Saturday, January 02, 2010
Affairs of State, by Dominique Manotti
Dominique Manotti sets each of her crime novels in a particular historical milieu of late-20th-century France (she is, after all, a professor of economic history), and the most recent novel to be translated into English (by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz), Affairs of State, is set in 1985 and deals with the political and social conditions of the late Mittérand administration. The main characters (among a large cast) are Noria Ghozali, a North African female cop (doubly unwelcome by other officers) and François Bornand, a pro-American leftist who is a behind-the-scenes advisor to the president. The plot (far too complicated, or perhaps intricate is the word, to summarize here) deals with the international arms trade (specifically involving Iran, under an embargo at the time because of the Iran-Iraq war), a high-end brothel, competition among police and intelligence services, murder (deliberate and accidental), and the impossibility of prosecuting certain people for crimes ranging from prostitution to murder (because of their political influence). This is the first of Manotti's translated novels to feature a woman in a leading role, but the blurb on the cover, "Featuring Investigator Noria Ghozali," is a bit misleading--Noria is a constant thread through the story but there is really no single "main character" much less hero. Noria, however, is the one character who learns from the sleazy process of politics, crime, and investigation--I don't know if there's a series based on her, but it wold be a strong counterpart to Manotti's series featuring Daquin, a sometimes brutal cop who is none too straight in terms of his sexuality or his police methods (though Daquin is more of a central character in those books). Affairs of State is very French, but also resonates with dirty politics and specific historical circumstances (trade with Iran also featuring in Reagan-era U.S. politics in complex and not very savory ways). It's a terse, short book with few sympathetic characters and with sudden changes of direction and no simple or pat conclusion. And it's one of the best crime novels to appear in 2009 (though my copy didn't arrive until a few days before 2010). Manotti demonstrates how a crime novel can effectively incorporate social events and political realities without sacrificing the story, as well as how a noir story can deeply investigate social circumstances. Arcadia, the publisher of the EuroCrime series in which Affairs of State appears, seems to be changing its covers at the last minute these days. The two that appear here are the one on the copy I received (the map of Africa composed of guns) and the one advertised (the one showing a woman who appears to be a corpse). I would have preferred the one advertised, I think, for its restrained color (the African map is black and white) and its oblique relation to the events of the story (Africa is even more oblique, but definitely involved).