The Rhythm of Paris 19eme: Arab Jazz

From Telerama.fr
From Telerama.fr

The book’s title references James Ellroy’s novel ‘White Jazz’ (the main protagonist’s favourite crime read), but this is a very different kind of story.

It’s not just Arab music in the 19th district of Paris, it’s also mosques, Jewish barbers, black youths hanging out on street corners, Armenian shopkeepers, Turkish kebab shops… It’s this frenetic bustle of people which documentary film-maker Karim Miské potrays so well in his first novel Arab Jazz. And it’s at  this level – capturing the sounds, smells, food, jargon, eccentric characters – that the book succeeds. The crime thriller element of it is secondary – and those who are expecting a thundering ride of a rollercoaster mystery will be disappointed. However, it succeeds as a fascinating social study into the roots of fundamentalism (of whichever religious stripe) and the urban turmoil of present-day Paris.

Ahmed Taroudant has all but retreated from normal life.  He tries to go out as little as possible, stocking pasta, crackers and a few bottles of wine in his flat, which is by now so full of books that he can barely find his way to the fridge. He never knew his father, his mother is in a mental hospital and he himself is clinically depressed. His only two joys in life are: buying crime fiction in bulk from an Armenian second-hand bookshop and his pretty neighbour Laura. Laura is an air hostess and he looks after her orchids when she is away on her frequent travels.

Then, one evening, he finds Laura killed and displayed in a grotesque fashion, strung up above his balcony. There are disturbing elements to this murder which suggest it may have been a religiously motivated killing. Ahmed is terrified he will be a prime suspect, but the shock jolts him out of his lethargy and he starts collaborating with the police to find the real culprits.

P1020817You could argue that Miské leaves no stone unturned in his quest for diversity: the two main investigators are Jewish and Breton, and there is a steady parade of imams, rabbis, Jehovah’s Witnesses, blacks, whites and everything in-between in the pages of his book. We find out relatively early on who the baddies are, certainly before the police do, and it all becomes a bit of an international conspiracy with drug links. From that point of view, I did not find the plot hugely exciting.

However, the local colour and atmosphere kept me reading on. I have a soft spot for the 19th arrondissement, as we stayed there during our most recent holiday in Paris. It contains the beautiful park Buttes-Chaumont (featuring in the latest series of ‘Spiral’ too), as well as multi-ethnic shops and restaurants, which give it a cool, happening vibe for tourists. Beneath the scrubbed up veneer, it has its fair share of social problems and the author does not shy away from those. Above all, I enjoyed the relationships between the young people who grew up in the same area, went to the same schools, formed a hip-hop band together and then lost hope and started listening to hate-filled preachers.

karim-miskeTalk about great timing: MacLehose Press publishes this just as the Charlie Hebdo and subsequent Paris attacks turned the spotlight onto the French capital. The debates will rage on about the causes of radicalisation of Muslim youth in France, but in his book and interviews, the author makes clear that not much has changed since the banlieues (suburban) riots in 2005. If  you live in those ghettos, ‘your chance of getting a job if you are a young man is very limited. That is true if your name is  Mohamed. It is probably also true if your name is Michel.’ The one slender glimmer of hope is in the friendship across racial and religious divides between the young girls in the neighbourhood

 

 

 

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Vanessa Delamare?

VanessaThis time we travel to Canada to meet the delightful Vanessa Delamare and hear how she developed an appetite for a life of crime (fiction). Vanessa is not only bilingual in both her reading and blogging habits (look here for her enthusiastic reviews in both languages), she is also the organiser of QuébeCrime, an unrushed and intimate crime fiction festival set in beautiful Québec City. You can also find Vanessa on Twitter, where she is also busy setting up a new website and Twitter account for QuébeCrime.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I don’t remember exactly which book got me hooked, but I have clear memories about ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. I couldn’t tell you the story in detail now but I still feel that sense of malaise when I think about that book. It felt good to me as a child, knowing a book can give you such feelings of fear and stress, but at the same time, you’re safe at home. I also remember reading a lot of Agatha Christie’s  books and preferring Miss Marple ! But after a while, I wanted something more modern. It was then that I discovered Patricia Cornwell. At the time, I was working with computers and I could tell that what Lucy was doing was credible. I’ve asked a nurse about the medical stuff and she told me that was accurate too. I loved that accuracy in fiction, unlike in a TV show where the geek presses a button on his keyboard to show pictures when everybody else would use their mouse! So I discovered that I could learn new things whilst also having fun reading. I then moved on to Ellis Peters’ Cadfael. What a pleasure to learn historical things too! I just love the diversity in crime fiction.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?
Yes and no. I do seem to read a lot of noir fiction – I really appreciate tartan noir, nordic noir… all that is noir. But after a few of those novels, I need to read a historical crime fiction book or something more technical, just to change. I’ve even learnt to appreciate spy fiction, which is not really my cup of tea. It might be the only sub-genre that wouldn’t be my first choice, but I really loved Terry Hayes’ ‘I Am Pilgrim’. And now I’m reading David Khara’s ‘The Bleiberg Project’ and it’s really good (about spies and WWII and crazy science…) In fact, as long as a book keeps me on edge or interested, I’ll love it!
What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

