Thomas Cantaloube ‘Requiem pour une République’

Quai des Polars 2020: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 6

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

Thomas Cantaloube has set this story in the shameful years at the start of France’s Vth republic, The real life shady characters that had been part of Vichy’s pro-nazi government and had avoided the post-war purification in large numbers had been in positions of power since the war and still were in these 1959 to 1961 years in France, represented here by Maurice Papon who as secretary general for the police in Bordeaux during the war had been responsible for the deportation of more than 1600 Jews and was later found guilty of crimes against humanity in 1998. Here as in real life he was in charge of the Paris police with his fictional deputy Jean-Paul Deogratias. The story is told through the converging lives of three characters, a young policeman, Luc Blanchard, an ex-maquisard and small time criminal Antoine Carrega and finally Sirius Volkstrom, French but of partly German ancestry who had made money under the nazis and was now a payed killer:


The paths of Deogratias and Volkstrom had crossed in Nîmes in the autumn of 1940. The first was an unknown paper pusher at the Gard Préfecture, under the orders of one of the most zealous officers of Vichy, the prefect, Angelo Chiappe. Within a few months he had made himself indespensable to the representative of Pétain’s government. He quickly became his right hand responsible for intelligence, raids and deportations….A zeal that he later put to use for other officers of the French state and then for the republic, passing like many others, between the wires of the purification sieve.***


The period had three main tensions, the Algerian war of independance, fought mostly in Algeria but with activity in France organised by the FLN, France which already had a large number of Algerians working in the factories. Any idea of action in Paris was violently surpressed by the Paris Police. The second tension was due to De Gaulle having decided to pull out of Algeria and the attempted putsch by senior generals followed by the more than 2000 killed by the right wing organisation the OAS (l’Organisation de l’Armée secrète) who were against leaving Algeria. The third tension was around the fact that France was testing it’s new atomic bomb in the Algerian desert. (for the anecdote, and part of the story, the fourth and last bomb in the series, Gerboise verte, was exploded hurriedly to avoid it coming into the generals’ hands). Cantaloube captures the moment in this book with everyday events such as rounding up arabs, possibly involved in crimes but with no evidence:


— And you Malek, you know why you’re here? — No sir, the policemen didn’t tell us. — Are you two taking the piss! Blanchard had changed to his “booming voice”, the one his more experienced colleagues had advised him to use when he was questioning Arabs: You’ll see, as soon as you raise your voice and sound annoyed, they’ll tell you everything.***


And finally without going into any details on the specific crimes in the book, the following comments by Deogratias set the scene for this book which can be read as much for the period where many of the events are true as for the well put together story itself:


as far as the police go, we dont risk anything, everything’s good. From the press side, we’re probably ok, we’ll break a few fingers if we have to. The unions and the commies are the problem but their boys, when it comes down to it, they couldn’t care less about the Arabs. On the other hand what worries us , are the judges and lawyers. De Gaulle wants to play it by the rules, we’re a republic, we respect the laws and all that. So, we’re going to have to work a little on the fringes.***


First Published in French as “Requiem pour une République” in 2019 by Gallimard.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Les routes de Deogratias et de Volkstrom s’étaient croisées du côté de Nîmes, à l’automne 1940. Le premier était un obscur gratte-papier à la Préfecture du Gard, sous les ordres d’un des plus zélés auxiliaires de Vichy, le Préfet Angelo Chiappe. Il ne lui avait fallu que quelques mois pour se rendre indispensable à l’émissaire du gouvernement pétainiste. Il était vite devenu son bras droit chargé du renseignement, des rafles, des déportations… Un zèle qu’il mettrait ensuite au service d’autres agents de l’État français puis de la République, passant, comme de nombreux autres, au travers du tamis de l’épuration.

—Et toi Malek, tu sais pourquoi tu es ici? — Non m’sieur, les policiers nous ont pas dit. — Vous vous foutez de ma gueule tous les deux! Blanchard était passé à sa «grosse voix», celle que ses collègues plus expérimentés lui avaient conseillé d’utiliser quand il interrogeait des Arabes: Tu vas voir, dès que tu te mets à hausser le ton et à prendre l’air énervé, ils se déballonnent

sur le plan de la police, on ne craint pas grand-chose, on est solides. Du côté de la presse, ça peut aller aussi, on leur cassera quelques phalanges s’il le faut. Les syndicats et les cocos vont nous emmerder, mais leurs gars, à la base, ils n’ont rien à secouer des Arabes. Par contre, ce qui nous préoccupe, ce sont les juges et les avocats. De Gaulle veut nous la jouer recta, on est en République, on respecte les lois et compagnie. Du coup, il va falloir travailler un peu en marge.

