On Jacques-Pierre Amette’s Le Lac d’Or, Léo Malet’s New Mysteries of Paris and Eugène Sue’s Mysteries of Paris

Unfortunately there is no English translation of Amette’s excellent crime novel Le Lac d’Or whose title is the name of a Chinese restaurant that is an important refuge for the main character in this book and aptly indicates the setting, Chinatown in Paris. Only one of Amette’s numerous books – the Goncourt Prize winning  Brecht’s Lover  or La Maîtresse de Brecht – has been translated so far.

It’s a pity as Le Lac d’Or (2008) is a great read and it’s no wonder he has been compared to Léo Malet and Georges Simenon. Like Malet’s Fog on the Tolbiac BridgeBrouillard au Pont de Tolbiac, Amette’s novel is deeply rooted in the 13th Arrondissment. Place d’Italy, Pont de Tolbiac, Chinatown. It’s not one of my favourite arrondissements but it’s a part of Paris nonetheless. In any case, the 13th is one of those arrondissements that hasn’t any tourist appeal. It is an area with many atypically high buildings, concrete passageways, bridges and as said before, Paris’ Chinatown. But not even Chinatown is very picturesque.

At the heart of the novel is police inspector Barbey who has to investigate the murder of a prostitute. Chloë wasn’t a simple prostitute, she was a police informant and his ex lover. Why they split is not clear as they seem to have been made for each other, what is clear however is that the separation still hurts him, even some years later.

At the time of her murder Chloë was informing on a group of gangsters who regularly rented a few rooms in a hotel in the 13th. They have plenty of reasons why they would want Chloë dead. Reasons and opportunity.

The ending is not what one would expect but it isn’t completely surprising either. Amette’s strength is the description of a lesser known Paris and his likable but sad and exhausted inspector. There were a few interesting bits on the murder of a prostitute and that people think far less in terms of victim when the person who has been murdered was a prostitute. The most important aspect however is that this book is rooted in a tradition that started with Eugène Sue’s Mysteries of Paris.

The book put me in the mood to read some of the Léo Malet titles I haven’t read yet, one of which the afore-mentioned Brouillard sur le Pont de Tolbiac – Fog on the Tolbiac Bridge. Or Eugène Sue. Malet followed Eugène Sue’s famous Les mystère de ParisMysteries of Paris, calling his series the “new mysteries of Paris”. Each of his short and taut books is dedicated to another Parisian arrondissement.  I liked all of those I read. He captures the places well, the stories are interesting, the tone is unique.

If you look for a Paris-set series in English, then I’ve heard that Cara Black is quite good but I haven’t tried her yet. I think she also changes arrondissements from one book to the other.

Have you read Léo Malet or Eugène Sue? Or Amette’s Brecht’s Lover?

This post is my first contribution to Karen’s and Tamaras‘s event Paris in July.

37 thoughts on “On Jacques-Pierre Amette’s Le Lac d’Or, Léo Malet’s New Mysteries of Paris and Eugène Sue’s Mysteries of Paris

  1. Caroline: pity indeed. I know that I would love this. I’m also a Malet fan and have read most of the books translated into English. I have some Sue on the kindle, and of course know about the Balzac connection.

    Re: Black, yes she has her fans, but she didn’t work for me. It was too chic lit. Sprinkled with French phrases which gives a veneer of authenticity, and while the author is obviously a Francophile, it was too girly and giddy for my tastes.

    • I’m sure you’d like it. Unfortunately it’s not a series, I wouldn’t have minded reading another one.
      Too bad about Black. I got one of her books as I was curious. Sometimes that type of sprinkling is more trite than authentic.
      I need to read Sue sooner or later. It’s huge though.

      • I got all 6 volumes of the Mysteries of Paris FREE for the kindle. I’ll be interested to see what you think of Black. Hugely popular, as I said. Just not my thing.

        • I had a feeling she was quite popular. I’ll certainly review it if i get to it.
          Now that you mention the kindle… The French version should be available for free as well. Off to check.

  2. Oh this does sound good caroline hope some english publish picks them up maybe bitter lemon or Gallic ,There is a french crime set in Paris due out from Machlehose soon bed of nails by Antonin Varenne I ve got it but not read it yet ,all the best stu

  3. I’ve read Brecht’s Lover, or some of it, but I didn’t enjoy it much. I can’t remember why now. Maybe a crime novel would be more interesting.

    • I just read a German book about German women writers during WWII and Brecht’s circle is quite important that’s why I’m curious to read it. Too bad you can’t remember why it didn’t work.

  4. When I think about, at least here in the States, we never hear anything about Paris that does not center on the famous districts. I assume of course that French literature would be little more geographically balanced. I think that it would be enlightening to hear more about this these “offbeat” areas. Of course, the tales set in New York invariably take place in the well known parts.

