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

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

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

Pierre Lemaitre ‘Travail Soigné’

The journalists were in a hurry.
He said: Two victims.
We don’t know yet, young women…
How old
About twenty five. That’s all we can say for now.
When will they bring the bodies out? Asked a photographer
Soon, It’s taking a bit of time. Technical problems……
The journalists, until then not particularly interested were suddenly aroused when the door of the loft, 190600AA-E6F3-4069-84B7-3433F93FD33Fwide open, gave them a clear view of the wall covered by an enormous splash of blood thrown on it as on a painting by Pollock. As if this was not confirmation enough, the two crime scene technicians began conscientiously loading the van with carefully sealed and labelled plastic bags. Journalists, however like undertakers, can estimate at the blink of an eye, the size of a body from the length of the bag. And watching them loading the bags, everyone could guess that the bodies were  all in bits.***

Pierre Lemaitre’s first book in his Verhoeven series, Travil Soigné, Meticulous Work, translated into English as Irene, the name of Verhoeven’s wife, begins by slowly introducing Verhoeven’s team as they come to terms with the horrific murder of two young women as illustrated in the opening quote. We quickly cover Camille Verhoeven, 1m45 tall but an imposing character respected by all, his assistant Louis hailing from a wealthy family:

It was Camille’s opinion that thirty years earlier, Louis would have become a left wing revolutionary. But nowadays this sort of ideology was no longer a serious option. Louis hated religion and hence volunteer work or charity. He thought about what he could do and suddenly all became clear: he’d join the police.***

And Armand, a meticulous policeman but renowned miser. The killer of the two girls intentionally leaves a clear fingerprint in blood on the wall. As the story progresses the team gets dragged emotionally into the mystery and then finally personally. I’ll leave it at that for now.

An efficient murder mystery as ever in this series, the murders and the murder scenes are described in graphic detail as in the other books in the series Alex and then Camille. For more detail and then the risk of spoilers go to Detailed review 

First published in French as ‘Travail Soigné’ by Editions du Masque in 2006
Translated into English by Franck Wynne as “Irene” and published by MacLehose Press in 2014
*** 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

Jo Nesbo ‘Police’

This book is the tenth in the Harry Hole series, a well written and cleverly pieced together novel including Police ( a number of police officers sadistically murdered), politicians who in the black world described come out ahead (the ‘they’re all corrupt’ vision). Tell me more