Antoine Albertini ‘Malamorte’

Quai des Polars 2020: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 5

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


For a week, Bastia was invaded by reporters from 24 hour news channels: Breaking news, Violence in Corsica flares up again, our experts will explain the situation on this island so different from any other. They questioned the same politicians as ever, the same specialists, the same auto-proclaimed conciences of an island that was losing its own.


The narrator and disillusioned anti-hero of this story, a once promissing inspector who’d made his mark in the Paris area drug squad had transferred back to his native Corsica. But Corsica with it’s mixture of violence carried out by the Corsican mafia “la Battue”, the independantists and their propensity for plastic explosives and political assassinations, the corruption of the political figures make it a place where “continental politicians” interfere sending in external police investigative task forces. So, our narrator after reacting badly to one of these investigators talking of his shit hole of an island and the assholes that live there, and breaking his nose, is relegated to being the only member of the Bureau of Single Crimes:


9 times out of 10 the circumstances are enough for me to close the case because the culprit has gone mad in front of thirty witnesses or filled the victims answering machine with death threats before stabbing her over and over again in the throat, the chest, the stomach and in the genitals. The murderers and the victims I have to handle are to be found amongst the drunks the halfwits, abusive parents, rapists, debtors that balance their account by beating their creditors with hammers, childmurderers pumped up with benzodiazepines.***


With this background, Albertini delivers a taught thriller with two initial crimes, as always seemingly not connected, firstly a Maroccan building contractor, Mohamed Cherkaoui, guns down his family and kills himself and then secondly a woman is killed and then raped with witnesses seeing what appeared to be a military person leaving the scene of the crime. The narrator is handed the first case, if you don’t want something discovered give the case to someone incompetent.

As the stories progress, the inspector, drinking his way through his own demons uses his knowledge of the island to meet people from all of the different groups on the island, such as The captain Janek from the Foreign Legion, present on the island, or Francois Massa, the business man that had been giving Cherkaoui his work and who tells him of Cherkaoui:

But his successful business had gone to his head and done so quickly. After a bit more than two years he had begun to send the commercial director packing and to answer the phone when he felt like it. I tried to reason with him but it was no use, a right numbskull. Typical of North Africans when the succeed. I’m no racist… — Whats more you’ve got a Maroccan house keeper. — No Portuguese. Why? — Forget it.***

If you want to discover a complex but well explained intrigue with an understanding of Corsica, you couldn’t do better.

First Published in French as “Malamorte” in 2019 by JC Latès.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Pendant une semaine, Bastia fut envahie d’envoyés spéciaux des chaînes d’info continue: Breaking news, regain de violence en Corse, nos experts décryptent la situation d’une île pas comme les autres. Ils avaient interrogé les mêmes élus qu’à chaque fois, les mêmes spécialistes, les mêmes consciences autoproclamées d’une île qui perdait la sienne.

Dans 9 cas sur 10, les circonstances se chargent de ficeler les procédures à ma place parce que le coupable a pété les plombs devant 30 témoins ou saturé de menaces de mort le répondeur téléphonique de sa victime avant de la larder de coups de couteau dans la gorge, le thorax, l’abdomen et les parties génitales. Les meurtriers et victimes dont j’ai la charge se recrutent parmi les poivrots, les demeurés, les parents bourreaux, les violeurs, les débiteurs acculés qui soldent leurs comptes en tabassant leur créancier à coups de marteau, les infanticides shootés aux benzodiazépines

Mais le succès commercial lui est monté à la tête. Et vite, en plus. Après deux ans et quelques de collaboration, il a commencé à envoyer balader mon directeur commercial, à répondre au téléphone quand ça lui chantait. J’ai essayé de le raisonner mais il n’y a rien eu à faire, une vraie tête de mule. C’est assez fréquent chez les Maghrébins qui réussissent. Je ne suis pas raciste… —… D’ailleurs, vous avez une femme de ménage marocaine. — Non, Portugaise. Pourquoi ? — Laissez tomber.

