FRENCH MYSTERIES OR ROMAN POLICIERS CARA RECOMMENDS
From the "Rap Sheet" newsletter on the January Web site (ezine)
Of All the Gaul!
Editors note: France has been in the news a great deal of late, thanks to its principled, though regrettably unsuccessful opposition to Bush&rsquos obsession with making war on Iraq. Again. The backlash from a minority of Americans to France&rsquos position has been well publicized, if not always well reasoned. ("Freedom fries," anyone?) Before this Francophobic farce plays itself out, we thought it would be fun to ask Cara Black, the San Francisco author of Murder in the Bastille (Soho Press), the brand-new fourth entry in her series featuring Paris private detective Aimée Leduc, to list her 10 favorite crime novels set in France. "Avec plaisir!," Black wrote, before nominating--and commenting on--a wide variety of intriguing tales, all but the first of which were either written in English or have been translated:
L'ombre Chinoise (The Chinese Shadow), by Georges Simenon (1963). This Inspector Maigret book (available only in French) is set in Paris&rsquo Marais and centered in Place des Vosges, where Simenon lived for a time. It's one of my favorites. Any of the Maigret books are a "must," especially since this year marks the 100th anniversary year of his birth. His psychological insights into human nature can&rsquot be beat. Happy birthday, Georges!
Death from the Woods, by Brigitte Aubert (2001). A mesmerizing thriller centered around a blind, mute quadriplegic. You won&rsquot be able to put it down--I couldn't. I read it one night and, yes, its an engrossing puzzle, too. Aubert won the Grand Prix de littérature policière for Welcome Rain.
Death in the Dordogne, by Louis Sanders (2002). Rural France as seen by an expat Brit, who discovers murder, mayhem and the charms of French women who smoke, drink, drive and look wonderful doing it. Sanders sees his fellow countryfolk with a laser wit and a self-deprecating English flavor. He draws searing portraits of old villagers still impacted by the Occupation.
Mission to Marseilles, by Leo Malet (1991). Features the adventures of private detective Nestor Burma. This book finds Burma in wartime, France caught between some villains and the Gestapo. He is soon heading for the unoccupied zone, where he discovers the secret of the mysterious Formula 5.
Murder in Memoriam, by Didier Daeninckx (1984). Another recipient of the Grand Prix de littérature policière, this novel features the laconic Inspector Cadin, who attempts to solve the puzzling double murder of a father and son. The trail of clues he must follow leads to the World War II German occupation of France and links to the Algerian war. An incredible book, one that should be read by everyone who's ever been critical of France. That's just my 2 centimes.
Rough Trade, by Dominique Manotti (2001). A Paris correspondent recommended this to me. I still can't believe a woman wrote this hard-boiled, sometimes hard to take but fast-moving crime tale set in the Sentier. Thank God, I'd written Murder in the Sentier first. Immigrants, cops on the take, heroin and a bisexual police inspector--but that's just the tip of the Sentier, as they say.
Salamander, by J. Robert Janes (1994). This book (part of a series) features Jean-Louis St-Cyr of the Suréte and Hermann Kohler of the Gestapo, paired during the German Occupation of France and dispatched to catch an arsonist in Lyon. The riveting descriptions, wartime flavor and historical accuracy of daily life during World War II have no comparison.
Three to Kill,
by Jean-Patrick Manchette (2002). Kind of mesmerizing, like a
good Goddard film. You don't know why you watch, but you can't
stop. With classic thriller elements and twists and wonderful
style, Manchette is also a master social critic.
A Very Long Engagement, by Sebastian Japrisot (1993). In 1917, five French soldiers were court-martialed for self-inflicted wounds and pushed, their hands bound, into "No-Man's Land." The youngest of the condemned men was the fiancé of Mathilde, only daughter of a rich industrialist, who sets out to discover what really happened to him. And decades later, as we see in this intriguing "mystery," she succeeds. But there' more to it than that.
The Zig Zag Man, by Marvin Albert (1991). A tad dated, but Albert knows France and those narrow cobbled alleys, the system, and the ins and outs of French police procedure. Why doesn't he write more?