Written by Frédérique Molay, translated by Anne Trager — If your tastes tend towards the gory and you enjoy your crime set in a foreign clime, then this could be the book for you. Molay is the holder of a slew of international crime fiction awards and has been described as the French Michael Connelly, so it all boded well for a cracking read.
Subtitled ‘a Paris Homicide Mystery’ and with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on the cover, there was never any doubt about the setting of this novel. The initial plot premise is unique. At Paris Descartes University, a roomful of student dentists are labouring away. Today’s topic is wisdom tooth surgery, and each student is bent over the freshly severed head of a body donated to medical science. See? Told you it was gory. It is all run of the mill for Professor Etienne – until one of his proteges spots something odd in a filling. They set the head aside for further inspection and call the police straight away when the oddity is revealed. It is a slim piece of plastic bearing the chilling message ‘I was murdered’.
Chief Nico Sirsky is called to head up the investigation. He has not long returned to his work in the Criminal Investigation Division (known as La Crim’) after a career-threatening injury picked up in the line of duty. But, this is not a man content to sit back and direct proceedings from behind a desk. His interest is further piqued when it transpires that the victim is Bruno Guedj, whose death had been labelled an apparent suicide – although the discovery of the message surely puts that in doubt. As does the fact that the person who fired the gun that killed him was right handed, and Guedj was not.
As the team dig deeper, they begin to realise that Bruno’s is not the only suspicious death to have occurred in recent times. But who could be behind it all, and why? What is the connection between what at first glance seem a disparate group? There are myriad dead ends in this maze-like plot before Sirsky and his team manage to solve the mystery – and the who, how and why is quite a stretch.
The author has meticulously researched her subject, and her descriptions of the inner workings of the French system of policing, its politics and, to a British reader, strange ways of handling the case gave this book an unusual edge which will appeal to fans of the police procedural, but I nevertheless found myself getting bogged down in the location descriptions and literally losing the plot on occasions.
Crossing the Line is the second book to feature Nico Sirsky – The 7th Woman was the first – and although he is no Harry Bosch, he is definitely a character ripe for a third appearance in print. Nico is a good cop who is well respected by his team and his bosses, and a man who passionately believes in justice. He may have risen up the career ladder, but he is not afraid of getting his hands dirty in pursuit of the truth. While his working life is exemplary, his home life does have a few issues though. Nico’s ex-wife is in rehab and he is toying with the idea of asking his latest girlfriend, Caroline, to move in with him and his son, Dmitri. It is refreshing to see a male police officer working hard to juggle home and work – an area usually left to the girls in crime fiction.
Le French Book
CFL Rating: 3 Stars