Franz Bartelt ‘Ah les braves gens’

Quai des Polars 2020: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 4

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


All work deserves wages, you payed the husband I suppose. — that’s to say that him, he breeds rabbits. He was supposed to pay me with rabits. A free rabbit every week for a year. That only partly satisfied me. I don’t particularly like rabbit. So when I caught the woman red handed, well you can imagine —, she proposed to buy my silence, payment in kind. I was weak enough to accept. — You betrayed your client? You broke the bond of trust? That’s outrageous! — First off the husband deserved to be cheated on. He’s a nasty piece of stuff. What’s more the woman was more appealing than the rabbit. So let’s not over dramatise. That day I made three people happy: the husband, the wife and myself. I saved their marriage.***


Bartelt has created small town France in the imaginary town of Puffigny with the outsider, Julius Dump, breaking down just out of town in his yellow Cadillac at the start of the book and being brought into town on the back of Polnabébé’s moped. Polnabébé, who can’t stop talking but who takes him to the local Bistro where he organises for Dump’s Cadillac to be repaired and finds him somewhere to stay. Everything in Puffigny is centred around the Bistro, as we later learn if you want to get reception for your cell phone you need to catch a bus to the neighbouring town. At the Bistro Polnabébé tells Dump about the town:


I do my shopping in Puffigny, because it’s closest. Between you and me, I take the opportunity to oil my throat at the “bistrot de la gare”. You hear all sorts at Gromard’s, there’s always someone there. A bistro is for dropping by, but it’s not a meeting place. You stop off, sometimes for a few hours. If we just said what he had to say we’d soon run out of conversation. So we fill in, we make things up, we fantacise . Around here that’s all there is: bar talk. Mind you, we lie but they’re not real lies because we all only pretend to believe them. Me, genetically speaking, I’m not really a lier, but when I go to sink a glass or two at Gromard’s, I’m like the rest: I don’t count! I adapt to the local culture! I’m a convivial lier if you like.***


Dump has come to Puffigny on the trail of the last living link to his father’s last heist, gone wrong, a certain Nadereau that no one in Puffigny admits to knowing, so quite naturally he calls in on the town’s detective, Helnoute Ballo, famous for having solved the case of the stolen desert spoons at the bistro, amongst other cases as illustrated in the opening quote.

Whilst Dump is in Puffigny, one of the three town teenagers, Nadège goes missing, the only trace being a red high heeled shoe being found in the forest near a retired civil engineer’s house. Farruque soon finds himself being questioned by the police:


Except that some of your ex-colleagues still can’t understand that you never got married! — Why? It’s against the law to stay single? — We know that you visit prostitutes. – It has to be done. Its for health reasons. For the same price, I could have joined a sports club. But I don’t like sport. If you come back on that, then you don’t know anything about life. Do you think I would have waited to be retired to become a rapist? Rape is like music or figure skating, if hou want to makea career of it you need to start young. You won’t find many rapists of my age.***


As you may have gathered, this mystery is a satire where Bartelt creates a world of improbable small town characters with their no holds barred way of speaking and where the furthest any of them has been is to Larcheville, the biggest nearby town, which of course no one has heard of. I remember laughing out loud at some passages.

First Published in French as “Ah les braves gens” in 2019 by Le Seuil.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Pour les commissions, je vais à Puffigny, parce que c’est plus près. Entre nous, j’en profite pour me lotionner l’arrière-gorge au bistrot de la Gare. On en entend, chez le Gromard. Y a toujours du monde. Un bistrot, c’est un lieu de passage, mais c’est aussi une salle de réunion. On y stationne. Des fois, pendant deux ou trois heures. Si on se limitait à dire ce qu’on a à dire, on serait vite à court d’arguments. Alors, on brode, on invente, on se laisse aller à des fantaisies. Par ici, on n’a que ça: la causerie au coin de la chope. Remarquez, on ment, mais c’est pas des mensonges, puisque tout le monde fait semblant de les croire. Moi, génétiquement, je ne suis pas menteur, mais quand je vais me sécher une mousse chez le Gromard, je suis comme les autres: jamais à une près! Je m’adapte à la culture de l’endroit! Si vous voulez, je pratique le mensonge de convivialité.»

