Hannelore Cayre ‘ Richesse Oblige’

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?
Yes
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?
Oui.
J’aime beaucoup la vie insulaire. Dites ça à vos patrons, ça les rassurera peut-être….

Joseph Incardona ‘The Subtraction of What is Possible’

Quai du Polar 2021: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 1

Joseph Incardona: La soustraction des possibles (Éditions Finitude)


There is a:
Fortune.
But it’s not a story about money.
Crime.
But it’s not a story about criminals.
Punishment.
But it’s not a story about execution.
Frienship.
But it’s not a story about mates.
Eroticism.
But it’s not a story about desire.
Cunning.
But it’s not a story about treachery.
Vanity.
But it’s not a story about ambition.
So, what then?
Nothing.
This is a love story.
Mine.***


The opening quote, placed before the first chapter initially didn’t attract my eye but on turning back I find that it describes the book well. The story may not be about these things but they are all present in this tragedy, set in Geneva, with a chain of events being slowly set in motion at the end of the eighties and leading to their almost inevitable conclusion.

This well written book, points out the weaknesses of the different links in this chain of flawed characters, there is Aldo Bianchi, a small time tennis coach making ends meet, but only just, as a gigolo with the middle aged women he coaches, he is unsatisfied and wants more from his life, by more understand more money, but how much is more? Aldo is the piece of the puzzle that is in the love story. But not with Odile, rich around 50 and Aldo’s latest paycheque.


Aldo has learnt what he needs to give in bed. From a certain point of view it’s not so very different from sport: technique, endurance, creativity.
Developing his own style.
But most especially: cash in on his youth and vigour. Let his older partner think that this youth finds its prolongement in her, that it continues even after the love making. It is the opposite of the fear of physical decline: the promise of eternal youth transmitted by fluids.***


Odile’s husband, René, an investor needs money to multiply the effect of his latest investment. This is Geneva, no one is too interested in where money comes from and René’s friend Max, a business lawyer can supply the funds.


This requires him to carry out certain manoeuvres so that his french clients can continue to escape from the tax man with Mitterand in power.***


But there are many grades of tax evasion, from the simple greed to laundering of criminal income, and you may well guess that this story concerns the latter. The machinery is put in motion when Odile recommends Aldo for the job of money smuggler to Max, carrying suitcases stuffed full of money over the Swiss border and leaving them in a locker at the tennis club.

There are so many other characters, each with their own part of the story, investment bankers ready to risk anything for a quick gain, petty criminals, organised crime and the new boy on the block, eastern european criminals. This complex story, its construction, and the slightly sarcastic style combine to make this a most enjoyable book.

First Published in French as “La soustraction des possibles” in 2020 by Éditions Finitude.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Il y a:
La fortune.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire d’argent
Le crime.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de truands.
Le châtiment.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de bourreau.
L’amitié.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de copains.
L’érotisme.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de désir.
La ruse.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de trahison.
La vanité.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire d’ambition.
Alors, quoi?
Rien.
Ceci est une histoire d’amour.
La mienne.

Aldo a appris ce qu’il faut donner dans un lit. D’un certain point de vue, ce n’est pas très éloigné du sport: technique, endurance, créativité
Forger son propre style.
Mais surtout: monnayer la vigueur et la jeunesse comme un don de soi. Laisser croire à sa partenaire plus âgée que cette jeunesse prolonge en elle, qu’elle dure même après l’amour. C’est l’inverse de la crainte du déclin: l’espoir de l’éternelle jouvence transmise par les fluides.

Ce qui l’oblige à certaines manœuvres pour que ses clients de l’hexagone puissent continuer à échapper au fisc depuis que Mitterand est au pouvoir.

Announcing Quai du Polar 2021

Due to the ongoing Covid “situation” the book fair, the ‘Quai du Polar’ programmed for the beginning of April in Lyons, 14F35D31-6F4A-472B-936E-F5B001993C17France has been reprogrammed for July this year. This fair concentrates on thrillers and for more background try the official website.

As begun last year I’ve decided to read and to blog on the six books preselected for the readers’ prize due to be announced on the fourth of July and to announce my favorite, predict my winner before this date.
The following are the pre-selected books found on the official website, see below.

