French Fiction Fridays #15
This week's French Fiction Fridays selection embarks on a journey into a darker territory of suspense. The weak-hearted be warned, these two thrilling novels are shrouded by mysterious, cold chambers and ambivalent airs. No character is to be trusted this week as the plots thicken and turn, facing potential danger at every corner.
The Madonna of Notre-Dame
(La Madone de Notre-Dame)
by Alexis Ragougneauy
Publisher: Viviane Hamy
One August 16th, the day after the Assumption procession organized by Notre-Dame de Paris, a very beautiful young woman dressed all in white is found dead inside the most visited religious building in the French capital. Seated like one of the faithful on a bench in the ambulatory, wearing an extremely provocative dress, her gaze fixed on the statue of the Virgin, she topples to the floor when a stout lady tourist plumps herself down beside her. This "bomb," first spotted by a supervisor very early in the morning, has been there for almost two hours amid the hordes of impatient visitors and all their comings-and-goings without anyone noticing that her soul has taken leave of her body. But now it is all hands on deck! A young public prosecutor, Claire Kauffman, arrives on the scene. Landard, a sleazy chief inspector, and Gombrowicz his greenhorn assistant are already there. The inquiry takes off at top speed. Everyone is interrogated: cathedral staff members both temporal and spiritual, tourists, participants in the procession of the day before. There is a consensus: the young woman was in the vicinity during the procession – and her presence caused quite a scandal. When suspicion begins falling too easily on a young man who is "crazy" about the Virgin Mary and who has the looks of a blond angel, Father Kern, who, as every summer, is a replacement priest at Notre-Dame, realizes that he must conduct his own investigation in parallel with the official one.
Born in 1973, the actor and dramatist Alexis Ragougneau has published several plays with Éditions de L’Amandier and Éditions La Fontaine. Some of these have been produced in Switzerland and France (notably at the Théâtre de La Tempête and at La Cartoucherie), or read (at the Théâtre du Rond-Point). His work has been hailed by critics and he is the recipient of many grants, in particular from the French Ministry of Culture and the Centre National du Livre. The Madonna of Notre-Dame is Ragougneau's first novel.
Read excerpt (English) translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith
Last Stop: Belz
by Emmanuel Grand
Publisher. Liana Levi
One cold winter day Marko Varonin and three Ukrainian companions leave their country and head for France, concealed in the back of a truck. The trip could take a few hours but their vicious Romanian smugglers decide they want to “have fun” with one of them, a young woman. The stowaways manage to overpower the Romanians, steal the truck, and get their money back. But they know the Romanian Mafiosi will try to take revenge and only by going their separate ways can they evade them.
Marko heads for Brittany. Thanks to a newspaper ad, he quickly finds work with a fisherman on Belz, an island cut off from the world. But he also discovers that the place is not as calm as he’d hoped. Deep-sea fishing is not what it once was; new hires are rare on trawlers, and fishermen dislike losing their jobs to foreigners. Strange events are stirring up the small community, raising the specter of ancient legends, superstitions, and supernatural occurrences. On the « Island of Madmen, » as Belz is known, men are above all afraid of the sign of the Ankou, the Angel of Death. When a horrible crime is committed, the islanders suspect Marko of having awakened that mythical creature. With no identity papers, plunged in a hostile universe, Marko will have a hard time proving his innocence, fleeing both Romanian assassins and the French police, distinguishing truth from lies, and casting out his own demons.
With a solidly constructed plot, spellbinding atmosphere, and worlds that collide brilliantly, Emmanuel Grand’s thriller hurtles from East to West at breakneck speed.
Emmanuel Grand was born in Versailles in 1966 and spent his childhood in the Vendée, 20 kilometers from the Atlantic coast. Today he lives in Colombes (Ile de France). He is the head of the website design team for a large telecommunications company. Last Stop: Belz is his first novel.
Read excerpt (English) translated from the French by Jeanine Herman