Books Set in Paris

The holidays are coming up and we are planning a trip to Paris – albeit much shorter than we had hoped for! With three days less than we had originally planned, this has meant giving up on visits to the Louvre or Versailles, but it does mean that it leaves us something to do on our next trip to this wonderful city.

SacreCoeur1In preparation, of course, I’ve been reading (or remembering) some of my favourite books set in Paris.

Daniel Pennac: La Feé Carabine (The Fairy Gunmother)

Set in the lively immigrant and working-class community of Belleville, this is one of the funniest and most macabre installments in Pennac’s saga of the Malausséne family, place of refuge for numerous children, drug-addled grandpas and epileptic dog.

Paul Berna: Le Cheval Sans Tête (The Headless Horse)

A children’s classic, set in a deprived post-war Parisian banlieue bordered by railway lines, this features a gang of street children whose pride and joy is their headless wooden horse on wheels, which they use to careen down the cobbled alleyways. Then some real-life criminals get involved, but nothing daunts the kids, especially not one of my favourite female protagonists ever, tough Marion, the ‘girl with the dogs’.

FranSacreCoeur2çoise Sagan: Aimez-Vous Brahms? (Do You Like Brahms?)

The title comes from the question a young man asks an older but still attractive woman, and it marks the start of a real Parisian love story. Bittersweet, with lots of meetings and discussions in cafés and galleries, concert-halls and rain-soaked streets.

Ernest Hemingway: A Moveable Feast

The quintessential guide for Americans in Paris. Hemingway captures the exuberance and sheer love of life, as well as the rivalries and cattiness of that period, 1920s Paris. For the other side of the story, read Paula McLain’s ‘The Paris Wife’, for Hemingway’s first wife’s account of the same events.

Irène Némirovsky: Suite Française

Not strictly speaking set in Paris, it nevertheless follows the fortunes of those who have had to flee from Paris following the Nazi occupation. Written with surprising maturity and reflection, this novel is particularly poignant when we bear in mind that it was written in the midst of the terrifying events which led to Némirovsky’s arrest, deportation and death in concentration camp in 1942.

MontmartreViewFred Vargas: Pars vite, reviens tard  (Have Mercy on Us All)

Many of Vargas’ crime novels are set in Paris, but this is the most memorable of them all, featuring the uncoventional Commissaire Adamsberg, but also incongruent phenomena such as a town-crier in modern-day Parisian squares, sinister cryptic messages and a possible revival of the bubonic plague.

Victor Hugo: Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame)

A much more tragic and ambiguous story of unrequited love and the plight of outsiders than the Disney version will have you believe, this is above all a love story for the cathedral itself, which Hugo thought the French were in danger of destroying to make way for the modernisation of Paris, and a panoramic view of the entire history of Paris.

TuileriesGeorge Orwell: Down and Out in Paris and London

Based partly on his own experiences of working as a dishwasher in Parisian restaurants, the first half of the book recounts a gradual descent into poverty and hopelessness in the Paris of the late 1920s. This is the darker side of the gilded ‘expats in Paris in the coin of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, and still remarkably accurate for low-paid workers today: ‘If plongeurs thought at all, they would long ago have formed a labour union and gone on strike for better treatment. But they do not think, because they have no leisure for it; their life has made slaves of them.’

Cara Black: Murder in the Marais

For a lighter, more enjoyable read, this is the first (and still one of my favourites) in the long-running Aimée Leduc crime series set in different quarters of Paris. Always based on a real-life event, the books show a profound love for the streets, food, sights and people of Paris, plus they feature a resilient, resourceful and very chic young heroine with a penchant for getting into trouble. What more could you want?

ParisMetroSimone de Beauvoir: Memoires d’une jeune fille rangée (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter)

The first part of de Beauvoir’s autobiography, it is of course primarily concerned with her intellectual and emotional awakening as a child and teenager, but it also gives an intriguing picture of Parisian society at the beginning of the 20th century: its snobbery and limitations, the consequences of a lack of dowry for girls, the impact of Catholicism on French education. The friendship with the beautiful, irrepressible Zaza (and her tragic end) haunted me for years.