Hannelore Cayre Richesse Oblige (Métailié) 224 pages
Patrice Gain Le Sourire du scorpion (Le Mot et le Reste) 135 pages
Joseph Incardona La soustraction des possibles (Éditions Finitude) 400 pages
Gabrielle Massat Le goût du rouge à lèvre de ma mère (Éditions Le Masque) 480 pages
Sébastien Rutés Mictlán (Gallimard) 160 pages
Benoît Séverac Tuer le fils (La manufacture de livres) 209 pages

Liz Moore ‘Long Bright River’

The first time I found my sister dead, she was sixteen. It was the summer of 2002. Forty-eight hours earlier, on a Friday afternoon, she’d left school with her friends, telling me she’d be back by evening.
She wasn’t.


In the Long Bright River Liz Moore gives us a woman’s take on policing in a run down area of Phiadelphia.
Michaela, known as Mickey has patrolled Kensington, near the river Delaware, a area she was brought up in, over the last thirteen years and watched it slide through the devastation of drugs to a point where the main transactions are either narcotic or drug related, life expectency is short:


Thirteen years ago, when I first started, it happened a few times a year: we’d get a report that someone had fatally overdosed, had been deceased so long that medical intervention was unnecessary. More common were calls about overdoses in progress, and typically those individuals could be revived.


Mickey’s last partner is on sick leave due to an incident that leaves her feeling guilty and she is paired with Lafferty and tries to get him interested, to no avail, in the lives of the people in the area she patrols, her ex-schoolfriend Paula Mulroney who works a corner with Kacey, Mickey’s sister. Kacey hasn’t been seen for a while as a serial killer begins operating on their patch. Mickey is more of a doer then a talker and is comfortable with silence, not to be with Lafferty:

Facts I have learned about Eddie Lafferty in the first hour of our acquaintance: He is forty-three, which makes him eleven years my senior. A late entrant into the PPD. He worked construction until last year, when he took the test. (My back, says Eddie Lafferty. It still bothers me sometimes. Don’t tell anyone.) He’s just rolled off his field training. He has three ex-wives and three almost-grown children. He has a home in the Poconos. He lifts. (I’m a gym rat, says Eddie Lafferty.) He has GERD. Occasionally, he suffers from constipation. He grew up in South Philadelphia and now lives in Mayfair. He splits Eagles season tickets with six friends. His most recent ex-wife was in her twenties. (Maybe that was the problem, says Lafferty, her being immature.) He golfs. He has two rescued pit mixes named Jimbo and Jennie. He played baseball in high school. One of his teammates then was, in fact, our platoon’s sergeant, Kevin Ahearn, and it was Sergeant Ahearn who suggested he consider police work. (Something about this makes sense to me.) Facts Eddie Lafferty has learned about me in the first hour of our acquaintance: I like pistachio ice cream.

The book, veering between then and now, brings us up to date on Mickey and her life, she is saved from her sister’s fate when in her early teens, by a local police after-school initiative, the Police Athletic League. Already back then her younger sister Kacey, more street wise, sees through the officer who takes her under his wing, officer Cleare, a married man, with whom she ends up pregnant.

Liz Moore keeps us following this story through the earnest character of Michaela, juggling between her job and her child, as the deaths pile up, as danger comes close to home and as suspicion points to an unidentified police officer.

This story pulled me in through the refreshing writing of Liz Moore.

First Published in English as “Long Bright River” by Hutchinson in 2020

Luc Chomarat ‘The Latest Norwegian Thriller’

Quai des Polars: short list book 1.

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



You can bet on the next work of Grundozwkzson being a hybrid product, available only in digital form, with links that will steer the reader towards video extracts and creating crowdfunding for anything based on the text. You could even imagine a sufficiently controlled filing hierarchy allowing each reader to create his own ideal thriller, deleting such and such a person, raping and torturing such and such a girl, the book, the film, the game merging together into a single interactive product with maximum and immediate profitability.***


Dr Flknberg the profiler, Olaf Grundozwkzson the Nordic crime sensation, writer of The Eskimo and inspector Bjornborg and his detective Willander of the police force who are too short staffed to do anything except follow the procedure, well with these characters you know you’re in Scandinavia. In this, Luc Chomarat’s latest book, read for the Roman De Rochefort, the French editor Delafeuille, with his industry is disarray due to the impact of digital publishing, has been sent to Danemark by his traditional company to sign up Olaf Grundozwkzson, the biggest thing in Scandinavian thrillers, for all translation rights in the French speaking world, where he is in competition with Gorki who has a very “modern” vision of the “product” as illustrated in the opening quote.

