Olivier Norek ‘Between Two Worlds’

‘You know how they try to climb into the lorries at least? The attacks on the HGVs, the violence towards the drivers, accidents provoked like stage coach attacks, road blocks and fires on the motorway. Does that mean anything to you?’***

Welcome to Calais, the setting for the French crime writer closest in theme to Ken Loach, Olivier Norek and his latest book, ‘Between Two Worlds’. Norek has left his Paris suburbs for the Jungle at Calais, showing us the impact of migration policies on the migrants, the city of Calais and the police by concentrating on the stories of Adam, the Syrian refugee and Bastien the police lieutenant. Here in the opening quote, Bastien’s team try to explain to him their job on the day of his arrival in Calais. The police do not go into the migrant camp but try to police the effects of the camp as the people smugglers try to halt the lorries for groups of migrants to try to climb on board, and the tourists that now avoid the area causing economic distress in Calais:

I know what I’ve seen on the telly, no more than that admits Bastien. Well I’ll let Érica take care of that, getting back to the Angry Calaisiens, their initial aims were to film and to post the every day life of Calais onto the social networks, the difficulty of the locals when faced with this penniless floating population, the attempts, sometimes ultra-violent, to cross over to England. Then the extremists latched on, the migrant bashers who organised attacks on immigrants, black hunting, some call it ‘safaris’.***

The police in this book carry out their job, sometimes dangerous, night after night, often showing signs of depression and when in this story they get a chance to help a migrant they are only too happy to be able to hold their heads up and to look their own families in the eyes again.

The story begins with Adam, a military policeman in Syria and his family who are secret opponents of Bachar el-Hassad needing to get out of their country quickly as someone in Adam’s cell is captured, Adam puts his wife and child on a flight to Tunis hoping to join then as soon as possible if he is not captured, they have seen reports on the internet and Adam tells his wife:

Wait for me, like we said at the safest place, the women’s huts in the jungle at Calais.***

Things do not go to plan and Adam finds himself alone, looking for his family in Calais where we hear something of the organisation within the camp, the clans: the Afghans the most numerous but also the soudanais. Adam who as a military policeman had learned to look after himself rescues a young illiterate African, a sexual slave, who has had his tongue cut out and that he names Kilani, from the Afghans and for a quid pro quo works with Bastien within the camp in order to get Kilani to England. How do the sniffer dogs find the migrants in the lorries? Well we learn that too:

The sniffer dogs are trained to find the smell common to all migrants. That of bonfires.***

First Published in French as “Entre Deux Mondes” in 2017 by Michel Lafon
*** My translation

The original quotes before translation

‘Vous savez comment ils essaient de monter dans les camions tout de même ? Les assauts sur les poids lourds, les agressions de chauffeurs les accidents provoqués comme des attaques de diligences, les barrages et les incendies sur l’autoroute. Ça vous parle?’

Ça me parle comme la télé m’en parle mais je n’en sais pas vraiment plus avoua Bastien. Alors je laisse Érica s’en chargera et j’en reviens aux Calaisien en Colère leurs premiers buts étaient de filmer et de poster le quotidien de Calais sur les réseaux sociaux, la vie difficile des habitants face à cette population sans attaches et sans argent, des tentatives parfois ultra-violent de passage vers l’Angleterre puis des extrémistes s’y sont greffés des casseurs de migrants qui ont organisés des ratonades et des chasses aux noirs, des safaris disaient certains

Attends moi, comme on avait dit à l’endroit le plus sûr, les baraquements pour femmes de la jungle de Calais.

Des sniffeurs sont entraînés à trouver l’odeur qui est commune à tous les migrants. Celle du feu de bois.

Olivier Norek ‘Surtensions’

The town of Marveil is home to the largest prison complex in Europe. Like an undesirable neighbour, an evil twin. They are both of the same size. Exactly three hundred and forty five acres. If you fold the map of Marveil about its centre, the town and the prison cover each other entirely, with the symmetry of a Rorschach image.***

welcome back into the world of Olivier Norek, the ex-police detective set in the 93 pronounced ‘nine- three’ the poorest of the départements immediately surrounding the city of Paris and as the opening quote tells us he has not given up his social criticism of modern day France, here of the carceral system, you will never be ready to find yourself in the prison he describes here of Marveil. An extra quote for the comparison between the two worlds he describes and the difference between the already unfavored world of Marveil and the hell of its prison:

