Monday, February 23, 2015

The City of Blood by Frédérique Molay

In the United States we do not see enough popular French fiction, French movies, French anything except perhaps scarves and sparkling water. The publisher Le French Book has taken it upon themselves to try and remedy that lack by publishing translations of the latest popular policier/mystery series. Wine or blood feature in many of the titles, which is perhaps as it should be. When you find yourself unable to enjoy life without something really French in your life, you might be willing to go out of your way to see what is on offer in the way of translations.
Frédérique Molay spent much of her career in politics but always harbored a desire to write. When the first book in the Nico Sirsky Paris Homicide series, The 7th Woman, was widely hailed in France in 2007, Molay started writing full time.

I note that there are readers who genuinely adore this series and "can’t get enough of Nico Sirsky." I am so glad Molay has found her audience. The good news (and the bad news) is that she should never get bored with writing this series because she has so much further to go in tightening the expression of tension and of sharing the internal and external conundrums of life as Chief of Police at 36 Quai des Orfèvres (the title of an unrelated French film, by the way, starring Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu). We learn that Sirsky is blond and blue-eyed, dresses well, and that he loves his wife and his mother. These things we can tell from the outside. Rarely do we get a look inside the mind of the "first-rate cop." Sirsky does not appear to suffer (yet) the debilitating addictions and depression that plague his brothers-in-arms: the many American and Scandinavian criminal investigators found in the pages of popular fiction.

The stunning and innovative ‘cultural park’ situated on Paris’s old meat-packing and abattoir district, Parc de la Villette, features in this novel. In direct opposition to Frederick Law Olmsted's view that a park should shield one from the city, this park brings the city into the park with an enormous discontinuous building envisioned as a single structure.

For those that have visited Paris, this location alone may evoke a strong sense of place. The murder Sirsky investigates would be familiar anywhere, but the element of homosexuality hinted at brings with it a whiff of revulsion that seems particularly French. It is fine to cheat, but emphatically not with a same-sex partner.

To earn my devotion to this series, Molay would have to slow down from the pressures of churning out a book every year or two and take the time to figure out how to add depth, color, and suspense to her stories. Sentences like this about a witness being questioned fill me with wonder: "She bit her lip and was blinking quickly, a telltale sign of anxiety." Editors should be able to fix a boring sentence, but no one but the author can breathe life into a character.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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