“Yes. They killed her. And I’m not sure, but it occurred to me that I might have loved her, that I loved her in my own way. I imagined the life we might have lived together … It went as far as children, divorce … Most of all I felt I had to do something. For her. For me too, out of loyalty to what we hadn’t lived. And to avoid falling into their trap.”
“How did you find out about it, this trap?”
Ahmed isn’t surprised. Monsieur Paul knows everything.
“Glances, comments. Sam, Moktar, Ruben…”
“Good, you’ve learned a few things. You’re ready to fight. To use your weakness as a weapon. You know they won’t see you as a threat; they will be reckoning they can play around with you. That’s a good start. What about the police?”
I bought this book months ago in Mr B’s Book Emporium in Bristol, after a lovely chat with a lady about translated fiction. This book just happened to catch my eye and I have to say that I almost left it since my bill was getting higher and higher (my impulse control is appalling).
I am exceptionally glad that I kept it.
The first thing I must say is that this book should absolutely be judges by its fantastic cover. The illustration is beautiful and references absolutely everything it needs to. Miles Hyman has cleverly alluded to the religious tensions and intensity in the book, as well as the horrific act itself. And if the cover wasn’t enough to hook me, then the synopsis definitely was:
Kosher sushi, kebabs, a second-hand bookshop and a bar: the 19th arrondissement in Paris is a cosmopolitan district where multicultural citizens live, love and worship alongside one another. This peace is shattered when Ahmed Taroudant’s melancholy daydreams are interrupted by the blood dropping from his upstairs neighbour’s brutally mutilated corpse.
The violent murder of Laura Vignole, and the pork joint placed next to her, set imaginations ablaze across the neighbourhood, and Ahmed finds himself the prime suspect. But detectives Rachel Kupferstein and Jean Hamelot are not short of other leads. What it s the connection between a disbanded hip-hop group and the fiery extremist preachers that jostle for attention in the streets? And what is the mysterious blue pill that is taking the district by storm?
So. Radical Muslims and Radical Jews living in the same arrondissement in Paris – and suddenly there’s a murder that seems to be aimed at one of the communities – or both. The inclusion of religions fascinated me – as it often does. I was gratified to read that despite the fanaticism, Miské was ready to show a human side to all of his characters – no matter how dark it was. And as the book progresses, it’s interesting to see who is a fanatic and who isn’t – despite the fact that they were brought up in the same families.
The detectives, Rachel Kupferstein and Jean Hamelot, are equally compelling. Their personalities were brilliant and they really gelled together as a team, which I loved – and though their relationship was somewhat complicated by romance, it didn’t really work and both characters knew it, and it didn’t become an obstacle.
Similarly, the more I learnt about Laura, the victim, the more I loved her. Thankfully, she was used as more than just a plot device. And something that I’m very glad for is how Miské didn’t objectify her dead body, despite the nature of her murder – I’m so tired of seeing women’s bodies, dead or alive, objectified (even though it’s horrifically creepy and wrong), and this book was refreshingly not so.
The interplay between mental health, drugs, and religious radicalism was also a great element to the books. I don’t want to give anything away, but judging from what I’ve read in current affairs about religious radicalism and crime, this book isn’t too far off the mark. And reading this book after the Charlie Hebdo attacks and subsequent events, this book is unbelievably relevant – to read more about that, check out this interview of Karim Miské by The Independent.
This book literally kept me up until the early hours of the morning despite my exhaustion. It kept me guessing at every turn (and I’m usually very very good at guessing the endings to mysteries), and was wonderfully original. For that reason – 5/5.