In truth, there’s quite a few books I really enjoyed this year (those I gave 5/5 on my blog) but as I must name a single book, I’ll go with Donato Carrisi’s ‘The Whisperer’. It’s Carrisi’s first book and it’s excellent. Quite often, debut novels have a certain clumsiness or lack of confidence, but not in his case. I might be a gullible reader but at one point I just shouted “no way!” and I love that: to be completely led by the nose. 

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Ah, I’m always asking that of writer, so now it’s my turn to not really know how to answer (serves me right I guess!). I could say Maxime Chattam, a French writer I really admire, but I’ve already read all of his books, so it might be a bit annoying to already know the end of each story. It’ll be the same with Chris F. Holm’s ‘The Collector’ series, so I’ll have to go with an author whose books (some of them, at least) I have yet to discover. It could be Ian Rankin or Pierre Lemaitre (and I can’t thank you enough for recommending the latter to me!), but perhaps in the end I’ll take Val McDermid’s numerous books. I really liked the suspense she puts in ‘The Torment of Others’ and what better way to counter the stillness of a desert island than with something thrilling?

VanessaShelvesWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

Well, I’ve bought a lot of Pierre Lemaitre’s books, so I guess that’ll be my next focus! I’ve also just discovered David Khara, a French author that I really enjoyed, so I’ll read his second book in the trilogy featuring Eytan Morgenstern with pleasure. I’m also currently reading Lisa Unger’s ‘The Whispers’, about a newly widowed wife and mother who after a car crash can see/hear people in danger or dead, a kind of psychic who helps the police. It’s a fast and enjoyable read, so I think I’ll love the next book too. In fact, my TBR is so big I don’t know if I’ll be able to read all in the next few months!

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Fantasy! I’ve tried more ‘noble’ literature but I found it boring (who am I, why am I, etc.). I’ve occasionally tried Goncourt prize winners, but I find them disturbing (in a bad way): too many sickos, too much gloominess. With fantasy, I can travel to other worlds, discover other cultures. I’m really fascinated by the imagination writers must have to be able to make a non-existent world come alive.  My first encounter with the genre was Harry Potter (like a lot of people, I guess). Then I read Game of Thrones (so good!) and even Diana Gabaldon’s series Outlander. Well, it might not be pure fantasy but it’s neither crime nor boring fiction! From time to time, however, I do find a literary book that will spark my interest: I enjoyed ‘Rû’ by Kim Thuy or ‘La main d’Iman’ by Ryad Assani-Razaki. [Sadly, neither of them are available in English yet.]

Thank you, Vanessa, for your refreshing candour and ever-present enthusiasm about books! And a great shout-out for French crime fiction too.  I’m starting to save up money already for a possible future trip to QuébeCrime. What have you read/ loved from Vanessa’s list of authors? 

For previous participants in this series, please look here. And please let me know if you are passionate about crime fiction and if you would like to take part. 

Review/Giveaway for Crossing the Line by Frederique Molay

 

Crossing The Line banner

You know I very seldom participate in blog tours – perhaps once a year. However, I feel strongly about making French books more widely known to the English-speaking public, so I share the same enthusiasm and values as Emma from the blog Words and Peace and the independent publisher Le French Book. So, for them, and for the writer Frédérique Molay, I make an exception.  I read and reviewed the first book in the series featuring Nico Sirsky just over a year ago and was looking forward to reading more by this author. For other reviews and Q&A with the author, please visit France Book Tour

Crossing the Line cover

Crossing The Line

[police procedural / thriller]

(translated by Anne TRAGER)

 Release date: September 23, 2014 at Le French Book

224 pages

ISBN: 978-1939474148

Website | Goodreads

***

SYNOPSIS

It’s Christmas in Paris and Chief of Police Nico Sirsky has an uneasy feeling that something is very wrong with the case he’s investigating. He and his team of crack homicide detectives follow the clues from an apparent suicide, to an apparent accident, to an all-out murder as an intricate machination starts breaking down. Just how far can despair push a man? How clear is the line between good and evil? [provided by the publisher]

Crossing The Line- Frederique MolayABOUT THE AUTHOR

Called, “the French Michael Connelly,” Frédérique Molay graduated from France’s prestigious Science Po
and began her career in politics and the French administration. She worked as chief of staff for the deputy mayor of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and then was elected to the local government in Saône-et-Loire.
Meanwhile, she spent her nights pursing a passion for writing she had nourished since she wrote her first novel at the age of eleven. The first in the Paris Homicide series, The 7th Woman, won France’s most prestigious crime fiction award and went on to become an international bestseller, allowing Molay to dedicate her life to writing and raising her three children.