In this satire on nordic thrillers, Delafeuille soon realises that he himself is in just such an interactive product as he discovers that both the story and exerpts from the book have the same sentences. He finds himself meeting Inspector Bjornborg who represents the boring Scandinavian police:


Bjornborg went back to his Volvo fleet car. As he slid behind the wheel, he felt an overwhelming weariness come upon him. The enquiry was going nowhere, and even that didn’t help him to see clearly. In reality, enquiries didn’t actually advance, but neither did they in Nordic thrillers. They are often rather large laboriously written books. As for the cop’s wives waiting for them when they get home, and the relationship between them, well that too was like real life. In short there was no way out.***


And he soon finds himself working to solve the cases of the beautiful blondhaired girls being violently murdered in Copenhagen along with Sherlock Holmes. When they realise that they are protagonists of the story they decide to try to get an interview with Grundozwkzson with Holmes writing to him:


I’m writing to our friend. I’m proposing to interview him at his home on a certain number of subjects, the Nordic thriller, his personal works, the Change to digital form, etc. I’m flattering him a little That should interest him.
I don’t really understand. Why should he see us?
I’m using the old procedure of the Trojan horse. You see: I’m signing with a fantasy name, Ulla Ogsen, which sounds both Scandinavian and erotic, I’m quickly creating a pretty realistic false profile of a journalist, to which I’m attaching the photo of a silicon enhanced Ukrainian porn star.
It’s a crude trap.
He’ll fall for it old boy because his fantasies are as simplistic as my methods.***


Chomarat takes us through all of the clichés of the Nordic thriller, the violent deaths of beautiful young women this in countries famous for fighting for feminine equality, the pointless deadends to the story, the profiler obsessed by sex, the police force with no budget, the extreme climate eventually causing the main protagonists to be isolated from the world. Even the name of the book, “The Eskimo”. I liked the moment of realisation that something was wrong, if they were in Scandinavia trying to sign the rights for the French translation, as Holmes points out why was the story they were discovering already in French?

An amusing satire read in one day.

First Published in French as “Le Dernier Thriller Norvégien” in 2019 by La Manufacture de Livres
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Il y a gros à parier que le prochain opus de Grundozwkzson sera un produit hybride, lisible exclusivement sous forme numérique, avec des liens qui permettront de diriger le lecteur vers des extraits vidéo, et de générer automatiquement du crowdfunding pour toute forme dérivée du texte. On peut même imaginer une arborescence suffisamment maîtrisée pour permettre à chaque lecteur de créer son thriller idéal, supprimer tel ou tel personnage, violer et torturer telle ou telle fille. Le livre, le film, le jeu se fondront en un produit unique, interactif, à rentabilité maximum et immédiate.

Bjornborg rejoignit sa Volvo de service. En se glissant derrière le volant il sentit une lassitude sans nom lui tomber sur les épaules. L’enquête n’avançait pas, et même cela ne l’aidait pas à y voir plus clair. Dans la réalité, les enquêtes n’avançaient pas effectivement. Mais dans les polars Nordiques non plus. C’étaient souvent des assez gros bouquins, à l’écriture laborieuses. Quant aux épouses de flics retrouvaient à la maison et aux rapports qu’ils entretenaient avec elles, cela aussi ressemblait fort à la vraie vie. Bref, il n’y avait pas d’issue.

J’écris à notre ami. Je lui propose de l’interviewer chez lui, sur un certain nombre de sujets, le thriller nordique, son œuvre personnelle, le passage au numérique, etc. Je le flatte un peu. Cela devrait l’intéresser.
Je ne comprends pas très bien. Pourquoi nous recevrait-Il?
J’utilise le vieux procédé du cheval de Troie. Voyez: je signe d’un nom fantaisiste, Ulla Ogsen, qui sonne à la fois scandinave et érotique. Je crée très rapidement un faux profil de journaliste assez vraisemblable, auquel je rajoute une photo de pornstar Ukrainienne siliconée.
C’est un piège grossier.
Il va tomber dedans, vielle branche, parce que ses fantasmes sont aussi rudimentaires que mon procédé.

Quai du Polar

As we all know, or imagine, the book fair, the ‘Quai des Polars’ programmed for the beginning of April in Lyons, France has been cancelled this year. This fair concentrates on thrillers and for more background try Emma or the official website.

In order to do my bit for this situation I’ve decided to read and to blog on the six books preselected for the readers’ prize due to be announced on the fourth of April and to announce my favorite. Only 15 days left, can I do it?
I managed to find the pre-selected books on the official website, see below. If anyone is interested in joining in, please go ahead, I may even blog in French as well!

