Europa's World Noir List

Written by Ayo Onatade

Three new Summer reads from Europa’s World

Noir list

 

Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored, by Philippe Georget


Here comes the first in a new crime series from France, hailed in Publishers’ Weekly starred review as “a crime novel trés formidable”, and in Booklist as “a superior beach read for fans of international crime”.

A southernmost corner of France where summers are hot and dry, the flat landscape daubed with innumerable shades of ochre, the sky vast and unremittingly blue.  A corner of France that is not so French after all, where the language and flavours of Catalonia infuse the local culture and cuisine with no regard for national borders.   

Inspector Gilles Sebag is middle-aged and bored with the job.  His sharp detective mind has been dulled by the routine of petty crime investigations.  He is deeply devoted to his family, for whom he gave up what once was a very promising career in the police force.  Now that his teenage children are preparing to fly the nest and his beloved wife may be seeking fulfilment outside the marriage, he finds he has too much time on his hands, time too easily filled with worry and self-doubt.  He whiles away the long hot afternoons brooding by the pool, a neighbour’s cat his only companion. 

So far, so sleepy.  The early summer calm is shattered when a tourist is found murdered on the beach and another goes missing.  Both young women are Dutch.  When a third girl, also Dutch, narrowly escapes an abduction attempt, the obvious explanation seems to be a serial killer on the loose, a serial killer with a penchant for young women from the Netherlands. However, life can be infinitely more twisted than a serial-killer yarn, with dark secrets lurking behind the everyday. 

As the media swoops down on the medieval town of Perpignan and the police force is under increasing pressure to find the missing girl, Sebag has a hard time pursuing his haunch that the crimes are not connected.  The main narrative is interspersed with short chapters from the perspective of the kidnapped girl and that of the mysterious perpetrator with a penchant for rhymes, eager to play cat and mouse with the police, to wonderfully creepy effect. 

Cryptic clues, false leads, dead ends….. It is down to Sebag to make sense of it all, even as he finds himself right in the middle of a macabre treasure hunt in which prey and hunter will repeatedly swap roles.  

“He waits joylessly, patiently, and lets himself go. The stone house may end up being his grave.  Who’s doing what, who’s chasing who? Who is the mouse, and who’s the cat?”

From the South of France we travel all the way to Argentina, for our other July read:

Mapuche, by Caryl Féréy

 

  

Ten years since laws were passed to allow prosecution of the torturers of the National Reorganisation Process, the string of totalitarian regimes that stretched from the military coup that deposed Peron to the post-Carlo Menem years, a string of regimes that has led Argentina to economic collapse and the rupture of the country’s fabric. 

We are in a remodelled Buenos Aires where dazzling new skyscrapers fail to hide the crumbling quarters where the disaffected and the disenfranchised, those who have been rejected and misplaced by the system, eke out a living at the edge of a fractured society.

Ruben Calderon is a private investigator, son of a “desaparecido” poet and dissident.   Ruben has dedicated his life and his career to pursuing the criminals and torturers of the dark years of the junta.  As he undertakes an investigation on behalf of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, the women whose sons and daughters were abducted and killed, and whose children were given away in forced adoptions to couples faithful to the military regime.  We quickly learn that many of those phantoms are still alive and kicking, and will go to any length to erase all traces of their old crimes.

Ruben’s investigation pivots around two cases of missing persons: a transvestite from the wrong side of the tracks and the daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur close to power circles, a young photographer who was poised to make an important revelation to the press.

He finds an unlikely ally in Jana, the young artist and occasional hooker who in her crumbling warehouse of a studio creates huge sculptures infused with atavic rage to depict the persecution and near-annihilation of her native people, the Mapuche.   Both Jana and Calderon are survivors, he of the infamous underground detention centres, she of the genocide of Argentina’s indigenous inhabitants.  

Someone is deeply disturbed by Calderon’s investigations… but who?  We’ll find out much later in the book, not before the investigation uncovers a whole chain of corruption and crime involving the ageing but still effective death squad cadres. 

Mapuche is a page-turning thriller that will take readers right into the heart of Argentina’s troubled history.  A book about the dehumanising effects of totalitarianism, often depicted in the most shocking and graphic terms, Mapuche also tells of the tender love story between two deeply scarred people. Having achieved – a measure of – justice, Jana and Ruben will finally be able to heal each other.

That’s July….. in August, we are publishing

Three, Imperfect Number by Patrizia Rinaldi



If you think that Mediterranean noir tends to be rather “male” – with female characters mostly deployed as foils – then you must read this. 

The lead character in Three, Imperfect Number is police sergeant Blanca Occhiuzzi.  Her speciality is decoding sound and words from wiretaps, a skill acquired through rigorous training but aided by natural predisposition: Blanca is visually impaired.  Since losing her sight when she was thirteen, she has been shrouded in near-darkness. 

Highly gifted and intelligent, beautiful (how could she not be), fiercely self-contained, Blanca has a softer side too, a side which comes out in the close relationship with her foster daughter and part-time carer, and in the slow-burning but undeniably physical attraction to her colleague detective Liguori. 

A celebrity is murdered.  Jerry Vialdi, charismatic singer of schmaltzy melodic ballads, is found in Naples’ football stadium, his lifeless body carefully arranged in the foetal position in goal, a clod of grassy turf in his mouth, as a gag, or maybe a pacifier. 

When a second body, a woman this time, is found in a football stadium hundreds of miles away – also carefully posed and sucking on a blade of grass – the hypothesis of a psychopathic serial killer on the loose is almost too tempting to ignore. 

As Bianca gently but deeply probes into Jerry Vialdi’s life, questioning his lovers and his associates, uncovering his addictions – to drugs, gambling and sex – his insecurity and the vanity-driven need to be always the centre of attention, even when this entails dangerous flirting with the powerful networks of Neapolitan organised crime, other possible explanations begin to emerge.   Was it a crime of passion?  Or was Vialdi silenced because of his involvement in illegal football gambling?  Whilst her male colleagues pursue their lines of enquiry in a more or less orthodox manner, Blanca listens, using her disability to screen out the abundance of white noise surrounding the case, painstakingly searching for the tiny detail that will finally unravel the mystery.

And Blanca is not the only strong female character in this narrative!  But I can’t tell you much more or I may spoil it….. 

Three, Imperfect Number is written in language that is sinuous, equivocal, full of allusions and double meanings, so that readers find themselves negotiating a narrative space that is as mysterious and unknown as the world surrounding Blanca.  A world where things are not seen but merely glimpsed, a world where the truth does not manifest itself in boldly lit block letters, but must be reached by scent, sound and touch alone. Three, Imperfect Number is a beautiful, unusual read that claims the reader’s undivided attention. 

Philippe Georget Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored – Europa Editions, 11th July 2013, £10.99

Caryl Féréy Mapuche – Europa Editions, 11th July 2013, £11.99

Patrizia RinaldiThree, Imperfect Number – Europa Editions, 8th August 2013, £9.99

 

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Ayo Onatade



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