Written by Dominique Sylvain, translated by Nick Caistor — Opening with a fast paced hold up of a Bureau de Change, the The Dark Angel instantly drops you into the seedy underbelly of Parisian life. The culprits – Jean-Luc, Farid, Noah and Menaham – represent disaffected young men the world over. Tapping into the immigrant backgrounds of Farid and Noah in particular, straight away Sylvain conveys a realistic examination of the road to crime that such disaffection can cause.
After the robbery Farid disappears to his girlfriend Vanessa’s home to share his loot, but she is later found murdered in horrible fashion and the money is gone. Lieutentant Jerome Barthelmy from the 10th arrondisement police embarks on the murder investigation. He is still reeling from the departure of his old boss, Lola Jost, and struggling to cope with the sheer buffoonery of his new immediate superior officer. So Barthelemy calls on the redoubtable ex-comissioner Lola to air his frustrations, and her involvement in the case is cemented from this point.
By turns referred to as ‘the fat lady’, ‘the pain in the neck’ and the even less complimentary ‘the bitch’, Lola Jost is a short, unhealthy, foul tempered but has excellent powers of detection. Having left the force following the death of a colleague, she’s struggling to adjust to mundane civilian life, and despite her protestations, is all too eager to participate in the investigation. She is imbued with a natural caustic wit and if ever a character was said not to suffer fools gladly, she is it.
In an inspired piece of plotting Lola teams up with Ingrid Diesel, a statuesque American health freak with a colourful and well-travelled background, whom she meets through Maxime Duchamp, who himself is a key suspect in the case. Ingrid loves Paris and works as a masseur and an exotic dancer. Herein lies the strength of the characterisation, as the two women so defined by their differences, physically, culturally and emotionally, mesh together perfectly as a crime fighting duo par excellence. The humour and natural badiage between the two women leads to some real laugh-out-loud moments as Lola’s dour cynicism is pitted against the puppy dog eagerness of the lively Diesel. Interestingly, through their characterisation, Sylvain’s depiction of Paris takes on a different effect, filtered through the seen-it-all despondency of Lola as a native, and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of Diesel for the city as a visitor. So, we get to see the good and the bad nature of life within the city itself.
The girl’s body was mutilated in a cruel and unusual manner, and suspicion falls on Maxime Duchamp, a charming restauranteur whose suave exterior hides a tragic past. Convinced of his innocence, Lola and Ingrid hit the streets to unmask the real killer, one whose gruesome methods are inspired by a morbid obsession with Japanese manga.
Duchamp was enjoying a dalliance with one of the murdered girl’s flatmates, and as more of his back story is revealed it seems impossible that he wasn’t involved in Vanessa’s murder. However, Lola has an instinctive suspicion of the seemingly open-and-shut case and Ingrid has the hots for the charming Duchamp herself. So they set out to clear his name and discover the real killer, outside the auspices of the Paris police force. As the aforementioned Jean-Luc and the robbery gang enter their line of sight, Sylvain intertwines their involvement with the murdered girl leading to a well-constructed and intriguing tale of jealousy, greed and murder with a surprising conclusion.
It is unusual to find a crime novel that works on so many levels simultaneously in terms of characterisation, location, plotting and dialogue. However, Sylvain achieves this with aplomb, producing not only an extremely readable murder mystery that is defined by location and the social exploration of its plot, but also by her depiction of the two main protagonists and the humour that ensues. I was delighted to discover that this is only the first of a series to be published in the UK featuring Lola Jost and Ingrid Diesel, and will await the others with a sense of impatience. A wholly satisfying read.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars