Benoît Vitkine ‘The Wolves’

Faithfully. Once again he takes the blue textbook in his large hands, places it on the embers where it instantly bursts into flames. He films it. Faithfully. He sends the video to the number he’d been given.
He had just saved the Bitch once again. Just as she’d asked him. The textbook, the old lady that implicated her. No longer existed.***

Benoît Vitkine’s timely novel introduces us to a gloves off version of The Ukraine in this political thriller treating the 30 days between the election of the new president Olena Hapco and her taking office. Vitkine tells us of how fortunes were made in the post Soviet era, here in The Ukraine, but the same recipe applied to any of the ex-Soviet states. Hapco was less ready as the Soviet system collapsed and so needed to be quick, brutal and know how to make allies and deal with enemies.

Hapco is elected on a reform ticket, but pretty soon it’s clear that she needs to negotiate with the Oligarchs, as Russia tries to tie her down, described in her meeting with the Russian ambassador. First she has a call with Vladimir Putin who speaks in riddles, as usual, leaving the unpleasant messages to his underlings, with the ambassador explaining how they will trap and control her. They have been spying on her for decades, including choices she had made, to avoid being crushed, that could be viewed as treason. She knows that they have the means, via the tv stations of certain Oligarchs controlled by the Kremlin , to make it known, before they tell her what they expect her to do:

You can be reassured, the project that we have prepared is perfectly favourable to you! Our idea is to revalue the terms of the contract for the transit of the gas that we sell to the Europeans. In simpler terms, to increase your dividends from the transit of the gas in the pipelines that crosses your territory ……The increase in tarifs for the transport of russian gas in ukranian pipelines, as seductive as it sounds, is an illusion. The money will only make a handfull of crooked, kremlin controlled intermediaries rich, creating as many russian agents in ukranian affairs.****

But if there is one thing Hapco has learnt the best form of defence is to attack. What do the Russians hold against her? Can she neutralise the threat? Can she play the Oligarchs against each other? Can she get out of the trap that is set for her before she officially takes office? These are the questions that Vitkine, one time correspondant of’Le Monde’ in Moscow and laureat of the Albert Londres prize, takes us through whilst at the same time painting a vivid picture of The Ukraine and its people.

First Published in french as “Les Loups” in 2022, by Les Equinox
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Fidèlement. Il reprend le cahier bleu dans ses grands mains, le dépose sur les braises, où il s’enflamme instantanément. Il filme. Fidèlement. Il envoie la vidéo au numéro qu’on lui a indiqué.
Il vient de sauver la Chienne, une nouvelle fois. Comme ell le lui avait demandé. Le cahier, la vieille l’incriminaient. Ils ne sont plus.

Mais rassurez-vous, le projet que nous avons conçu vous êtes parfaitement favourable! Notre idée est de revaloriser les termes du contrat de transit pour le gaz que nous vendons aux européens. En clair d’augmenter les dividendes que vous percevez pour le transit par les tuyaux situés sur votre territoire……L’augmentation des tarifs de transit du gaz russe dans les gazoducs ukrainiens, aussi séduisante soit-elle, est une illusion. L’argent ne servira qu’à enrichir une poignée d’intermédiaires véreux aux ordres du Kremlin, qui constitueront autant d’agents de la Russie dans les affaires ukrainiennes.

Elsa Marpeau ‘L’âme du fusil’

Quai du Polar 2022: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Book read Number 5

Elsa Marpeau : L’âme du fusil (Gallimard)

I was at home, I’m in my element, with my son, engaged in teaching him about nature, flora and fauna, teaching him the most beautiful subject, the world about us, as it is, the world the cracks beneath your feet, that’s covered with leaves, that’s crossed by streams – not the one we created, heavy, suffocating under layers of concrete and asphalt, the city that smothers you, the city that screeches, the noise of horns, car motors, of people shouting on the pavements, where no one breathes because the true city is underground in the metro.

Philip lives in a small hamlet in the deep in the counryside, he doesn’t work and spends his days waiting for his wife to come home from work and his son Lucas to come home from school, not much to keep him going except the camaraderie with his few friends and most important of all to his eyes, to initiate his reticent adolescent son to the ways of the country in contrast to city life as illustrated in the opening quote. But the arrival of a stranger from the city will change everything. Julien’s city charm will seduce some, Philip for instance and repulse others, mostly his friends.