Toute peine méritant salaire, le mari vous a rémunéré, je présume. — C’est-à-dire que cet homme-là est éleveur de lapins. Il devait me payer en lapins. Un lapin gratuit par semaine pendant un an. Ça ne me plaisait qu’à moitié. Le lapin, je n’en suis pas friand. Quand la femme a été prise la main dans le sac – façon de parler, vous imaginez bien –, elle m’a proposé d’acheter mon silence, en me payant en nature. J’ai eu la faiblesse d’accepter. – Vous avez trahi votre client? Vous avez brisé le pacte de confiance? C’est scandaleux! –D’abord, le mari méritait d’être trompé. C’est un sale bonhomme. Ensuite, sa femme était plus appétissante que le lapin. Donc, ne dramatisons pas. Ce jour-là, j’ai fait trois heureux: le mari, la femme et moi-même. Et j’ai sauvé un couple.

Sauf que certains de vos anciens collègues s’étonnent encore aujourd’hui que vous n’ayez pas trouvé à vous marier! – Pourquoi ? C’est interdit de rester célibataire ? – Nous savons que vous fréquentiez des prostituées. – Il faut bien que ça se fasse. C’était mon hygiène. Pour le même prix, j’aurais pu m’offrir un abonnement dans un club de sport. Mais j’aime pas le sport. Si vous trouvez à y redire, c’est que vous ignorez tout des choses de la vie. Vous croyez que j’aurais attendu d’être à la retraite pour devenir un violeur? Le viol c’est comme la musique ou le patinage artistique, si on veut faire carrière, il faut commencer tôt. Des violeurs de mon âge, ça ne court pas les rues.

Michèle Pedienelli ‘After the Dogs’

Quai des Polars 2020: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 3

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


I seem to remember having seen her through her shop window. Blond, a little overweight, immaculate, I can see her in a vintage poster – rose coloured cheeks, smiling with a cup of steaming tea in her hand. When she opens the door after I’ve knocked, I recognise her, but you can forget the vintage poster. The woman sat opposite me in her forties may have her hair pulled back in a bun and the respectable image of a tea sales woman, she has a pale gray complexion and the bags under her eyes are approaching suitcases.***


A change of scenery for this the third book on the shortlist, we find ourselves in Nice just before the start of the long tourist season. Michèle Pediellini’s writting is crisp with a thrillers rhythme and in a few lines draws a picture “blond, a little overweight, immaculate, I can see her in a vintage poster – rose couloured cheeks”, you can get an idea of this from the opening paragraph.

The story is of tolerance, or of a lack of it. The private detective, Diou, in the first strand of the story, is contacted by the woman in the opening paragraph to try to locate her teenaged daughter who has gone missing. A second strand of the story concerns Dio’s friend Dag, a Scandinavian vet. Finally a third strand centres on an immigrant from Eritrea, Yonas, who is found beaten to death in a Nice that seems divided over the influx of immigrants, Nice where a large part of the town can trace their ancestry back to Italy, Nice close to Ventimille on the Italian side of the border which some would like to see turned into another Calais. This strand is traced back to Breil sur Roya, a village on the immigrants path from Italy to France, the historical significance of Breil as a village on the refugee route is put into context by a parallel narrative concerning the second world war.

Diou struggles through intimidations and follows a number of leads, meeting some right wing splinter groups on the way:


The same conspiracy theory except that you’ve officially replaced the Jews by the Muslims……— We’re patriots! Just like Orban and Salvini. They’re the only ones really looking out for their people. We’re letting ourselves get overrun, because that’s what’s happening. They come here like parasites to colonise us, they drain our spirit, our identity…..***


The story reminds me of another border thriller “Grenzfall” by Merle Kröger, set in the east of Germany. A well written book with a story that engaged the reader. In the running I’d say.

First Published in French as “Après les chiens” in 2019 by Editions de l’Aube.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Je pense l’avoir déjà aperçue derrière la vitrine de son salon. Blonde, un peu ronde, impeccable, je l’imagine parfaite pour une réclame ancienne – joues roses, sourire aux lèvres et théière fumante à la main. Quand elle ouvre la porte après avoir toqué, je la reconnais. Mais on oublie la publicité vintage. Si la quadragénaire qui s’assoit en face de moi a le cheveu bien retenu dans un chignon et la mise d’une respectable vendeuse de feuilles séchées légales, son teint est gris et, niveau cernes, on a dépassé le stade des valises pour atteindre celui des malles cabines du Queen Mary.

Même théorie du complot sauf que vous avez remplacé officiellement les juifs par les musulmans… — On est des patriotes ! Comme Orban et Salvini. Il n’y a qu’eux pour se bouger et protéger leur peuple. Nous, on se laisse bouffer, parce que c’est ça qui se passe. Ils arrivent comme des parasites et nous colonisent, ils bouffent notre essence, notre identité…

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.