Pascale Dietrich ‘Mafia Women’

Quai des Polars 2020: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 2

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

Before the NGO, she had managed a subsidiary of a company manufacturing garden tools, then an ex-student from her old business school offered to inject her hard earned experience in corporate management into an international organisation fighting against poverty. There was no reason that the poor shouldn’t be profitable too. She seamlessly swapped lawn mowers and garden hoses for starving children and war refugees, managing “Urgences majeures” the same way.***

Pascale Dietrich’s thriller follows in the footsteps of Hannelore Cayre’s ‘The Daronne’, putting women at the centre of a criminal organisation, here the local mafia, still heavily linked to their Italian roots, in Grenoble. I should add that the writing is not as crisp as in ‘La Daronne’. The book begins as Leone Acampora, the head of a local Mafia family does something unusual and dies of natural causes, but he then sends a sealed letter to his wife, Michèle via his friend and her “secret” lover, Bernard, to tell her that he is so impatient to be with her again in the after life that he has put a contract out on her to hasten the moment when they can be together again. This sends his wife and his two daughters into a spin. Alessia, who intends to continue the family business, putting drugs through her pharmacy and Dina the younger daughter who has swapped organised crime for an NGO making money out of the “poor” business as illustrated in the opening quote.

The women set out to find out the name of the assassin, Michèle visits the Remo Lanfredi, the ageing head of the local mafia in the retirement home he has built for himself and other ageing mafia characters, but he can’t help, later causing the otherwise calm Dina’s imagination to go into overdrive:

She imagined a deadly attack on Remo’s retirement home, the pensioners trying to run away with their walking frames or desperately reving up the electric motors of their wheel chairs.***

Alessia chooses to visit Madeleine, one of her mother’s friends and the widow of an ex-Mafia leader, bitter at Remo Lanfredi and who sends her on the trail of Remo’s son Cosimo, rumoured to be coming backto Grenoble to take over from his father. Madeleine then tells Alessia of the power of the Mafia women:

I’m going to tell you something. The only ones that could one day bring down the Mafia are us, the women. If we decided to speak, all of the men would instantly wind up in prison.***

We get an image of Alessia’s character, and of Pascale Dietrich’s style later in the story as she tries to keep her rage under control:

Once behind the wheel of the car she turned on her meditation CD which urged her to imagine a place where she would feel at peace. She hit the accelerator and imagined herself on a beach in Brittany. When she reached the motorway she was dreaming of opening fire on the seagulls with a machine gun.***

A pleasant read, based on a well constructed story based around the husband reaching back from the death and the women’s response. Not the winner for me.

First Published in French as “Les Mafieuses” in 2019 by Liana Levi.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Avant l’ONG, elle avait dirigé une filiale d’outils de jardinage, puis un ancien élève de son école de commerce lui avait proposé d’insuffler son précieux savoir-faire en gestion d’entreprise dans une organisation internationale qui visait à lutter contre la pauvreté. Il n’y avait aucune raison pour que les pauvres ne soient pas rentables, eux aussi. Elle était donc passée sans transition des tondeuses à gazon et des tuyaux d’arrosage aux enfants faméliques et aux réfugiés de guerre, et elle dirigeait Urgences majeures de la même façon.

Elle imagina un raid meurtrier dans la maison de retraite de Remo, les vieux tentant de prendre la fuite en poussant leurs déambulateurs ou en faisant vrombir désespérément les moteurs de leurs fauteuils roulants électriques.

Je vais te dire une chose. Les seules qui pourront un jour faire tomber la mafia, c’est nous, les femmes. Si on se décidait à parler, tous les hommes seraient en prison en moins de deux.

Une fois au volant de sa voiture, elle alluma le lecteur CD et le disque de méditation l’exhorta à visualiser un endroit où elle se sentirait en paix. Elle mit la gomme en s’imaginant sur une plage bretonne. Quand elle atteignit l’autoroute, elle rêvait qu’elle tirait sur les mouettes à la mitraillette.

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.

Milena Agus ‘While The Shark Is Sleeping’

This book is the first of my 2016 Italian lit target And the first book by Milena Agus.

Milena Agus is a Sardinian author who has imagebeen nominated for Italy’s Literary prizes (Strega, Campielo) with her second novel From the Land of the Moon **. This post is on her impressive first book, read in one sitting!

This story is about the Sevilla Mendoza family narrated by the 20 year old daughter, the line between real life and her story is blurred

“I write stories because when I don’t like this world here, I move into my own and I feel great. And there are a lot of things I don’t like about this world. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s ugly and I much prefer my own. In my world, there’s also him. He already has a wife.”

There is a tragic sadness running through the story, something particular to Sardinia, epitomised by the story of the people of Sardinia and mirrored here by the inability of the characters to face facts, to withdraw not so much inland as into theirselves.

“History tells us that we Sardinians are no sailors, that we withdrew inland for fear of the Saracens when actually we could have built a fleet and confronted them instead of escaping into the mountains.”

The inward journey of the narrator is punctuated by the events concerning her immediate family, her parents who are shadow figures and who for very different reasons abandon her, her brother, their aunt, Zia, and their grandmother, Nonna. We feel the weight of the narrator’s flawed character and her family member’s maladictive search for love. Her mother commits suicide we think

“Then one day she decided to leave, in accordance with her idea of beauty. For a while she’d been saying she didn’t like the posts supporting the canopy on the terrace, that they were rusty and needed repainting. So, I reckon, one morning she set up the whole scene. She bought the paint and the anti-rust and flew away brush in hand. It was clear to everybody that she’d got dizzy and lost her balance. But why had she put on her favourite dress? Why was her hair freshly washed and perfumed and the house all in order? Was it because she didn’t want our family to look bad? Besides, she’d always been strangely interested in covert suicide.”

But then later again the blurring is evident when her lover, the vet, sees the events as a story she can control

“I decide to let my vet read my stories. He likes them a lot. Only he doesn’t understand why they always have to end badly. I often tell him that there’s going to be a death and then he gets angry.
‘Shit, darling, you’ve already killed off one, two is overdoing it. Two deaths are ridiculous in any story that’s not a tragedy.’”

There are various men in this story, all of them without exception live for themselves, they are outsiders, and mostly absent, the three women in the story, the narrator, the mother and the Zia are all sufferers in need of a love that is incompatible with the men. No punches are thrown describing the Zia’s and the the narrator’s sexual experiences and the narrator’s attempts at understanding them.

This is a lyrical novel and reminds me of an earlier Italian post ‘Live Bait’

I recommend this story.

First published in Italian as Mentre dorme il pescecane by Nottetempo in 2005
Translated into French by Françoise Brun as Quand le requin dort and published by Liana Levi in 2010
Translated into English by Brigid Maher as While the Shark is Sleeping and published by Telegram in 2014
** First published in Italian as Mal di pietre by Nottetempo in 2006