retrograde amnesia , he has only just come to the clinic and the agent follows him like a shadow visiting him twice a week, clearly he too enjoys it or feels some need to do it because he comes all the way from the city every time and spends the whole afternoon here. In the beginning we sent a car for him but he turned it down and started coming with his own, people need to tell stories I think even people like him, before he couldn’t and now he can nobody cares. Suddenly he has found somebody who hangs on his every word one man who has turned into an ear for all those stories from back then, one man who was ready to hear everything, the man he followed who was losing his memory and has ended up being erased twice over.

This quite extraordinary book about memory, treats, in the first half of the book, amongst other subjects amnesia. In a first instance individual amnesia due to age and illness is addressed where the narrator and his friend Gaustin, create the first time shelters for troubled people. Gaustin is the ideas and concepts part of the pair and the narrator is the person that manages these ideas. The time shelters are rooms in a clinic where everything is from an era, for instance the fifties, so that people whose memories are being stripped away can find solace in a period they can still remember. There are two other ideas introduced here, firstly the fact that in Eastern Europe memories may be very different than in Western Europe, both Gaustin and the narrator are from Bulgaria and their clinics are initially set up in Switzerland and that not only loss of memory but also more complex ideas of, for instance guilt may be treated, take for example the opening quote with the patient Mr M and the state informant from communist times who is now the only person who knows about him.

Gaustin then predicts the needs of these shelters for the more generalised case of people wanting to return to the soft cocoon of a past period of their own will as he imagines the next step for his clinics:

One day when this business really takes off Gaustin continued we’ll create these clinics and sanatoriums in various countries, the past is also a local thing, there’ll be houses from various years everywhere, little neighbourhoods one day we’ll even have small cities, maybe even have a whole country for patients with failing memories, Alzheimer’s, dementia whatever you want to call it, for all of those who already are living solely in the present of their past, and for us he said finally After a short pause letting out a long stream of smoke this sudden groundswell of people who have lost their memories today is no coincidence they are here to tell us something and believe me one day very soon the majority of people will start returning to the past of their own accord, they’ll start losing their memories willingly the time is coming when more and more people will want to hide in the cave of the past, to turn back and not for happy reasons by the way, we need to be ready with the bomb shelter of the past.

Things then slowly step out control as the idea is taken forward by the European Union, after an important member of the Commission has used à center for a loved one losing their memory, each country in the Union should hold a referendum on which time in the past they wish to live in. The narrator, tells us of each country making different choices with the favourites, such as the Sixties, not necessarily being as loved as that.

The narrator becomes aware that Gaustin is his creation, but not that he is the writer’s creation. This book was a real pleasure, the first of my planned reads for this prize, how can the others compete?

Translated into English by Angela Rodel and published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson in 2023

Quai du Polar – And the 2023 winner is

Flash update, my second choice came in first, see the bottom of this article

After having debated (with myself), the 2023 reader’s prize goes to Tristan Saule’s ‘Héroïne’

I have read through the shortlist for the reader’s prize, just in time, and several of the books were good so, after reading my previous write ups, much like Goldilocks I first eliminated:

L’affaire de l’île BarbeSurin d’Apache 1 de Stanislas Petrosky – AFITT Éditions
This book is too short
The crime itself and its resolution, or in this case non resolution felt like a book only half finished.

Then again like Goldilocks I eliminated

Le Blues des phalènes de Valentine Imhof – Éditions du Rouergue
This book is too long
The subjects, all 4 of them, could have each represented a book all alone, well researched judging by the pages of references, in places interesting, but I just kept looking at my watch.

But I also know when I am beaten.

Pas de littérature ! de Sébastien Rutés – Éditions Gallimard.
I didn’t read this one
2 years ago I did try to read the last of his to be selected for this short list, but it was unreadable (I very rarely give up). I’m not sure how the short list is drawn up but Gallimard can do better!

So then in third place:

Le Tableau du peintre juif de Benoît Séverac – Éditions La Manufacture de livres
Then begins a Tour de France and of Spain as he seeks to unravel the story and clear his grandfather’s name. I must admit that I lost a little interest as he went from location to location with descriptions of the places etc; not a winner for me.

