Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Of all the Gaul!

Of All the Gaul!
France has been in the news a great deal of late and it's le grand froid now -really cold all over Europe so depending where you live you might be inside reading or possibly looking for books that are French mysteries--Here's a little list of my favorites - 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 unless you can find an old translation) is set in Paris in the quartier of the 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 cannot be beat. Happy birthday, Georges!

Death from the Woods, by Brigitte Aubert (2001). A mesmerizing thriller centered around a blind, mute quadriplegic. You won't 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. I love Leo Malet who during his life was in the Surrealist movement, an anarchist and damn good writer.

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. Dominique who writes dark and gritty in real life is sweet, devoted to her husband and makes a mean 'clafoutis'!

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. City Lights has published a few more of his novels...he died young. Read them!

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. I found these at a bookstore and maybe they're on ABE but he writes great tales. Why doesn't he write more?
Cara - Tuesday PS Do you have any French mysteries I should know about?


  1. I haven't read any of these enticing books. Thanks for the tips, Cara!

  2. I'm drooling already!

    You didn't mention Fred Vargas? Not fond of her books, or just not in this league? I thought The Chalk Circle Man was excellent, but I was a bit disappointed with her latest one.

  3. Harvee they are a bit off the radar but goooood!
    Yes, Stan I feel the same about The Chalk Circle Man - here I wanted to highlight books not in the 'usual' lists but very worth reading.

  4. Wow, and I thought life was over with the Super Bowl. Thanks.

  5. Great, more books to add to Mt. TBR. Which is fine with me. I'm never bored. As for Jeff, pitchers and catchers report in eleven days :)

  6. Cara, how could you do this to me? I already have about thirty waiting to be read. But I MUST buy at least three of these.

  7. J. Robert Janes is fantastic. Although set in occupied France, the crimes that must be investigated are the same that needed to be investigated before the war.

    Hermann Kohler is a member of the Gestapo because he is being blackmailed. His son is in the German army and if Kohler doesn't cooperate. his son will be transferred to the eastern front. St.Cyr has a complicated personal life and working with Kohler complicates it even more. To his neighbors he is a collaborator.

    I am so glad you introduced Janes into the mix. His books aren't like any other war time stories to be found.

    1. I was also going to kick in Inspector Adamsberg, Fred Vargas's character. Liked several, including This Night's Foul Work.
      But also, a different series, of which I've only seen one book, but which I liked much is The Three Evangelists.

      I have not read books by Pierre Magnan, but plan to get Death in the Truffle Wood, which comes highly recommended.

  8. Yes and Beth there is exciting news re J Robert Janes - his books evidently will be ebooks via Mysterious Press (Otto Penzler's ebook imprint or whatever it's called) coming out each month in 2012!
    Thanks Kathy!