Malamorte Antoine Albertini (JC Lattès) 358 pages.
Ah, les braves gens ! de Franz Bartelt (Le Seuil) 263 pages.
Requiem pour une république de Thomas Cantaloube (Gallimard) 544 pages.
Le Dernier thriller norvégien de Luc Chomarat (La Manufacture de Livre) 206 pages.
Les Mafieuses de Pascale Dietrich (Liana Levi) 152 pages.
Après les chiens de Michèle Pedinielli (L’Aube) 224 pages.

Volker Kutscher ‘Goldstein’


“Abraham Goldstein was right about one thing, Berlin was a crazy city and it’s getting crazier and crazier”


It’s 1931 and an American Jewish hitman arrives in Berlin, Goldstein, who has never once been convicted for a serious crime. Gereon Rath is asked to let Goldstein know the police have theirs eyes on him with orders not to let him out of his sight. So begins Goldstein, Kutscher’s third book in the Geron Rath series read for German lit month

The series has moved on in time, to 1931 and the banking crisis as Gereon wants to pay Charlie, Charlotte Ritter, his on – off girlfriend’s rent, he learns that the government had been forced to guarantee all deposits at the Danatbank and that all banks will not be opening for several days.


Even so, all bank counters would remain closed for the next few days. Arrogant bastards Rath thought. He didn’t have much time for the financial industry, which he had never understood anyway. He knew even less about the financial crisis which now seemed to have pulled the banks into its maelstrom. Only two years ago, any number of shares on the New York stock exchange had fallen through the floor and speculators had jumped out of the windows of the city’s skyscrapers. Why enterprises that had nothing to do with New York should be affected, honest German companies for example, even public servants such as himself, who had seen their salaries cut was a mystery to him.


What would a police thriller be without bodies piling up, here key figures from two major Berlin gangs, “Ringvereins”, the Berolina lead by Rath’s contact Johann Marlow and their competitors, the Nordpiraten, dissapear and are later found dead. As Marlow tells Rath, it may not be the Nordpiraten behind the killing of their number two but as people think it is, Marlow cannot be seen to be weak and must act.

There are Brown shirts, and throughout the book their anti-semitism and violence, at first shown to be cowardly by an intervention by Goldstein, becomes more and more asphyxiating as the book progresses. At one point their protestations against hunger seem real enough until Rath sees they are being moved and lead along, in the background, as a military unit. Doubtlessly hunger is a pressure on the people.

Back to the beginning, Goldstein gives Rath the slip with the help of a girl from room service who Rath later traces back to his days in vice. Goldstein is then linked to the killing of a Brown shirt and soon a city wide manhunt is underway.

A second story runs in parallel to this, concerning Charlotte Ritter who as a student prosecutor is involved in a case of the murder of a young department store thief by a policeman, who stamps on his hands as he hangs from a window ledge

Police politics force “Charlie” not to speak of this to Gereon, straining their relationship, and of course the cases are linked.

As a final stone in the Weimar wall, as the political unrest begins to seize the city, Gereon seeks out a club where people want to drink and have fun to forget what is happening.

A tidy police thriller, with the recurring characters shown against the historical background of the end of the Weimar Republic, the escape of key felons ensure the continuity of the series.

First Published in German as “Goldstein” in 2010 by Kiepenheuer & Witsch GmbH.
Translated into English by Niall Sellar and published as “Goldstein” in 2018 by Sandstone Press

Eugenia Almeida ‘The Exchange’


“Apparently she was waiting for one of your customers”
“That’s what I was told, and that she pointed her gun at someone. Is that true?”
“You didn’t see it?”
“No.”img_1714
There is a point in time when you can hear the first fracturing sound of an avalanche. Except that the slide can follow in the next second, or years later.
“What was the name of the man who left the bar?”
“How should I know?”
“He wasn’t a regular?”
“No.”
“Could you describe him?”
“I don’t look at my customers in order to make artists’ impressions of them. And are you sure he left the bar?”
“Absolutely. And so are you.”


The book, read for “Spanish and Portuguese lit Months” begins with a clear suicide. A woman in  Plaza Herral aims a gun at a stranger, after a brief exchange which no one hears, the stranger walks away and the woman shoots herself in the chest and dies. This has all the hallmarks of a suicide and of the police only one of them looks at this in any detail and as he tries to understand what has happened, he quickly understands that nobody has seen anything! as illustrated above by the questions asked to the bar owner on the square who knows nothing but who involuntarily confirms that the man who had the brief exchange with the woman had come out of his bar.