There are so many more I could have added to this list. It seems that Paris is one of those cities which endlessly inspires writers. What other books set in Paris have you loved?

 

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!

The Saga of ‘The Lying-Down Room’ by Anna Jaquiery

the-lying-down-roomWhen reviewing for the Crime Fiction Lover website, I tend to get a little possessive about all the books by French authors or set in France. Since I live in this country for the time being, I feel like all of the books remotely connected with France (and its neighbouring countries – my desire for conquest knows no bounds: Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Spain) are mine by rights! So you can imagine my disappointment when someone else nabbed the debut novel set in Paris that everybody had been talking about, The Lying-Down Room by Anna Jaquiery. Of course Raven did a fantastic job of reviewing it, but this could have been me!

So I sensibly did the next best thing. The book was said to be French crime fiction, so I would read it in French – so there! Unfortunately, I could not find it listed in any French bookshop or library in the area or even online on Fnac. I did some further digging and discovered that, although the author was of French origin, she actually has lived all over the world and writes in English. So I bought the book in its original English, read it, was intrigued by its perfect blend of French sensibilities and English crime fiction conventions, and got in touch with the author to beg her to take part in my series on ‘What Got You Hooked on Crime‘.

So you’ll have guessed that I liked the book, but here’s a proper review of it now.

Serial killer tropes have been so overdone in crime fiction, but in this book it’s a little different. The serial killer seems to be targeting inoffensive, somewhat lonely old ladies, who have been a little neglected by their families. What is odd and frightening is these women are laid out and displayed after death in an almost grotesque ritual arrangement. Inspector Serge Morel, himself a complex character with unresolved issues, is looking into these crimes. Struggling with a Paris sweltering in the August heat, understaffed because of holiday season, he and his team – particularly the feisty, bright Lila Markov – struggle to find a motive for these murders and a connection between the women.

The investigative part of the book follows fairly traditional police procedural lines, albeit with strong characterisations. Yes, the Inspector has his problems: the requisite insensitive, media-hungry boss, a father descending into the chaos of Alzheimer’s, and a secret yearning for his first love Mathilde, which crosses the line into stalking. Yes, he has the obligatory strange hobby or quirky trait that fictional detectives need to have nowadays to stand out from the crowd: in this case, it’s origami. Yet none of it feels forced or formulaic – there is a natural flow to his personal story. Morel’s French/Cambodian mixed heritage is only briefly addressed, but will be more prominent in the next book. But I do hope the next book doesn’t lose Lila Markov, who is bristly, smart and utterly no-nonsense, making up for her boss’s occasional fey-ness.

Where the book then differs from standard police procedural is in offering us alternative points of view, including those of the pair who emerge as possible suspects. The middle-aged teacher Armand has a terrible secret from his own youth, while his protegé César is a mute young boy adopted from a Russian state orphanage. There is so much sadness and veracity in this part of the story – it is not at all sensationalised, but rather suffused with a profound melancholy and sense of helplessness. So different from another book I recently read (to be reviewed very shortly for CFL) about religious cults and the children who survive them.

And then there is all the local colour – the small asides and descriptions which place you in Paris and rural France – all done with the insider knowledge of a local, without the sometimes excessive showing-0ff for the sake of the literary tourists. And although it is not exactly French, it is an excellent book to introduce you gently into the world of French crime fiction for those who are unfamiliar with it and put off by its relentless ‘noir’ attitude or quirkiness.

 

What I’ll Remember of 2013

In terms of books, of course. I know the year is not quite over, but I am stuck in a huge book, so I don’t think I’ll get to read much else. 

I’ve done a summary of my top five crime reads (books published in 2013 and reviewed by me) on the Crime Fiction Lover website. These, however, are more of a motley collection of books I’ve loved, regardless of genre, reviews, whether they were published recently or not.  And they don’t fit neatly into a list of ten.

the harbour of Marseille
The harbour of Marseille (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Haynes: Into the Darkest Corner     The most frightening description of OCD, conveyed with a real sense of menace. Psychological shudders guaranteed.

Jean-Claude Izzo: Marseille Trilogy    Just glorious, despite the darkness – a symphony for the senses.

