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 Bridge – Brouillard 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 Paris – Mysteries 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?