Next we come to the two finalists, I enjoyed both books but there has to be a winner, so in second place:

Nous étions le sel de la mer de Roxanne Bouchard – Éditions de L’Aube
The facts, or the memories of this story: another sea death when every fishing family has lost someone at sea, this is not an unusual event, are slowly, almost reluctantly distilled over 300 pages as Roxanne Bouchard slows the story down to the speed of the sea.
This is a clear possible winner.

And Finally Goldilocks says ‘this one is just right’:

Héroïne de Tristan Saule – Le Quartanier Éditeur
This really was rather an excellent story with a twist at the end. A real competitor for the prize!

Sloane Crosely ‘Cult Classic’

You really believe in all of this?”
“Do I believe in a business model that will make us rich whilst helping people to get over themselves? Do I believe that it is possible to apply energy to spiritual rejuvenation, yeah, Clive’s a genius.”
“That’s a big word.”
“Six letters.”
“That’s a big word to throw at Clive Glenn.

Well, I had heard that this was a must read book, a book that captured the spirit of the millennials, living in the big city, working in jobs, such as publishing which first gets overtaken by digital publishing and then just disappears, Lola the main protagonist has had many boyfriends but has now hit forty, does she have a problem with commitment? Of course she does, but she has just become engaged to Boots, who is out of town for two weeks and with whom she has a unspoken agreement not to talk about ex-partners. However at forty ex-partners represent a large chunk of their lives, and never talking about past relationships doesn’t help you finally get over them.

The book begins with Lola dining with her ex-colleagues from her publishing days where she met her closest friend, Vadi and her charismatic boss Clive Glenn who the following quote shows he just floats on the changing world of what his generation will want next:

Only Clive was somehow bolstered by this entire experience. Not unscathed, not like me, placed with some media host family until he found his forever home. Bolstered. Even when his name still crowned the masthead, he’d begun to step away from the drier aspects of running a magazine and morphing into a full-blown psych guru. He wrote the introduction to an anthology about psychic pain. He invented a DSM drinking game that he played at intimate dinner parties with celebrities who posted videos of the experience on their private social media accounts. When the videos leaked, he issued an apology for his insensitivity that landed him on NPR. He got his own talk show for a while, which was something.

The story really begins when Lola meets an ex-boyfriend at this restaurant where it would seem improbable that he would go to, but then coincidences happen. She hooks up with him for the evening and she remembers what she liked about him but also what she didn’t:

This was not a place I would’ve expected Amos to have heard of, forget patronize. When we were together, he was dismissive of the “fetishized expense” of Manhattan. Manhattan was soulless, gentrified, once for the very young and the very rich, now only for the very rich and the very soulless. Reduced to a high-end strip mall, all the city’s personality was in the past, all its pride delusional. I was too tired to mount a defense—tired, probably, from having to schlep to Bed-Stuy to see my boyfriend. Dropping our near-identical rents or the pilates studios of his neighborhood into conversational evidence bags didn’t seem worth it. Besides, what Amos never understood was that with each pronouncement of my home as a dead zone, he made me feel better about living here. The eye of a hurricane may be inaccessible, but it’s still the eye.

The story then becomes more mysterious as she meets one after the other all of her old boyfriends, something is amiss, this is where she is introduced by Vadi to Clive’s improbable latest venture as illustrated in the opening quote, but then she meets an-boyfriend she has told no one about.

So, what is the part of spiritual and what is the part of arranging things in Clive’s latest venture, does Lola have a problem with commitment? You’ll need to read the story, a pleasant but somewhat overhyped book.

First published in English by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2022

Pierre Lemaitre ‘Couleurs de l’incendie’

Little Paul, aged seven, was standing on the window ledge, his arms flung wide. Staring into the void. He was wearing his black mourning suit, but his tie had been ripped off and his white shirt was open. Everyone stared into the heavens as though anticipating the launch of an airship. Paul bent his knees slightly. Before anyone had time to call to him, to run, he let go of the shutters as Madeleine screamed. As it fell, the child’s body fluttered wildly like a bird hit by a shotgun pellet. After a swift, hectic descent, he landed on the black canopy and disappeared for a moment. The crowd suppressed a sigh of relief. But he bounced off the taut canvas and reappeared, like a jack-in-the-box. Once again, the crowd watched as he was catapulted into the air, over the curtain. And landed with a crash on his grandfather’s coffin.