Birgit Vanderbeke: The Mussel Feast    Damning, elegant prose, as precise as a scalpel, dissecting families and tyranny of all kinds.

Katherine Boo: Behind the Beautiful Forevers      Somewhere between anthropology and fiction lies this utterly moving book, an unflinching look at the everyday life, hopes and horrors in an Indian slum. The book that I wish more than anything I could have written.

Esi Eudgyan: Half Blood Blues     Who cares about accuracy, when it has the most amazing voice and melody, all of the whorls of the best of jazz improvisation?

English: Glasgow Cathedral and Royal Infirmary
English: Glasgow Cathedral and Royal Infirmary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Denise Mina: Garnethill       Another book strong on voice and characters, perfectly recreating a Glasgow which I’ve never known but can instantly recognise. Initially depressing but ultimately uplifting.

Karin Fossum: Calling Out for You     Almost elegiac crime fiction, with uncomfortable portrayals of casual racism, the cracks in an almost perfect little society/ This was an eerie and haunting tale, almost like a ghost story.

Ioanna Bourazopoulou: What Lot’s Wife Saw       The most imaginative novel I have read all year, it defies all expectations or genre categories. I felt transposed into an Alice in Wonderland world, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Bangkok
Bangkok (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

John Burdett: Bangkok Eight      Clash of cultures and unsentimental look at the flesh trade in Thailand, this one again has an inimitable voice.

Carlotto: At the End of a Dull Day     If you like your humour as black and brief as an espresso, you will love the tough world of Giorgio Pellegrini. So much more stylish than Tarantino!

Karl Ove Knausgaard: A Man in Love      Perhaps it’s too soon to add it to the list, as I only read it last week, but it felt to me like an instant classic.

So what strikes me about this list?

1) They are none of them a barrel of laughs, although there are occasional flashes of (rather dark) humour in them.

2) With the exception of the Katherine Boo ethnography, I wouldn’t have expected to be bowled over by any of the above. So keeping an open mind is essential for discovering that next amazing read.

3) There were other books which initially made much more of an impression (the Fireworks Brigade, shall we say), but when I look back on what really stuck with me, what made me think or feel differently as a result of reading them, those are the books I would have to point out.

English: Stockholm panorama. Lithography by Ca...
English: Stockholm panorama. Lithography by Carl Johan Billmark 1868. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4) They are each set in a different city and country: London, Marseille, a dining room in Germany, Mumbai, war-time Paris, Glasgow, Norway, the Dead Sea sometime in the future, Bangkok, Venice and Stockholm.  What can I say? I love to travel!

On that more upbeat note, I’ve discovered many new (to me) writers and series this year. Some of them are gentler, funnier reads, perfect to unwind. Here are a few that I hope to read more of: Louise Penny, Martin Walker, Pierre Lemaitre and Anne Zouroudi.

Review of ‘The 7th Woman’

7th-Woman_cover_3_v2It’s my great pleasure today to be a stop on the blog tour of ‘The 7th Woman’ by  French author Frédérique Molay.  This tour is organised by France Booktours and I jumped at the chance to be part of it.  You know me and my passion for French crime fiction!

My Review:

When foreign authors set their crime novels in France, they tend to dwell on the more nostalgic and touristy aspects of French culture (the wine, the food, cute historical villages and the weekly markets, for instance). Nothing wrong with that lovely escapism. However, contemporary French crime fiction is much more likely to be closer to the Anglo-Saxon model.  Serial killers, police profilers, forensic science and police teamwork all feature prominently, but I love the way French authors use and adapt these conventions,  giving them a French twist.

A serial killer is the subject of Frédérique Molay’s first novel about Chief of Police Nico Sirsky, head of the brigade criminelle in Paris.  The first murder is brutal (the description can get a bit graphic, not overly so, but squeamish readers will need to exercise some caution here), but everything is meticulously staged and there are no clues.  They barely have time to get started on the investigation, when another murder follows.  The killer appears to have a predilection for relatively well-off, dark-haired, thin women, and is planning to kill 7 such women in 7 days unless the police can stop him.  From about the third murder onwards, it becomes clear that the killer is sending a personal message to Sirsky, and knows far too much about him and his family.