Five hundred meters from the town centre where families could be found doing their weekly shopping, were the first barbed wire fences protecting the crumbling town walls from the concrete monster with the oppressive layout. It was described as “A model of the French prison system” at its inauguration in 1970. Today it is nothing more than a violent jungle which the prison guards control at distance without daring to enter the prison cells or the exercise yard.***

The crux of the story is a mercenary Boyan Mladic who is locked up in Marveil and the machievelic plan set up by the corrupt attorney Tireto who organises a break in to the police evidence room in the town of Marveil in order to remove the physical proof against Mladic. In order to ensure that the actions cannot be traced back to him or his client, he suggests to a Corsican group that they break in to obtain the evidence against one of their group and gives them the numbers of four other non related lots of evidence in order to muddy the waters:

Hello Mr Darcy. Attorney Tireto calling.
-I’m in trouble? answered the man almost out of habit.
-Quite the opposite. An opportunity. Boyan Mladic still worries you as much?
– it’s what I asked him to do and what he knows that worry me
-you had described him as loyal all the same.
-Boyan is a soldier. A legionnaire and a mercenary, he won’t talk even if he’s beaten, of that I’m sure. But prison stretches even the deepest loyalties…I’m worried that for the right bargain he could talk. How do you intend to handle this?
-By getting him out. But by getting someone else to do the dirty work.
-With no ay of tracing it back to me or any of my companies?
-There is no need to worry. Even they won’t know they’re working for us.***

We follow each of the incarcerated protagonists in Marveil and the relationships between them whilst at the same time on the outside the police group of Captain Coste, the same as in  previous stories of the series, Code 93, follow the events as their own police station is robbed and they cannot understand the links between the stolen evidence:

Its not the number of pieces of evidence the were stolen today that perturb us so much as the absurdity of what was taken. A personal computer, a luxury watch, a CD containing wire taps, a GPS and a hunting knife. Five separate pieces of evidence from five different enquiries, carried out by five different police services. And mostly objects of no value. even the crimes are unrelated.***

The story contains murder, kidnapping, pedophilia and extorsion on the outside, in a world we learn that is much safer than the world in the prison, as the police team, always one step behind, slowly get to grips with what is happening.

Olivier Norek’s police world is steeped in his own experience, but I don’t think that it will encourage youngsters to become policemen. This was the second book of his ’93’ series, although this one was also interesting, I think I’ll leave it there.

First Published in French as “Surtensions” in 2016 by Michel Lafon
*** My translation

Olivier Norek ‘The Lost and the Damned ‘

—Four endless grey lanes piercing like a lance through to the heart of the suburb. Gradually the houses becoming flats, the flats becoming tower blocks. Look the other way at the gypsy camps. Caravans as far as the eye can see, one up against another along the RER lines.IMG_1105 Washing left to dry on the railings surrounding this section of the population we can neither like nor hate. Close the window as you pass the waste disposal site and its smells, only a short distance from the housing. This is how the ’93’ and its citizens are treated, going as far as to pile mountains of bins next to their homes. Just an idea, maybe we should propose to do this to the capital city, the other side of the périphérique, just to see how the Parisiens react. Unless of course the poor and the immigrants have a less developed sense of smell.***

Olivier Norek, an ex-police detective takes us here on a trip to surroundings he knows well, the 93 pronounced ‘nine- three’ the poorest of the départements immediately surrounding the city of Paris described with a few strokes of the brush in my opening quote.

The story is an inventive and largely believable story of solidarity in a police team amidst political and police corruption and feelings of entitlement. Crime statistics are being ‘massaged’ by making murder cases of marginal victims disappear. This  practice is forced to the light of day by a sadistic murderer who sets his sights on just such victims but ensures by his staging of the corpses that the cases cannot be hidden.

Why would anyone want to massage the crime figures in a notoriously dangerous département? Who could actually do this and how? What could be the killers motives and how does he choose his victims? Norek provides viable and intriguing answers to all of these questions.

A well written, lively police mystery, the main character, Coste, feels real, well worth a translation and, I believe, a filmed version!

First Published in French as “Code 93” in 2013 by Michel Lafon
*** My translation
Translated into English by Nick Caistor and published in 2020 by Maclehose Press