At the end of my review for The Prone Gunman by Manchette, I mentioned that I have been choosing things “French” over all others since watching the TV series Spiral on Netflix streaming. This latest read was Winner of France's prestigious Prix du Quai des Orfèvres for best crime fiction in 2007 and has won slightly higher marks on Goodreads than other winners of that prize in recent years. It is also one of the few that have been translated into English.
In this novel we are treated to a crime that looks remarkably like the one featured on Spiral, the TV series. The French are far more graphic on TV and perhaps in literature than is usually acceptable in America, so one has overcome one’s shock at the material before one can relax into the central mystery: who is doing such vicious things to women and why?
On the TV series I’d already learned the close relationship between prosecutors, investigating judges, and lawyers in the French system and how a victim must often face the perpetrator in the magistrate’s office so I could seamlessly enjoy the way Molay described the characters for each piece of the justice system and how they worked together. Any one of the above personages could be a stumbling block in reaching a just outcome, if they did not have the same goals.
And of course, in the TV movie we are treated to brilliant overhead and street shots of Paris and its neighborhoods, so when Molay mentions Place de la Bastille, the Place de la Republique, and the Cathédrale Notre Dame with its galerie des chimères, it is all a little easier to imagine.
That having been said, I don’t think the French are accustomed to police procedurals the way British, American, or even Scandinavian authors, screenwriters and audiences are since we would see many more of them if they were more commonly found. One writer on French cinema, however, says that there is a long tradition of gritty French police dramas that rival what we have in America. And of course, there have been great French crime writers like Dominique Manotti who have managed to create crime stories distinctly French, but I cannot understand why crime books are not more translated, if they are written at all. I sense Molay is trying something in the American style.
One observation I would make regarding this style is that American police procedurals have advanced to the point where detailed explanations of a policeman’s choices in handling a case are rarely given. The reader is allowed to follow on behind the cop a step or two, catching up when they can, working out clues to police decisions as well as the murderer’s as they race along behind the writer. The reader actually learns on the job. Sadly, Molay’s book ignores these useful methods for involving the reader, and we are told, in greater detail than perhaps necessary, every thought and instinct of our investigator and our killer. We don’t really need to know that much. We should be able to intuit these things by watching what the figures do.
Additionally, French men and women have a sexual way of interacting all the time, even in polite society and business situations, which might be refreshing but is certainly unique and perhaps even somewhat mystifying. American, Canadian, and British men are so much better trained in sexual politics by 2013. Women in these countries almost never hear a sexist putdown any more. It is considered the depths of gauche, and I believe most men find it now distasteful (and positively dangerous to their careers) to acknowledge agreement with such ideas. It would almost certainly doom the man to non-hetero coupling unless they wanted to pay for it. The author acknowledges the retrograde nature of these ideas, but that they are still heard in the law offices (even in fiction) is shocking.
However, there is here still that Paris magic that makes one want to read French crime novels that elucidate and explain in some small way the great ‘je ne sais quoi’ of Parisian living. Molay has published at least two other novels in this Nico Sirsky series, all of which appear to be available in French if not English, on Amazon. Tooth for a Tooth was published by Fayard in 2011, and Lunch in the Grass was published in 2012. The author did publish another mystery entitled Welcome to Murderland, published in 2008, but it does not appear to be part of the Nico Sirsky series.
I would love to see more French police dramas, in book form or on the screen, and find that the publisher for this translated novel, Le French Book, has a whole list of translated titles for the Francophiles among us. So click on the link above and find your new favorite. I received the galley of this title from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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