Although it feels like this story has been covered many times before (in books and on film), Molay does a good job of keeping things fast-paced and interesting. The plot has plenty of twists and dead ends to keep you guessing and entertained: it certainly had me reading until late at night.

But what I really liked about the books are the realistic and workman-like descriptions of the police investigation.  This is a well-oiled team, suffering a little from the long hours and the stresses of the job, but working well together, against the clock.  There are no primadonnas or melodramatic confrontations simply for the sake of making the characters appear more interesting.  And, although Nico Sirsky is the main protagonist, we get to know and appreciate other members of the team as well: strong-minded psychologist Dominque Kreiss, specialising in sexual assault; deputy police commissioner Cohen, a top-notch professional who manages to steer clear of politics; fiery medical examiner Armelle Villars; hard-working Commander Kriven, Nico’s right-hand man.  These are all promising characters in their own right and I look forward to finding out more about them in the next books in the series.

Sirsky’s home life is complicated, but not depressing, as is so often the cliché about lonely police detectives.  Sirsky has almost too much family, all concerned about his welfare: a larger-than-life mother, devoted sister, a depressed ex-wife Sylvie and his teenage son Dimitri.  He also embarks upon a passionate love affair with Dr. Caroline Dalry, whom he has consulted about his stomach pains.  Some readers have found the progression of the love affair to be far too rapid, but I thought it was understandable for a man in a profession where he is daily confronted by death and the transitory nature of life.

All in all, an enjoyable, solid police procedural, which proves you can sustain suspense without going overboard on thrillerish elements.  I look forward to reading the next in the series.  Le French Book is to be congratulated for finding such a great variety of contemporary French crime fiction and for making it available to English speakers.

The 7th Woman

A bestselling police procedural set in Paris

 Synopsis

There’s no rest for Paris’s top criminal investigation division, La Crim’. Who is preying on women in the French capital? How can he kill again and again without leaving any clues? A serial killer is taking pleasure in a macabre ritual that leaves the police on tenterhooks. Chief of Police Nico Sirsky—a super cop with a modern-day real life, including an ex-wife, a teenage son and a budding love story—races against the clock to solve the murders as they get closer and closer to his inner circle. Will he resist the pressure? It has the suspense of Seven, with CSI-like details, giving a whole new dimension to Paris.

-Won France’s most prestigious crime fiction award, the Prix du Quai des Orfèvres

-Named Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year by Lire magazine

-Months on the bestseller lists

-Translated into seven languages

-Over 150,000 copies sold in France

Author: Frédérique Molay

Translator: Anne Trager

Publisher: Le French Book, Inc.

First published in French (Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2006)

Genre: police procedural/thriller

BISAC cat.: Mystery and Detective/Police procedural

ISBN: 978-0-9853206-6-9 (Kindle)/

978-0-9853206-7-6 (epub)

List Price: $7.99

Buying links:

For your Amazon Kindle.

For your Barnes & Noble Nook.

For your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.

For your Kobo.

Praise for The 7th Woman

“Frédérique Molay is the French Michael Connelly.” — Jean Miot, former head of Agence France Presse and the French daily Le Figaro

“It’s really an excellent book. It’s the kind of suspense that makes you miss your subway stop or turn off your phone once you’ve started it.” —RTL

“You barely have time to catch your breath between turning the pages of this spine-tingling novel.”— Cine Tele Revue

About the Author

Frédérique Molay graduated from France’s prestigious political science school Science Po and began her career in politics and the French administration. Meanwhile, she spent her nights pursing a passion for writing she had nourished since she wrote her first novel at the age of eleven. After The 7th Woman took France by storm, Frédérique Molay dedicated her life to writing and raising her three children. She has five books to her name, with three in the Nico Sirsky series.

http://www.lefrenchbook.com/our-authors/frederique-molay/

Contact:

anne@lefrenchbook.com

Website:

http://www.lefrenchbook.com

More at:

http://www.the7thwoman.com

Facebook: LeFrenchBook

Twitter: @LeFrenchBook

Four Women Writers

I was afraid that too many of my reading challenge choices were by male authors, so I made a point of introducing a female quota.  So here are four very different women authors, showing the variety and richness of what is sometimes disparaged as ‘women’s literature’. As it happens, I personally know three out of the four women writers whose books I feature below.  However, this has not influenced my reviews of their books – although I have refrained from giving stars on this occasion.  Sadly, the first two are only available in the original (Romanian and French, respectively).