The arrival of a Parisian in our backwater was far from normal. For him to windup here, either he had relatives in the area, but we would have known, or he was hiding. But from what, from who? I’d made my mind up to find out. To learn how he earned a living, what he was hiding , what he was up to.***

Philip is troubled by Julien at first, wants to understand why he is there and finally invites him to dine with him and his friends, in a hamlet you know your friends your whole life and know everything about them, this is the contrast Elsa Marpeau brings to the story, a contrast that is not particularly flattering for either Philip and his friends or Julien. Guns are of course commonplace in a hunting community and We learn or begin to understand the pull hunting has on Philip.

The parcelling out of land in country towns shows the foolishness of private property – parcels of 1 meter square in size, slicing across your land, belonging sometimes to a bloke living kilometers away…..It’s one of the reasons I like hunting: hunting relies on other laws, other rules, territory extends beyond administrative aberrations – the land isn’t parcelled out, isn’t divided up, the land remains indivisible.***

Julien doesn’t seem to work and wins regularly at poker with the friends after dinner, Lucas warns his father that he has seen Julien cheating but Philip does nothing, basking in the fact that Julien is his friend. But as things begin to go wrong and the book reaches its climax, the worst possible end awaits Philip.

The straightforward life of the country, with its unwritten rules known to all, sometimes harsh, where alpha males still rule comes into collision with the cupidity of city life. Elsa Marpeau has written a subtle story of what initially seems a straightforward no frills community.

First Published in French as “L’Âme du fusil” in 2021 by Gallimard.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Le découpage des terres, dans les villes de campagne, révèle l’ineptie de la propriété privée – des parcelles d’un mètre carré de large, striant votre terrain, appartiennent parfois à un gars qui loge à des kilomètres de distance….C’est une des raisons pour lesquelles j’aime la chasse: la chasse, c’est d’autres lois, d’autres règles, des territoires qui s’étendent au-delà des aberrations administratives – la terre ne se parcellise pas, ne se découpe pas, la terre reste indivisible.

L’arrivée d’un Parisien dans notre trou perdu n’avait rien de naturel. Pour qu’il atterrisse ici, c’est soit qu’il y avait de la famille, mais on l’aurait su, soit qu’il se cachait. Mais de quoi, de qui? J’étais fermement décidé à l’apprendre. À savoir comment il gagnait sa vie, ce qu’il venait dissimuler, ce qu’il mijotait.

j’étais chez moi, dans mon domaine, avec mon fils, chargé de lui apprendre la nature, faune et flore, lui apprendre le plus beau des enseignements, le monde autour de nous, le vrai, celui qui craque sous les pieds, qui se couvre de feuilles, qui dévale les cours d’eau – pas celui qu’on a créé, plombé, étouffé sous des couches de béton et d’asphalte, la ville qui t’asphyxie les tripes, la ville qui beugle, brouhahas de klaxons, de moteurs de voiture, de gars qui gueulent sur les trottoirs, où plus personne ne respire parce que la vraie ville citadine est sous terre, dans le métro.

Emma Stonex ‘The Lamplighters’

When they built these towers they made sure our bedrooms faced the coast, a lighthouse keeper retires to his bed feeling his beacon settle on home and they want your beacon there, img_3150they don’t want you getting ideas about the sea beneath you, quieter and deeper than it’s safe to know. a keeper’s in bed, that’s when his memories grow bigger than he is and he needs the land, to be sure it’s there, the way a child listens for his father’s footsteps in the middle of the night. We’re all tied to the land.

Back in 1972 the three men living on the Maidan rock, Aurthur the PK (Principal Keeper), Bill his assistant and their junior, Vince the Young first time keeper, dissapear. Based on a true event Stonex tells us that all the clocks in the tower were stopped showing the same time and that the door was locked from the inside. The story oscillates between events in 1972 and events in the “present day”, 1992 as a writer of maritime fiction takes it on himself, by talking to the bereaved widows, to get to the roots of what happened back then. The opening quote helps to show something of the true loneliness that life, something that back then before the internet and cell phones, that over time could exercise on the keepers who could spend up to three months at a time on duty.

