The roman policier
, or detective novel, has long been popular in France, but few works by French authors have received much attention in other countries. Jean-Christophe Grange's Blood-Red Rivers
enjoyed considerable success in France (film rights have already been sold), and has arrived to test American waters.
When a mutilated corpse is discovered wedged in an isolated crevice on a rock face outside Guernon, a university town in the French Alps, Pierre Niémans--a brilliant Parisian detective given to uncontrollable fits of violence--arrives to investigate. Eager to escape the cloud of an official inquiry into his behavior (beating a hooligan so violently that the man is in a coma), Niémans swaggers into the tiny town, torn between outrage at being exiled and determination to prove himself to the superiors he detests. The body hints at a long history of animosity between the university and the townspeople; when another body is found frozen in a glacier, Niémans' investigation becomes linked to that of another maverick policeman, Karim Abdouf, who has a chip on his shoulder even bigger than Niémans's. Abdouf is attempting to discover why a child's tomb has been desecrated, and why all official traces of that child's existence have disappeared. When he discovers that the child's mysterious, beautiful mother comes from Guernon, Abdouf realizes that the antagonism between town and gown is not a matter of philosophy, but of life and death.
Blood-Red Rivers possesses the seeds of an interesting concept, but its promise is overwhelmed by a plot that lurches from one absurdity to another, clumsy characterization, a tedious reliance on clichéd dialogue, and a too-literal translation. It was touted by a review in Le Figaro as "the best thriller since Silence of the Lambs," but there's no comparison between Grange's novel and Thomas Harris's skilled plotting, concise language, and disturbingly sympathetic portrait of a madman. Given the number of truly talented French mystery and thriller authors, one hopes that more promising works will soon be sent across the Atlantic. --Kelly Flynn
From Publishers Weekly
A trigger-happy police superintendent from Paris and a dreadlocked maverick Arab policeman from a small French town are unlikely partners in this intricate thriller by French journalist Grang?. First separately, then together, Pierre Ni?mans and Karim Abdouf investigate a mind-boggling case involving suspected ritual killings, mistaken identities and long-held grudges in the French Alps. After Ni?mans nearly kills a machete-wielding rioter during a street mel?e, he is sent to the prosperous university town of Guernon to investigate the murder of a 25-year-old university librarian, who has been tortured, strangled and wedged up in the rock face of a towering glacier in the Alps. Interviews with the victim's beautiful bitchy wife and the young rock-climbing ice queen professor who found the body captivate Ni?mans, but another young man is discovered killed and tortured before the veteran detective is able to make much progress on the case. Meanwhile, Abdouf is pursuing his own investigation into the desecration of a mysterious child's grave in a nearby depressed small town. Fifteen years after the boy was buried, Abdouf finds himself searching for clues to his true identity and picks up a thread that leads him to Guernon and Ni?mans. Dozens of falsified files from the maternity ward at the university hospital, an old story of a woman who believed she and her daughter were being pursued by demons, and the gradually emerging outline of a killer's remorseless drive for revenge finally guide Ni?mans and Abdouf to a terrifying, climactic scene at river's edge. This brainteaser will have readers tied up in knots long before Grang?'s Gallic version of the Odd Couple join forces in the last quarter of the book. Though the denouement, in which a decades-old megalomaniacal scheme is revealed, strains credibility, Grang?'s fully developed charactersAparticularly second-generation French-Arab AbdoufAkeep the tale firmly anchored in reality. (Aug.)
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