Since Lemaitre’s “The Great Swindle” (Au revoir là-haut), written in 2013 he has written two other books to complete a cycle of books dealing with the inter-war period, this book translated into English as “All Human Wisdom”, is the second in the cycle.
This book, covers the first part of the interwar years, beginning with the death of the head of the Péricourt bank, Marcel Péricourt and his almost state funeral attended amongst others by the President of the Republic. But this funeral, almost as a preface to these difficult years, turns to chaos as Marcel‘s grandson dives from a second floor window onto Marcel‘s coffin, as described in the opening quote.

This book covers the main theme of revenge, unexpected revenge. Marcel may have been an astute banker but as a Human being he was not too insightful. Firstly attempting to set up his daughter and heir Madeleine with his adviser Gustave Joubert, which after a short while Madeleine rejects, and then insulting Joubert in his will:

“To Gustave Joubert, the devoted and honest colleague who has worked alongside me for so many years, one hundred thousand francs. And to the staff of the Péricourt household, fifteen thousand francs, to be paid out by my daughter as and when she sees fit.” Joubert, who had all the poise and self-control that Charles entirely lacked, considered his bequest bitterly. This was not even a kick in the teeth, it was charity. He had ranked last, just before the maids, the chauffeur and the gardeners.

Lemaitre first shows us the connivance and insider dealings of a certain class in the interwar period as Joubert, in his role as adviser, leads Madeleine to ruin whilst enriching himself and eventually buying the Péricourt home for himself. And here, almost in Shakespearean form at end of this second act, he has set the scene for Madeleine‘s revenge.

This is an excellent series capturing the spirit of these interwar years, I would warmly recommend this book, which can be read as part of the series or as a standalone book in its own right.

First published in French by Albin Michel in 2018 as ‘Couleurs de lˋincendie’
Translated into English by Franck Wynne and published by Maclehose Press as ‘All Human Wisdom’ in 2021.

Outguess the Booker International jury 2023

The Booker International Prize longlist was announced today the 14th of March, the shortlist will be announced on 18th of April and the winner the 23rd of May , that’s 13 books in 70 days or a book every 5 days! Enough to say I’m going to have to make some choices.

Can I out guess the official jury and maybe only read 6 books beginning with the longlist.

Of course I can.

So here I go:

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov: well it’s available on audible, can listen in the car.

Jimmy Hendrix live in Lviv

Standing Heavy (I’ll cheat and read it in French)

Ninth Building

A System so Magnificent

If I manage these 5 I’ll make a clever choice after the shortlist is announced for the sixth.

Will I be able to influence the jury with my persuasive posts?

I’ll leave you to guess.

Tristan Saule ‘Héroïne’

It’s a heartbreaking tracking shot, and Laura is the camera filming the scene as she lives it, stunned by the composition, by the light, by the senseless emotion it provokes in her, the anger, the despair in her throat, the shame, the fear and the pity in the eyes of Marion, frozen on her doorstep. A small boy holding her hand.***

For my fourth book read this year for the Readers Prize at the Quai du Polar in Lyon I am reading Tristan Saule’s ‘Héroïne’. Set in the first months of the lockdowns, in reading it, I realised that there is now an adequate distance in time for my mind to ask if this actually happened rather than shrinking from it. The story takes place in a run down high rise housing estate there are the petty criminals peddling drugs, each zone of the estate, here the Heights, with its chain of command. But this is thrown into disarray by the lockdowns because after the first months no more drugs are available. Until a consignment of heroin could become available:

Lounès and Tonio get out of the car. Tonio locks the doors and the BMW says good night. An ambulance slowly crosses the neighbourhood, lighting up the square in a blue reflection. — what’s wrong? Asks Tonio noticing that Lounès doesn’t go straight in but is standing there on the pavement waiting. The ambulance slows to drive over a speed bump. Blue lights shine silently on the cars, the windows, the balconies, the walls and the two night owls. The ambulance turns left heading for the hospital, disappears. —Salim says there’s a bastard looking to sell heroin in the “Hights”. You’ve heard anything, you? In daylight Tonio’s blushing cheeks would have given him away. —No, he answers. Nothing special.***

