Tuesday, December 18, 2012

International crime, corruption, fraud

The Eyes of Lira Kazan is a new thriller from France, written by a journalist (Judith Perrignon) and a prosecutor (Eva Joly) and translated by Margaret Crosland and Elfreda Powell (published by Bitter Lemon). As you might expect, there's plenty of realistic detail in this story of corruption and murder across international borders, in the age of our current financial crisis. But the story is also compelling and well-written, in a straightforward, ensemble style reminiscent of some of Dominique Manotti's novels (the documentary and ensemble ones more than the series based on a Inspector Daquin). In my opinion, that's a high standard.

The story brings together several threads, from a Nigerian fraud investigator forced to flee the country to a Russian Journalist (the title character), to a court clerk in Nice, a russian oligarch, and a banker-fisherman from the Faroe islands. The oligarch figures mostly in the background, as a ruthless gangster who needs a lot of money laundered, and he thought he had found the perfect laundry in the banking system of the tiny Scandinavian outpost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. But the Faroes bank is caught up in the same house of cards that brought down the banks of Iceland, and suddenly the whole system of illegal currency is threatened with collapse, and with violent retribution. The banker's wife drowns in Nice, dressed in an evening gown, and the clerk and his judge follow the trail of murder and money in dangerous directions.

Lira is at the center of the story: It's her journalistic pursuit of the oligarch that draws the others in (the Russian mobster is implicated not only in the Faroes bank but also in Nigerian fraud and corruption and government machinations in France). Lira travels to London to meet the Nigerian emigre but is attacked on the street, and her injury draws the characters and the story together.

The three crusaders from Russia, Nigeria, and France are threatened not only by the mobster but also by at least 2 governments, and can trust no one. They go on the run and rely ultimately upon the weapons of the 21st century to find at least some measure of justice (in [Spoiler Alert] what seems to me to be a bit of revenge fantasy that leaps just a bit beyond the novels dominant realism and pessimism--not a flaw in the story so much as a bit of skeptical hope built into its conclusion).

This is a slow-paced story that doesn't rely on dramatic representation of violence for its effect (most of the violence is "offstage" or understated). It's the threat felt not only personally but also politically and culturally by these characters that tightens the story and involves the reader. The "good guys" aren't flawless heroes, they're full characters with plenty of flaws, who in many ways draw themselves into the danger that threatens them. If you need a thriller with lots of blood and violence, this is perhaps not the book for you. But if you are looking for something more rooted in the realism of our international milieu, more coomplex and less obvious--I'd recommend The Eyes of Lira Kazan, and I hope Joly and Perrignon keep writing books like this.

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