Book review: Affairs of State by Dominique Manotti

Manotti 1
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Manotti 4 Affairs of State by Dominique Manotti.
Translated by Ros Schwartz and Amanda Hopkinson.
(EuroCrime, Arcadia, 2009. First published in France, 2001.)

This superbly exciting political thriller, set in the 1980s, takes as its premise a saying of Francois Mitterrand, who appears once or twice in its pages: “Money corrupts, money buys, money crushes, money kills, money ruins, money rots men’s consciences.” The central character, or at least main influence in the novel, is Francois Bornand, who has no official position in government but, as a friend of the president and part of the elite French establishment, has the influence to do whatever he wants. He’s involved in all kinds of sleazy operations, not least international arms dealing. Much of what makes him such a horrifyingly fascinating creation is his amorality – just how far will he go to further his own interests or to protect himself when his plans go wrong, and how many people will suffer?
A more conventional part of the plot from the crime-fiction perspective concerns the cop Noria Ghozali, a young woman who has escaped from an abusive family background and who is now fighting to be recognised as a good detective (which she is), despite institutionalised racism, sexism and protectionism in the police force. Noria’s survival tactics to escape her past have taught her much about street life, so when a woman’s murdered body is found near a downmarket housing estate, she’s got a pretty good idea of how to go about tracing her last movements and hence to find her identity, the first step to solving the mystery of her death: a mystery whose solution seems to involve a very tangled mesh of people and circumstances.  

Affairs of State is a tense, exciting and masterly novel about the abuse of power and wealth by the French inner establishment. Businessmen, politicians, civil servants, lawyers and journalists are all tangled together in a network of class, contacts and favours owed. Corruption is everywhere, and those who are not tainted, such as the magistrate in charge of the murder investigation, are in grave danger of being silenced in other ways.

Dominique Manotti writes with muscular assurance – she seems to understand and convey the world as experienced by Bornard and other very senior men with effortless, instinctive ease. Doubtless this is much aided by the capable translators, but in addition to their talents,  I think Manotti’s style is like that of  no other female author I’ve come across in her “under the skin”, unflinching portrayal of the cruel male psyche, for whom sex is a means of power and used to humiliate, and for whom everything in life is just another deal with the devil.  I was also entranced by the character of Noria, who does not appear enough in my opinion, particularly in the second half of the book, and I hope very much to see her again. 
Those who have seen the French TV series Spiral will recognise similarities in the depictions of the French legal, political and police systems, and there are also several similarities of plot themes, although the book and the TV series veer in different directions as they reach their respective destinations. I wonder if France really is like this?!  Whether it is or not, Manotti has written a blistering book, skewering this particular form of evil in a compelling, sophisticated and exciting way. What a great read!

More about the book and the author at the publisher's website. It seems to have gone through several iterations of cover art; the version I read is the one with the map of Africa, on the far right.

Reviews of Dominique Manotti's books at Euro Crime.

Affairs of State reviewed at International Crime Fiction, Glenn Harper's blog, and by Daniel Kelleher at his blog.

Sixty seconds with Dominique Manotti at Reviewing the Evidence.

The cover of the edition I purchased states "Now a major film", but I've found no evidence of it. If anyone knows about a film of this book, please let me know! Thank you.

Dominique Manotti teaches nineteenth-century Economic History. Rough Trade, her first novel, was awarded the top prize for the best thriller of the year by the French Crime Writers Association. Lorraine Connection has won the 2008 CWA Duncan Lawrie International Dagger Award and was nominated for the 2008 ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards. Her other titles include Dead Horsemeat.

6 thoughts on “Book review: Affairs of State by Dominique Manotti

  1. Sigh. Another one added to my list. Although between it and Sprial it may taint forever the image I have in my head of France. Intellecutally I know it’s not full of bicycling chaps in striped tops carrying baguettes under their arms (heck it’s the only country in the world I’ve ever been robbed at knifepoint) but a girl can day dream can’t she?

  2. Maxine – Thanks for this excellent review. Like Bernadette, I’ve added yet another book to my TBR list because of you ; ). Seriously, this does sound fantastic, and I’m intrigued by the Noria character. She sounds compelling. Bernadette – you were really robbed? How horrible!

  3. “The cover of the edition I purchased states “Now a major film”, but I’ve found no evidence of it. If anyone knows about a film of this book, please let me know! Thank you.”
    “Une affaire d’état”.
    Nov. 2009
    Dir: Eric Valette
    Starring: André Dussolier; Rachida Brakni; Thierry Frémont…

  4. Thanks, Jose and Kino for the information about the film! And Jose, your comment is very useful because you kindly provide the link to the IMDB, thank you.
    And thanks, all, for your kind remarks. I really liked this book, particularly because of the perspective of the author as she gets into her characters. I haven’t mentioned much of the plot(s) in the review so as not to spoil anyone’s enjoyment…

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