There are the ordinary people living in these high rise estates, Joëlle who normally lives from cleaning jobs, paid cash in hand, but her clients are locked down and all are at home, there is Thierry, who can’t afford to buy nappies for his baby and there is Zacharie who pedals to deliver food but has no fixed income and only lives on commission. They are contacted to distribute the heroin:

Listen, says Zacharie. All day me, I deliver food. I pick it up in kitchens, and I swear, you wouldn’t leave a flee ridden rat in them. That’s my fault? Fuck, I’m a delivery man. If there are blokes that want to buy that stuff, that’s their problem. This, this is the same thing. — come on, heroin, it’s not kebabs is it interrupts Joëlle. My sister in law, she liked to get stoned on heroin and she died. My brother in law, he eats kebabs and he’s just fat.***

And then there is Laura, an auxiliary nurse at the local hospital with her life about to come crumbling around her, her girlfriend of two years no longer answers to her calls since the start of lockdown and she discovers the truth about Marion as illustrated in the opening quote. We then live an extenuating night in the COVID intensive care unit with Laura.

It only takes a small grain of sand for all of these worlds to come into collision, as the gypsy who is receiving the heroin falls ill and is rushed to hospital after telling his drinking friends a hidden secret about himself. Then under the effects of morphine he mistakes Laura for a girl he met in the war in Bosnia, Lejla:

All the while talking, Laura comes closer and pulls the sheet up over the gypsy’s chest. He puts his hand on hers. This time the movement is smoother. Laura doesn’t pull away. —The dope, he says. You have to go and find the dope, Leijla. I’ve hidden it but they’ll find it in the end. You have to get it.

This really was rather an excellent story with a twist at the end. A real competitor for the prize!

First Published in French by Parallèle Noir in 2022.

*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

C’est un travelling poignant, et Laura est la caméra qui filme la scène en même temps qu’elle la vit, abasourdie par la composition, par la lumière, par l’émotion insensée qu’elle provoque en elle, la rage et le désespoir dans sa gorge, la honte, la peur et la pitié dans les yeux de Marion, figée sur le seuil de sa maison. Un petit garçon lui tient la main.

Lounès et Tonio sortent de la voiture. Tonio verrouille les portes et la bm dit bonne nuit. Une ambulance traverse le quartier à faible allure, illumine la place carrée de reflets bleutés. — Qu’est-ce qu’y a? demande Tonio en constatant que Lounès ne rentre pas directement chez lui et qu’il attend planté là, sur le trottoir. L’ambulance ralentit pour passer un dos d’âne. Les éclairs bleus frappent en silence les voitures, les fenêtres, les balcons, les murs et les visages de deux noctambules. L’ambulance tourne à gauche, prend la route de l’hôpital, disparaît. — Salim, il dit qu’il y a un bâtard qui cherche à fourguer de l’héroïne dans les Hauts. T’as entendu parler de ça, toi? En plein jour, le rouge qui teinte les joues de Tonio l’aurait trahi. — Non, répond-il. Rien de spécial.

Écoute, dit Zacharie. Toute la journée, moi je livre de la bouffe. Je vais la chercher dans des cuisines, je te jure, tu mettrais pas un rat pouilleux là-dedans. C’est de ma faute? Putain, moi je suis le livreur. S’il y a des mecs pour acheter ça, c’est leur problème. Là, c’est la même chose. — Enfin, l’héroïne, c’est pas des kebabs quand même, intervient Joëlle. Ma belle-sœur, elle s’est défoncée à l’héroïne, elle est morte. Mon beau-frère, il bouffe des kebabs, il est juste obèse.

Tout en parlant, Laura s’approche et remonte le drap sur la poitrine du Manouche. Il pose sa main sur la sienne. Cette fois, le geste est moins brusque. Laura ne se dégage pas. — La came, dit-il. Il faut que t’ailles chercher la came, Lejla. Je l’ai planquée mais ils finiront par la trouver. Il faut que tu la récupères.