The tower life, of course, attracts men with a reason to live this life, from the PK who had never recovered from his only son’s drowning, to Vince hoping to avoid a life of crime with thisoffering a way out and from Aurthur who believes that living prolonged periods with two other people is “as good as it gets”:

Occasionally it strikes me how much time I spend with men i’d otherwise have nothing to do with. At home I don’t make friends easily, I don’t have the knack. People come and go there’s no time, can’t find a way in. Here it isn’t a choice, we learn to live together in a narrow column with no way out, men become friends, friends become brothers. For “Only Children” this is as good as it gets, when I was a boy I heard it as “Lonely Children”. I thought it was that through to when I was fourteen and saw the right thing printed on a medical pamphlet.

Through the women’s stories and their secrets, through Helen, Jenny and Michele, Stonex tells us of their grief, of their not knowing and why events drove them apart. Beginning by the backwards and forwards in time to let us see some of the pressures, from the shady Trident House that runs the lighthouses and gives no information on what might have happened, to the fact that the company provided housing so that even on land the keepers, and their wives lived next door to each other, sometimes passing long periods at home whilst their neighbour was away, she paints the picture, the background to those events.

In this slow moving, classy, well told whodunnit Stonex leads us on to her imagined final scenes in both 1972 and twenty years later. A story I would warmly recommend.

First Published in English as “The Lamplighters” in 2021 by Picador

Dolores Redondo ‘The North Face of the Heart’

Alvord Texas
The field in front of the Allen’s house showed little or no signs of the hurricane’s passage.For an observer, the farm seemed to give, at first sight, an impression of absolute normality……Only when you looked at the first floor,the windows, you noticed that the house didn’t have a roof.***

The wheel has turned another year and the Roman de Rochefort is upon us again, this year their are several thrillers in the short list, and as I was away on hols I’ve begun with one of these, The North Face of the Heart, My first book this year for the prix. Move over Star Wars, Dolores Redondo has written a prequel to her Baztan trilogy featuring Amaia Salazar which are available on Netflix. In this then her fourth book, Salazar is a young assistent detective sent on a course for international police forces at Quantico, to learn about profiling serial killers, but she is not just another student. The renown, somewhat maverick team leader, Aloisius Dupree, has noticed her before she arrives. We should mention here that she has already, at the age of 25, single handedly caught her first serial killer in her native Basque country at Baztan.

Early on in her training, Dupree seconds Amaia onto his team to look for an active serial killer dubbed “the Composer” who has passed under the radar by killing whole families during natural disasters, he then composes the family members with their heads facing north, to make it seem as if the father has killed the whole family, his wife and three children as well as the children’s grandmother before ending his own life. By profiling the victims, Amaia closes in on the composer, for instance as in the opening quote when she visits the Allen’s farm it seems her profiling may not be right as only the parents and the three children are initially found, but she is sure of herself and finally finds the grandmother who had tried to escape, shot and dragged under the houses missing roof.

Amaia closes in on the “Composer”, sure that it is a Martin Lenx, whose 5 family members had been found dead 18 years earlier, she talks to the photographer who had taken his family picture just before the massacre all those years before and who had recognised the frustration in him that his family were not what he had planned:

Look at Lenx’s mouth. It looks like a notch carved out by an axe. She agreed. It was exactly whhat she had thought on seeing it.
In fourty years of trade, I’ve often seen it, it’s what I call the “syndrome of the bride and the rain”.***

In this story, with team rivalry and loyalty put in question and explored, Dupree leads the down to New Orleans in 2005 ahead of Hurricane Katrina, ostensibly to get ahead of “the Composer”, but Dupree has unfinished business following the previous Hurricane to hit New Orleans, Betsy. From here on in I’m divided, the descriptions of Katrina and what happened are excellent historical reading, for instance that after hurricane Betsy the then mayor had encouraged everyone to have an axe in their attic ready for the next hurricane (to get out of course). However the story of the abductions and the voodoo with Dupree carrying a gris gris left me exasperated.

There is also the story of Amaia’s childhood played in flashback, explaining her sensitivity to evil.