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ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Anne Trager loves France so much she has lived there for 27 years and just can’t seem to leave. What keeps her there is a uniquely French mix of pleasure seeking and creativity. Well, that and the wine. In 2011, she woke up one morning and said, “I just can’t stand it anymore. There are way too many good books being written in France not reaching a broader audience.” That’s when she founded Le French Book to translate some of those books into English. The company’s motto is “If we love it, we translate it,” and Anne loves crime fiction, mysteries and detective novels.

My Review:

In the run-up to Christmas, Parisian detective Nico Sirsky’s personal and professional life seems to be going well, although he is still recovering from the bullet wound he received at the end of the previous book. But then something unexpected happens: the head of a cadaver being used for study by medical students contains a disquieting message. Could it be a student prank? The verdict for the death of the man who bequeathed his body to science was suicide, but many details about his last few weeks before dying seem to indicate something far more sinister. Soon, the case becomes complicated, involving and I love the way the author takes us step by step through the investigation, following promising leads which lead to blind alleys, showing all the effort and rewards of good teamwork.

This is no ‘lone ranger’ type of investigator miraculously solving impossible puzzles, whilst watching his private life go to pot. What we have here is a true police procedural in the 87th Precinct tradition, showing just how much work is involved in finding clues, filtering through the data, making connections… and still having a satisfying home life. Sirsky’s family situation takes a back seat in this story and the book is all the better for it.

There is far less graphic description of violence or dead bodies (well, if you exclude the cadavers in a university lab), but the story is a sad one. Interesting twists and bizarre clues along the way will make you want to devour the book as quickly as possible, but this is no superficial action-filled thriller. If you like crime fiction with heart and more subtle thought (and not always a fully wrapped-up parcel of an ending), Frédérique Molay is an author you will enjoy.

 

If you would like to participate in the giveaway draw for a chance to win one of 5 digital copies of ‘Crossing the Line’ (open internationally), plus a further 5 copies open for US readers only, please enter your details by clicking below. The winners will be announced on the website and individually on the 7th of October. Good luck and enjoy your read!

Some of the Best Review Work I’ve Done

gonefishingnotonthehighstreetFor most of the rest of this month I am forsaking reading and writing for the doubtful joys of money-making, business travel and being criticised no matter what I do (I guess that happens at home with the kids as well, but I know they don’t really mean it).

So I won’t be around to read or comment on blogs too much, nor write much here. Instead, please find enclosed a list of links to some of the best reviews I’ve done to date for the Crime Fiction Lover website. These are not straightforward book reviews (although I’m proud of them too), but slightly lengthier feature articles. Enjoy!

The Best of Dorothy Sayers for Classics in September

Holiday Reads for Most Popular Tourist Destinations

Special Report from Lyon’s Quais du Polar Crime Festival, 2013 edition

Starter Guide to French Crime Fiction 

Women Crime Writers to Watch in 2013

Revisiting Maigret for Classics in September

Five Books Which Got Me Hooked on Crime Fiction

Quais du Polar 2014 in Lyon

Lyon1One of the best annual events of the French crime fiction festival scene is coming up on the 4th-6th April: the Quais du Polar in Lyon. I attended this free event last year and was so impressed by the diversity and quality of authors and topics on offer that I’ve been living off the impressions from there ever since.

I have already booked my hotel for this year’s event, which promises to be even better, as it’s the 10th edition. There is so much going on, that I will only mention a few personal highlights.

1) The French writers attending, many of whom I have read and reviewed this past year: Bernard Minier, Caryl Ferey, Franck Thilliez, Antonin Varenne. There will, as always, be the opportunity to connect with authors whose work I hugely respect, such as Maud Tabachnik, Dominique Sylvain and Didier Daeninckx, but also the opportunity to uncover new talent, debut writers whose work I will then follow.

