“Warning. This is a novel. Everything is true and everything is false”. This laconic prologue sets the tone for this marvellously sophisticated, strong thriller, set in a town (I think fictional) called Pondage in Lorraine, northern France. Previously the engine of the country via its iron and steel works, the region has fallen into hard times, now revived somewhat by the Daewoo cathode-ray factory which attracts millions in EU subsidies and is a major local employer. There is something not right about the factory, though. We first see it from the perspective of the workers, with two horrible assembly-line accidents, an unfair dismissal and the discovery by the workforce that its long-overdue bonuses will not be paid for many more months. The result of these provocations is a flash strike, brilliantly described, which ends in dangerous chaos.
The action gradually broadens out from these small beginnings into a huge network of the connections alluded to in the title of the book. The local economy, the police investigation of the strike, the privatisation of ‘Thomson’ (France’s largest military-electronics concern), the Korean methods of doing business, and the heart of the country’s government itself are all gradually revealed to have their places in this grimly corrupt, venal society in which financial, violent and indeed any crimes are entrenched at all scales, from the small to the institutional, abetted at all levels.
As well as this superb plotting and rising to the challenge of making her cruel world utterly believable, Manotti tells a great human story, focusing on some of the workers and the fallout they experience in the weeks after the strike, as well as on Charles Montoya, a failed ex-cop who is sent to Pondage by one of the interested parties in the Thomson buy-out to find out what is going on. Montoya’s arrival and quick discoveries spark a burst of violent responses, one of them in particular very tragic.
Manotti has written an unflinching, knowledgeable and tough book, convincingly cynical about the way businesses and countries are run (nobody reading it could be surprised about the current financial meltdown in Europe). She is extremely good at depicting the adaptations individuals make to this world in which they find themselves, in particular the workers of North African origin. The combination of passion, politics and sheer ruthlessness that runs through all walks of life is confidently and persuasively presented. Although there is little to be happy about by the end of the book, the author provides a glimmer of light in one character, who cleverly manipulates the convoluted situation to win (one hopes) a better life elsewhere. A perfect crime novel, so well written and beautifully translated, all within 200 pages.
I borrowed this book from the library. It deservedly won the CWA International Dagger award in 2008.
Wikipedia: fascinating article about the rise and fall of Daewoo.
Three other books by Manotti have been translated into English. I’ve reviewed two of them: Rough Trade and Affairs of State (both excellent). Rough Trade, set in Paris, is the first of a series about Inspector Daquin. The second, Dead Horsemeat, has been translated and is reviewed by Karen at Euro Crime. Affairs of State is a political thriller set within the Mitterrand administration – highly recommended!