    • Yes, that’s true. Many people don’t even know that there is a Chinatown in Paris, although “China” is misleading as there are more Cambodians and Vietnamese which is logical, given the history.
      There are a few arrondissements without tourist appeal but some are like hidden gems, this one isn’t. I really do not like it much myself.

  5. I used to read French nicely ten years ago, but i haven’t tried for ages… maybe this book is just what i need to get back in practice. Thanks Caroline, it sounds like an enchanting mystery!

    Do visit!

    • Yes, it’s well done. I can’t really say whether it’s difficult to read for a non native speaker, as it’s one of my mother tongues but I think, it shuldn’t be too hard. let me know how you liked it, if you try.

  6. Caroline – Welcome suggestions on all counts. I’m especially intrigued by the Arnette, since I’d not heard of him but have spent a lot of time exploring the Chinatown of the 13th, which is chock full of hidden wonders (such as the tiny Buddhist temple hidden inside a large parking garage).

    • I hope you can find him. I’d like to read La maîtresse de Brecht as well. The 13th is not an arrondissement with a first sight appeal you have to dig. Some of the restaurants are surprising as they are exactly like they are in China with masses of people eating. And the food is good and dirt cheap.

      • You’re right about the Chinese food in the 13th. For excellent Peking duck you really have to have it in Beijing, but the closest thing to it I’ve had outside of China – by a very wide margin – is at Village Tao Tao just off Place d’Italy. Sssh! Don’t tell anyone.

        • No, I won’t but I might go and try it next time, maybe in August.
          I would have thought that you would get excellent Chinese food in San Francisco. That China town is quite picturesque.

  7. Nice discovery for me. I’ll have a look at it.

    For crime fiction in contemporary Paris: Fred Vargas.
    Or, for cozy crime fiction in Paris at La Belle Epoque : Claude Izner
    Or, for crime fiction in Paris in the 18thC : Jean-François Parot.

    • Thank you for your suggestions. I’ve read Vargas but the other two are new to me. Amette’s book is quite slim, so even if you wouldn’t like it as much, you culd easly finsih it.

  8. Nice review, Caroline! I love the cover of ‘Le Lac d’Or’. What is the meaning of ‘Lac’? I think that ‘Or’ means ‘gold’. Does this ‘Lac’ have the same meaning as that in ‘Lancelot du Lac’? This book looks like an interesting mystery. Unfortunately, I haven’t read many mysteries set in Paris, except for a few Georges Simenon novels. I would like to read this book if it gets translated in French. Or maybe like some of the others, I should start practising my French 🙂 I want to read ‘Brecht’s Lover’ now, after reading your thoughts on it. I can’t wait to read your next post on ‘July in Paris’.

    • Thanks, Vishy and yes you are right it is the same as “lac” in Lancelot du Lac which means “lake” or “pond”. The Golden Pond would be an accurate translation. Lancelot has been stolen from his parents by the fairie of a lake “la dame du lac” called Viviane.
      Guy has mentioned he downloaded the English trasnlation of The Mysteries of Paris for free on the kindle and I just downloaded the first part of the French. It seesm to be very atmospheric. An autumn read for me, when it’s cool and foggy outside.
      I hope you will participate as well in July in Paris.

      • Thanks Caroline! I didn’t know that Lancelot was stolen from his parents by the lady of the lake. I need to read Lancelot’s story again. Nice to know that ‘The Mysteries of Paris’ is available online. Hope you enjoy reading it. Happy reading!

        • He is one of my favourite characters of the Arthurian legend. And Merlin, of course.
          I’ve read quite a few books when I studied Medieval French literature.

  9. I own a copy of La Maitresse de Brecht but haven’t got to it yet (same old story!). This looks very good, though. I think French crime is fantastic, but then I was brought to it by Sebastien Japrisot, and they don’t come much better than him. I’ll look out for this novel.

    • French crime has its very own appeal. I haven’t read Japrisot but heard only good things. Thanks for reminding me. I’m still considering including his Un long dimanche de fiançailles in next year’s readalong.
      I really want to read Brecht’s Lover especially after having read a lot about Becht recently.

  10. This sounds good–pity it’s not been translated, but since international crime novels seem very hot right now maybe it will be picked up evenually. I have to second Litlove–I read a bunch of Sebastien Japrisot’s books when they were released here maybe ten years ago or so and thought they were excellent–not sure if they are still in print, but happily I kept my copies–they are definitely books I would happily reread. Strange to think of a Paris Chinatown–but then why not?

    • I suppose it’s a bit of a misnomer. Given France’s history it’s more an Indochina town. But there are many Chinese in Paris too.
      I have a feeling if Amette’s book was part of a series it had a bigger chance to be translated.
      I really need to investigate Japrisot. 🙂

  11. sounds like an interesting mystery. Your review makes me curious of what really happened to Chloe and how was the ending.

    has French lit been translated a lot? or not that many?

    • I totally know what you mean. Always need to have at least one or two at hand. I hope you can find them. Eugène Sue is available free for he kindle (if you have one).

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