The main story of the search for the serial killer, including the hunt for him in New Orleans was a page turner, Amaias own story in flashback was of interest but the third story of the abductions and voodoo could have been left out shrinking a near 700 page book back to a more reasonable 500 pages.

First Published in Spanish as “La cara norte del corazón” in 2021, in Spain by Booket.
Translated into french by Anne Plantagenet and published as “La face nord du coeur” by Gallimard in 2021.
Translated into english by Michael Meigs and published as “The North Face of the Heart” by Amazon Crossing in 2021
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Alvord Texas
Le champ devant la maison des Allen trahissait à peine le passage de l’Ouragan. Pour un obserateur, la ferme pouvait donner, dans un premier temps une impression de normalité absolue…..Seulement quand on regardait l’étage, les fenêtres, on s’apercevait que la maison n’avait pas de toit.

Regardez la bouche de Lenx. On dirait une entaille fait à la hache.
Elle acquiesça. C’était exactement ce qu’elle avait pensé en la voyant.
En quarante ans de Métier, je l’ai souvent observé, c’est ce que j’appelle le “syndrome de la mariée et la pluie”

Gabrielle Massat ‘The Taste of My Mother’s Lipstick’

Quai du Polar 2021: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 3

Gabrielle Massat: Le goût du rouge à lèvre de ma mère (Éditions DU MASQUE)

Are you sure you want to come in? I asked as my dog barked a second time.
The two cops hesitated. Then the woman decided, sounding as smooth as chilli on your privates:
Either that or we’re taking you in.
You don’t have the right.
With a suspect in a murder case we have all the rights. Let us come in.
I tied Angus to the cupboard door dodging his efforts to lick me. He wined tragically.
Oh, I said, I didn’t kill anyone.
Jones, he’s blind, she sounded put out when she realised.
It can’t be him, how could he have managed a perfect intravenous injection? Hell we’ve just driven 800 kilometres to arrest a suspect and he’s blind!***

In this third book read for the readers’ Gabrielle Massat takes us to San Francisco and to a world she has created around organised prostitution. Cyrus, who has been living from petty crime in San Diego, has his own routines with a private trainer and friends is unexpectedly visited at home by the police of the SFPD at his home as illustrated in the opening paragraph. Yes they quickly learn that their suspect Cyrus Colfer is blind and he learns that the murdered man, Earl Montgomery had been looking for him.

Thus begins the story as Cyrus moves back to San Francisco to try to learn what Montgomery had wanted to tell him about his mother’s death years earlier as he was still a child, that lead to his leaving San Francisco. Cyrus often unerestimated as a blind man, visits old members of the Clan that had employed his mother to try to solve the mystery of her death all those years before. He walks a thin line between working with the police and gaining the partial trust of the prostitution ring.

This was a long book, and pretty improbable, setting it in San Francisco seems to me to be an over complication, not one of my favourites for the prize.

First Published in French as “Le goût du rouge à lèvre de ma mère” in 2020 by Éditions DU MASQUE.
*** My translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Vous êtes vraiment sûrs de vouloir entrer? tentai-je alors que mon chien se fendait d’un second aboiement.
Les deux flics hésitèrent. Puis la femme trancha, d’un ton à peu près aussi agréable que du piment sur des parties génitales……
C’est ça ou on vous embarque.
Vous n’avez pas le droit.
Face à un suspect dans une affaire de meurtre, on a plein de droits. Laissez-nous entrer.
J’attachai Angus à la porte d’un placard en évitant ses coups de langue. Il lâcha un gémissement tragique.
Oh, fis-je, et je n’ai tué personne.
Jones, il est aveugle. La femme paraissait excédée par le constat.
Ça ne peut pas être lui, comment aurait-il pu réaliser une intraveineuse aussi parfaite? Bon sang, on vient de se taper huit cents kilomètres pour appréhender un suspect et il est aveugle!

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:
But it’s not a story about money.
But it’s not a story about criminals.
But it’s not a story about execution.
But it’s not a story about mates.
But it’s not a story about desire.
But it’s not a story about treachery.
But it’s not a story about ambition.
So, what then?
This is a love story.

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.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de copains.
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?
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.

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

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.

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.