Written by Seth Lynch — If you are looking for a dark, moody recreation of 1930s Paris, complete with dubious gangs and hard-hitting policemen, then this book is sure to appeal. Salazar is an English war veteran, traumatised by his experiences in World War I, who has chosen to set up as a private investigator in Paris. He is not very successful to date, with only two cases to his name – perhaps because he is also rather work-shy, despite having an eye for damsels in distress.
However, one day a young woman hires him to look for a Belgian man called Gustave Marty. Salazar discovers the missing man was both a philanderer and a money fraudster, so there seems to be no shortage of reasons why he might not want to be found. This starts out as a straightforward case, then suddenly turns very nasty indeed. Someone is trying to stop Salazar from finding Marty, even if it means silencing him for good. Eventually, the detective starts to question just why he is hunting down this man, and whose side he is really on.
Salazar is very like Sam Spade: cynical, funny and completely unstoppable, with a steady supply of sharp one-liners. He is also the quintessential outsider with an insider’s knowledge: familiar with French culture, yet sufficiently detached from it to be able to see the humorous side of things. Statements such as, ‘If you ever want to invade France, do it between 12 and 2. There’ll be nobody around to stop you,’ will endear him instantly to anyone who has ever spent any time in France. I really enjoyed the interactions between Salazar and his French neighbours, as well as the affectionate quips about cultural differences.
The first person narrative can be both a blessing and a shortcoming in a fast-paced book like this one. Its strength lies in the fact that we have a very strong sense of Salazar’s own voice. The downfall is that the plot feels too linear, too much of a step-by-step account of the main hero’s searches and the knocks he has to endure, which can start to sound repetitive after a while. This, to my mind, prevents the novel from hanging together in a coherent fashion, although there are many excellent individual scenes.
Yet for all fans of noir, I would recommend this novel as an interesting riff on the sub-genre. Noir may be a French word, but it was American writers such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler who defined the taut, heavy-set language that has become associated with noir fiction the world over. This novel tries to combine both the world-weary ambiguity of the French worldview, as well as the short, unemotional American sentences filled with barbed wit. Most of the time it succeeds in this, juxtaposing sordid details with important life questions.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars