Friday, 5 June 2015

Grey Doll's Criminal Reading Travels: France - Karim Miske's "Arab Jazz"

Away from all this real-life funeral business.... I am returning to death in crime fiction.

There is a very distinctive flavour to some French crime-writing. Least-ways and of course.... the crime fiction I like to read: very individual, even eccentric, characters - a cultural mix that might be regional, class or ethnic - very human people and stories. I don't explain it very well but it's a flavour shared with some of my favourite classic French film makers such as Renoir or Truffaut.... right unto the wilder shores of Tati.

I think I first tasted this irresistable flavour as a kid... reading "A Hundred Million Francs" by Paul Berna... a children's book set in postwar France with a gang of ragamuffins tracking down the villains who steal something precious from them, their horse on wheels which they like to ride to crash-point on the pavements. This was great... the real stuff... nothing like the life portrayed in our 1950s English staple diet of Enid Blyton's middle-class girls and boys... who like to snoop on people when they ain't eating potted meat sandwiches.

In the 1990s I read two or three of Daniel Pennac's "Malaussene Saga"... and loved them. But I didn't return to French crime fiction reading until that I found the joy of Fred Vargas. I can't say anymore about Vargas, greatly popular... I think I've read most of her translated crime books. Another writer with this flavour... though darker by far.... is Antonin Varenne.... well I read his "Bed of Nails" anyway.... and thought it very good.

The point I'm getting to is that Karim Miske's "Arab Jazz" (published earlier this year in an English translation by Sam Gordon) falls slap bang into my French/Parisian menu. It deals with contemporary issues, the increasing radicalisation of religions out there on the street, and came as a warning shock being published so close to the Charlie Hebdo killings in January... although of course Miske had been in the process of writing for several years beforehand. That melange flavour is there - with the prime borderline personality of its main protagonist, Ahmed the Dreamer... first a suspect in the killing of his neighbour Laura then a man determined to find her killer... Add two individualised detectives and we are away into a distinctive, gripping, tale of the Paris Streets and the grouping and regrouping of relationships in a violent, extreme and fractured world. I absolutely recommend it. Read the full review over on the EuroCrime Blog.

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