Monday, July 14, 2008


Pondange, Lorraine, in this former iron and steel manufacturing region the conditions in the Daewoo factory, which manufactures cathode ray tubes, are abysmal. 
There is an accident and one of the workers on the production line the pregnant Emilienne is electrocuted. Marechal the foremen tries to restrain Rolande Lepetit, a tall blonde who supports her alcoholic mother and young son, as she tries to help her pregnant injured colleague. 

Rolande clouts Marechal and is dismissed later by the head of human resources. 
The workers protest go out on strike and seize the factory. During the ensuing chaos Park the CEO and the rest of the Korean management flee and the strikers lead by Nourredine and Hafed search the offices and examine the computers. Etienne Neveu is able to get into the computer files and finds a lot of  pornography as well as details of secret bank accounts in Luxembourg opened in the names of several workers. 
He also sees the arsonists who torch the factory, and runs around telling people. 
'I saw the two guys who started the fire, you know.' 

The Matra-Daewoo alliance unexpectedly wins the bid to take over the ailing state owned electronics giant Thomson. Rival contender Alcatel believes there was foul play involved in the defeat of their well prepared bid, and Roger Valentin their head of security [ a former deputy director of state security with powerful contacts] brings in a tough private cop Charles Montoya to investigate and smear the Matra-Daewoo bid. 

At the factory among those who heard Etienne say he saw the arsonists were the smooth local big wig  Quignard, who takes over the running of the factory, and Tomaso an ex mercenary who runs a nightclub and has a finger in many other nefarious activities. 
When Etienne has an unfortunate 'accident', Montoya realises that Aisha, Etienne's latest conquest who was with him during the factory takeover, and Rolande are at risk. The police meanwhile have come to all of the wrong conclusions aided of course by Quignard's friendship with the local superintendent.

Don't be fooled by the charmingly benign photograph of Dominique Manotti I posted earlier, this is a tough violent no-nonsense thriller. We are taken from the very  grim factory floor to elegant plush offices learning about the raw side of big business and the seedy side of politics. 
The novel which was not surprisingly 'controversial in its native France' [The Bookseller:Maxim Jakubowski] lifts the lid on how some companies will resort to murder, blackmail and dirty tricks to survive.
It is virtually a treatise against globalisation, EU subsidies, and the oppressive exploitation of both women and the poor Arab communities in France. 
What I liked particularly was that the almost documentary style did not detract from getting to know the various characters. The narrative and dialogue are supplemented by the participants thoughts in italics and this gives the reader a sense of being right there in the action. 
This is a complicated story with a lot of characters, lots of intrigue and wheeler dealing but well worth the extra effort to get into the plot. It is very French in its slightly quirky taut style, and much more like an intelligent thriller than a mystery.
I consider it  a worthy winner of the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger.

Author Dominique Manotti is a professor of nineteenth century economic history in Paris. Her co-translators are Amanda Hopkinson, Director of the British Centre for Literary at the University of East Anglia, and Ros Schwartz, who has previously worked with crime writers Sebastien Japrisot and Yasmina Khadra.

"Welcome to the delightful world of arms dealing. As the Marquise du Deffand said: It is only taking the first step that is difficult."


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