Claudia Golea Sumiya:  În numele câinelui (In the name of the dog)

Not really a novel, more of a straightforward account of the true but surprising story of a man called Takeshi Koizumi, currently facing the death penalty in a high-security prison in Tokyo.  Back in 2008, the 46 year old unemployed man admitted his involvement in fatally stabbing a former vice welfare minister and his wife, and also wounding the wife of another former health and welfare minister in a separate incident. The reason for his crime?  Punishing the people who had ordered the detention and extermination of his pet dog, his childhood friend, in a local dog pound.  In Japan, these dog pounds are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Welfare.  An animal lover herself, the author began corresponding with Koizumi in prison and  this book combines his letters with her own impressions of the man and her growing understanding of (if not condoning) his actions.  There are probably good (legal) reasons why the story could not have been written in any other way, but I cannot help feeling that it would have been so much more powerful as fiction.

Hélèna Villovitch: Petites soups froides (Little Cold Soups)

Artist, filmmaker and writer, Villovitch experiments with form, style and content in this collection of short stories.  The title story is written as vignettes in the shape of the ‘little cold soups’ which serve as nibbles at cocktail parties nowadays, a commentary on the inability to connect to others and the separate conversations going on in people’s heads.  Other stories capture celebrity culture and obsession with appearance, cross-cultural misunderstandings and little cruelties or envies between friends.  The author has a dry humour and unsentimental style which really suits the everyday subject matter. Although the stories were rather uneven overall, I admire this author for being brave and trying out new ideas.  Sometimes it feels like there is too little ‘radical newness’ in literature nowadays.

Carmen Bugan: Burying the Typewriter

This is a poignant memoir of a family very nearly torn apart by the secret police of the Communist regime in Romania.  The first part describes the near-idyllic childhood in the countryside, surrounded by friends and grandparents.  The author is a poet, and this is obvious from the rich visual imagery and melodic phrases to describe the passing of the seasons, village life and its traditions.  Then her father buys a ‘secret’ typewriter (i.e. one that has not been recorded by the secret police and traced to its owner) and starts writing and distributing pamphlets with the rather modest basic requests: “We ask for human rights. We ask for freedom of opinion. We ask for hot water and electricity. We ask for freedom to assemble.”  The safe, happy childhood is shattered as the author’s father is imprisoned, her mother is forced to divorce him, and they become subjected to constant surveillance and harassment.  The horrors of the regime are not fully revealed, as it is all presented through the eyes of a child: far more shocking to her is the sudden loss of friends or having neighbours inform against them.  A book that moved me not just for its shared cultural language and memories, but because it brings compassion, warmth and understanding to an area and a time which is usually so bleak and unforgiving; its ghosts and echoes are still haunting Romania today. What remains after reading this book is the clear picture of the luminous, redeeming power of love, of family and of literature.

Nicky Wells: Sophie’s Run

Just what the doctor ordered, when I was running hot and cold during the night and couldn’t sleep.  An engaging heroine who never quite falls into the ditziness which can sometimes plague chick lit, mostly adorable men (despite the odd rat or two) and a story line filled with surprises and humour.  In fact, my main point of contention with the story is just how caring and supportive the men seem to be – could this qualify as fantasy?  The story opens two years after the end of ‘Sophie’s Turn’ and the characters have matured a little.  The story too has become a little deeper and darker, with topics such as depression, loneliness and forgiveness all being addressed.  I also like the travelling theme which seems to feature heavily in the Sophie novels: in this book we can undertake vicarious trips to Berlin, Scotland and a remote German island in the North Sea, as well as spend a day sightseeing in London.  Escapist literature, yes, but what is wrong with that?