Some authors I met last year: Brigitte Aubert
Some authors I met last year: Brigitte Aubert

2) Many big or rising names of the English-speaking world: James Ellroy, R. J. Ellory, Peter James, George Pelecanos, Stuart Neville, Cathi Unsworth, Lauren Beukes; as well as a wider international group of writers: Victor del Arbol from Spain, Deon Meyer from South Africa, Camilla Lackberg and Asa Larsson from Sweden, Zygmunt Miloszewski from Poland, Donato Carrisi from Italy, Liad Shoham from Israel.

3) Some fascinating panel topics, for instance: ‘When the Family Implodes’ or ‘Crime and Drug Deals’ (with George Pelecanos, in case you were wondering), ‘Crime and War’, ‘Myths, Super-Heroes and Legends’ or ‘Crime Fiction in Translation’.

LyonSo much to do, such difficult choices! And Lyon will be a perfect host city, as always. I must also make sure to book a nice lunch at one of my favourite brasseries. Perhaps I will even participate in the Crime and Clues Treasure Hunt this year…

Interview with French Writer Sylvie Granotier

SylvieGranotier1Sylvie Granotier is a French actress, screenwriter and novelist, born in Algeria and growing up in Paris and Morocco. After completing her theatrical studies, she spent several years travelling around the world, including the United States, Brazil and Afghanistan. After a successful acting career, she turned to fiction. Fourteen novels and many short stories later, Sylvie Granotier is a major crime fiction author in France; her work has been translated into German, Italian, Russian and Greek. Le French Book brings us the first English translation of her novel The Paris Lawyer. The novel is both a legal procedural and a psychological thriller set in the heart of French countryside, La Creuse, considered by many to be a backward, closed-off rural area full of secrets.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sylvie at the Lyon Crime Festival Quais du Polar and I became an instant fan.  Imagine a taller, more glamorous version of Dame Judi Dench, expressing her thoughts in a carefully modulated voice, in beautiful English with a delightful French accent.

Have you always known you were going to end up writing crime fiction? 

No, it was quite a shock.  I never dared to consider that I would write some day.  I drifted for a few years, had no aims or ambitions.  Then I found myself translating Grace Paley’s short stories – I really admired her style and she had never been translated into French before. When my translation got published, she came to Paris and met me. She told me how she had started writing rather late in life and it was almost like she gave me the permission to write.  She never said it in so many words, but the day she took the plane back home, I started writing my first novel. So the two are not unrelated, I think!

And it was crime fiction that you instinctively turned to?

Yes, there was never any doubt in my mind. I’d enjoyed crime novels so much when I lived in the States.  Writing a book that can really grab the reader seemed to me the highest ambition for a writer.  Would I be able to do that?  It’s a genre that has given me so much pleasure, so it seemed an honour to be entering that genre.

Which authors inspire you?

Hard to choose, I’m inspired by all sorts of writing, not just crime fiction. I like Dickens, Melville, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Elizabeth George.  I like those crime authors who deal more with the psychology, the human aspects of a crime.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

Each book is a story that needs to be told. It can be a small seed from something I’ve read or seen or heard years before and it takes root and germinates inside.  I don’t start with my characters.  I always start with a fragment of a story, a promise, and the characters develop as the story evolves. I want to find out more about them and they often surprise me – which, to me, is proof that the story is alive. I have been known to erase a complete book, because I felt I knew too well what was going to happen. It was no longer interesting to me, it had lost its capacity to surprise me.

TheParisLawyerWhat differences (if any) do you notice between American and French crime fiction?

The way the legal system works is very different, of course, and a story is often influenced by the way in which you do your job.  Then, the language: French is far more organized, grammatical, constricted, more of a corset, less open to experimentation.  Finally, there is something about the way each country views good and evil.  American writers are not afraid to deal with huge themes like serial killers and innate evil. They have great faith in the truth emerging triumphant and justice being served.  In France – perhaps in Europe in general – we are more cynical about the truth ever coming out fully in a trial. We are perhaps too morally ambiguous, everything is too grey with us, not black and white.  Perhaps we feel that criminals are not necessarily evil, but simply people like you and me caught up in desperate matters.

What about the way women are portrayed in American vs. French crime fiction?

In my book ‘The Paris Lawyer’ I deliberately chose a very modern type of Parisian woman, independent, strong, dealing with men on her own terms.  She is sexy, stylish, uninhibited, despite her being haunted by her past.  I think she is very different from the kick-ass school of American female investigators, which I do also enjoy very much!  But I think there’s got to be room for both Vic Warshawski and for Catherine Monsigny in crime novels.  And we the readers are all the richer for it.

 

For more information on The Paris Lawyer and options for buying this or other crime fiction from France, please go to Le French Book’s Amazon page. For further reviews of the book, see Margot Kinberg , Ms. Wordopolis or Karen .