This book is a general study of Power and corruption, applied here, in particular, in Argentina. The police are quickly ordered to stop investigating  and to close the case as a suicide. Following a visit by the minister, see the following quote. But a reporter Guyot, who is friends with the detective in charge at the station, Jury, continues to investigate and is fed information by the police team unhappy at having been ordered to stop.


“As it happens, the blond haired image consultant suggested to the minister to make a list of the sensitive cases.”
“There going to fire people?”
“Here? No way! If they had to get rid of all of the dirty cops….and you know which of our cases they chose?”
“The girl?”
“yes….”
“It seems that when Fierro wanted to to know a bit more, The story of the bloke came out. But whe he was told the name of the bar he said no, not that case, for a suicide it’s not woth the bother.”
“The misister’s would’t be a regular?”
“Either way he knows something.”


The journalist Guyot had lost his wife years earlier when she had been shot to death in her home during a burglary when nothing had been taken, where he had come to know the detective Jury. As Guyot delves into the case, unravelling the story from next to nothing, people around him who may know things begin at first to have accidents and then are clearly killed. Almeida gives a credible description of the men with the power behind the scenes who did not completely dissapear with the dictatorship and who are still pulling the strings, she also draws a picture of the ambitious ex policemen looking to survive and who are happy to carry out executions that are never asked for but only hinted at. But incidentally if people aroung Guyot are eliminated as he advances, including policemen, why don’t they just eliminate Guyot? And why did the girl kill herself.

A highly efficient police investigation novel, peeling back the layers of Argentina’s present to show the ongoing links with the past.

First Published in spanish as “La tensíon del umbral” in 2015 by Edhasa
Translated into French by Francois Gaudry and published as “L’Échange” in 2016 by Métailié
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

“Apparement elle attendait un de vos clients.”
“C’est ce qu’on m’a dit, et qu’elle avait braqué son arme sur quelqu’un. C’est vrai?”
“Vous ne l’avez pas vue?”
“Non.”
Il y a un moment ou on peut entendre le premier craquement d’une avalanche. Sauf quel’écroulement peut survenir dans la seconde, où des années après.
“Comment s’appelle l’homme qui est sorti du bar?”
“Comment voulez-vous que je sache?”
“Ce n’est pas un habitué?”
“Non”
“Vous pouvez le décrire?”
“Je ne regarde pas des clients pour faire des portraits-robots. Et puis vous etes bien sûr qu’il est sorti du bar?”
“Absolument. Et vous aussi

“Il se trouve que le blondinet, conseiller en image, a proposé au ministre de faie une liste des dossiers sensible.”
“Ils vont viter des gens?”
“Ici? Non! S’ils devaient jeter tous ceux qui ont les mains sales…….Et tu sais quelle affaire ils ont choisie parmi les nôtres?”
“La fille.”
“oui….”
“Il parait que lorsque Fierro a voulu savoir un peu plus, l’histoire du type est sortie. Mais quand on lui a appris le nom du bar, il a dit que non, pas cette affaire, que pour un suicide, ça ne valait pas la peine.”
“Le ministre serait un habitué?”
“En tous cas il sait quelque chose.”

Nick Harkaway ‘Gnomon’


Which brings her back to Hunter who’s mind conceals not one untruthful life but three, three mirages layed on top of one other so that the dismissal of the first becomes the gateway of the second and so on and on deeper and down this recording is a sinking sand of the mind… img_1496it is a breathtaking defense the architect of this barrier did not attempt to harden the mind against enquiry did not build some brittle wall to keep the Witness out but accepted the stricture of intrusion and created a defense in depth…it was done either to the woman or by her with this end in view that when, not if, when the Witness touched her mind Diana Hunter would confound it..


Diana Hunter dies during interrogation by the Witness and Inspector Neith, of the Witness is brought in to investigate. This is the simple opening premise to Nick Harkaway’s, far from simple doorstep of a book set in a near future London where everyone is under surveillance all of the time and in order to follow and act in time on anything that is observed, or predicted based on the observations humans have abdicated responsibility to an AI, known as the Witness, with a number of checks and balances:.


In this environment there’s simply no such thing as privacy anymore every action is visible to the system and it can call you and demand an accounting in the midst of a perfect world where power is in a way truly held by the people and government has almost entirely gone away, there’s a thin strand of horror of interrogation machines mandated by the majority and algorithms that see everything you do and want to know why you did it that understand your actions according to an actuarial chart and analyse you as an aspect of behavioral economics.