Stanislas Petrosky ‘L’affaire de l’île Barbe’

I maybe have another, professor… Lacassagne and Gustini turned to look inquisitively at me. — Well go ahead, speak young man. Don’t keep us hanging on for no reason! —This….as I spoke, I rolled up my sleeve. —But why didn’t I think of that before! It’s a totally valid hypothesis…this woman could have tattoos on her legs which would have allowed us to identify her.

Next, my third book read this year for the Readers Prize at the Quai du Polar in Lyon. This is meant to be the first book in a series named after a street gang in Lyons, the Apaches, whose main protagonist, Ange-Clément Huin, an ex-member of this gang, assists the medical examiner, Alexandre Lacassagne in the early 1880’s.

This first case begins with an unknown woman’s corpse, with the legs sectioned and missing, being found in a sack, floating on the river Rhône. At the time the morgue was on a docked river boat, not close to the houses due amongst other reasons to the smell, and the law for viewing dead corpses:

It had frozen on the night of the 10th to the 11th of January 1881. The slight wind that deadens your ear tips was particularly disagreeable. Already a long queue was beginning to form on the river bank. Outside of the floating morgue which was anchored to the Hôtel-Dieu Quai, opposite the Soufflot Dôme, by large chains, the public was getting impatient. I had never been able to understand all of these onlookers who turned up to queue at the break of dawn to see corpses! They were thus able to quench their unhealthy thirst for curiosity thanks to the law that states that “any unidentified body brought to the morgue will remain exposed to the public for as long as its state of conservation will allow”.

Ange-Clément uses his knowledge of the criminal world at the time to help Lacassagne to better understand criminal motives and the underworld in general, such as his description here of his arm:

I thought back to a street fight I’d been part of….I was faced with several ruffians and had no more ammunition for my pistol. I had the same handgun as all of the Apaches. Which was a bit like that strange knife that the Swiss army had just bought for its soldiers. You could eat with it, take your rifle apart, and it had a blade, a tin opener, a flat head screwdriver and a punch. And so my weapon was at once a revolver, a dagger and a knuckle duster.

The idea for this series is interesting, the language giving a feeling of the 1880’s and the interaction of the characters seems good, but the crime itself and its resolution, or in this case non resolution felt like a book only half finished and left me slightly frustrated in spite of the many many pages of reference texts about the characters and period at the end of the book. Unfinished is the feeling that remains with me at the end.

First Published in French by AFITT editions in 2022.

*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Moi, j’en aurais peut-être bien une autre, professeur… Lacassagne et Gustini se tournèrent vers moi avec des yeux pleins d’interrogation. — Eh bien allez-y, parlez, mon garçon. Ne nous faites point donc languir plus que de raison ! — Ça… En parlant, je retroussai ma manche afin de laisser apparaître mon avant-bras. — Mais comment n’y ai-je pas pensé plus tôt ! C’est une hypothèse tout à fait possible… Cette femme pouvait être tatouée sur les jambes, ce qui aurait permis de l’identifier.

Il avait gelé dans la nuit du 10 au 11 janvier 1881. Le petit vent qui vous engourdissait la pointe des oreilles n’était pas ce qu’il y avait de plus agréable. Déjà, une longue file commençait à naître sur la rive. Le public s’impatientait devant la morgue flottante amarrée par de grosses chaînes sur le quai de l’Hôtel-Dieu, en face du grand Dôme de Soufflot. Jamais je n’avais pu comprendre tous ces badauds qui venaient aux aurores faire la queue pour pouvoir voir du macchabée ! Ils profitaient, pour assouvir leur curiosité malsaine, du règlement qui disait que « le cadavre de toute personne inconnue apporté à la morgue restera exposé aux regards du public tant que son état de conservation le permettra ».

Je repensais à une bagarre de rue à laquelle j’avais été mêlé… Plusieurs bougres me faisaient face, et je n’avais plus de munitions dans mon revolver. Je disposais de la même arme de poing que tous les Apaches. Qui était un peu comme ce drôle de couteau que l’armée suisse venait d’acheter pour ses soldats. On pouvait manger avec, démonter le fusil d’ordonnance, et il disposait d’une lame, d’un ouvre-boîte, d’un tournevis plat et un poinçon. Eh bien mon arme faisait office de revolver, de surin et de coup-de-poing américain.