As the story begins, we follow Neith, as she takes part in her everyday life activities on line, assisting in debates she has been chosen for by the Winess, where her views or knowledge would be pertinent, asking questions where necessary and voting on line in what appears to be direct democracy where the people decide almost everything and we understand that Neith is exemplary in her involvement and her honesty. So back to Diana Hunter, for exceptionally dangerous behaviour, citizens can be interogated and if necessary their minds can be corrected by direct intervention, but deaths at the hand of the Witness are exceptionally rare, the Witness has direct access to their minds and their thoughts, so in steps the inspector of the Witness who has access to the recordings of the interrogations and can “live them”.

Diana Hunter’s interrogation is exceptional, And accounts in part for the length of the book as Neith discovers one after the other three completely different characters within Hunter’s head as illustrated in the opening quote. Who’s purpose becomes sort of obvious as the story progresses.  In order to render these lives real, the story Harkaway writes around these characters is enough to cover a short story for each one.

There is Constantine, a Greek banker from our time who after a near death incident with a shark sees on his screen certain fiancial events before the happen and so becomes incredibly rich.

There is Athenais, an alchemist and one time mistress of Saint Augustin, the mother of his son, who’s death she cannot prevent but who’s resurrection she tries to attempt.

And finally there is Berihun Bekele, an Ethiopian artist who had been arrested in the military coup after the death of Haile Selassie and imprisoned in a cell in Alem Bekagn, the infamous prison of Addis Ababa who’s name means Farewell to the World. Berihun later in his life works with his daughter Annabelle on a computer game which resmbles the life Neith is living with the Witness.

Did I say the last of the three, Neith then discovers a bug, a fourth character Lernrote or Gnomon,  does he exist only in Hunter’s head or does he exist in real life?  Harkaway throws in a spanner, a person from the far off future. Was it he who fabricated Gnomon:


In this new world many people, most in fact exist across bodies, that is to say that their thoughts are distributed between a large number of individual brains rather than concentrated in just one. Each individual body has a little doodad in it that sends and receives messages to all the others.


Slowly Neith becomes suspicious of the system she relies on and the characters within Hunter’s mind, indirectly make her understand something is rotten in the kingdom of Denmark.

What if the weak link in this system of surveillance and perfect government of the people by the people was in fact the people? how would they be stopped from making the wrong decisions?

As Neith’s freind Tubman says:


Obfuscation like you’re asking about, hiding in plain sight, breaking up the message well I suppose you could call it artisanal, you could do it but you’d need to be brilliant and dedicated, a bit mad maybe, three words which summarise what you don’t want in an adversary.


First Published in English as “Gnomon” in 2018 by Windmill Books

Lexie Elliot ‘The French Girl’’


Looking back, the most striking thing is that she knew I didn’t like her and she didn’t care. That type of self-possession at the tender age of nineteen—well, it’s unnatural. Or French. She was very, very French.


Six university friends spend their summer holidays in a Dordogne farmhouse, Kate, the narrator and her best friend Lara “, Lara picks up men like the rest of us pick up newspapers. She puts them down in the same way, too.” Caro, Lara, Tom, Seb, Theo, Kate, did I say friends…what group of six students, wouldn’t have tensions build up between them living together over their holidays, throw in some drugs and a catalyst, the nineteen year old neighbour, Severine, who uses their pool, see the opening quote, and I guess they would never be friends the same way afterwards, if they ever were. A banal story and life goes on, but then ten years later Severine’s body turns up at the bottom of the well in that same farmhouse.

Kate, who has started her own legal personnel head hunter company and in trying get established lives on a a daily diet of adrenaline and worry, gets a call out of the blue from one of the four, Theo was killed in Afghanistan. Tom tells her about the discovery of the body and of the French policeman, Modan, that would be questioning her. Severine, who had been seen leaving the area, at the bus station, on the morning of their own departure had never been seen again.

As the story advances and Kate’s memory of events proves at first rusty, and then she realises there were things happening that she didn’t know about, Severine begins to appear to her beginning as her dead bones:


One morning I find those very bones, bleached white and neatly stacked in a pile with the grinning skull atop, resting on my kitchen counter; blinking does not remove them, though I know they’re not there.


Somebody wants Kate to carry the can and her previous friends clearly know things she doesn’t, Kate had been there with her then partner Seb and she was the only one of the six who didn’t know that their relationship was coming to an end.

A not too memorable crime thriller where the narrator, seeing a dead girl following her seems the most “normal” of the bunch.

First Published in English as “The French Girl” in 2018 by Corvus