Book review: Lorraine Connection by Dominique Manotti

Lorraine Connection
by Dominique Manotti
translated by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz
Arcadia, 2008 (first published 2006)

“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.

Other reviews of this book: Crime Scraps, Euro Crime (Laura Root), The Game’s Afoot, Reviewing the Evidence (Sharon Wheeler) and International Noir Fiction.

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!

25 thoughts on “Book review: Lorraine Connection by Dominique Manotti

  1. Maxine: I’m glad you enjoyed this book. You made a good point with the current financial meltdown in Europe. An excellent review.

  2. Same here. I was thoroughly impressed with this and Dominique Manotti’s other books. I’m wondering if there are more that haven’t been translated yet?

  3. Maxine thanks for the link and your superb review. I agree Manotti really gets the endemic corruption among the French political and business elite. I hear knives won’t be available at state dinners in the Elysee if Segolene Royal and Valerie Treitweller are both present.

  4. Maxine – An outstanding review, for which thanks. One of the things that appeals to me about this is the way that the larger issues are brought down to the personal level. I think that makes the issues all the more urgent and suspense all the greater. And it’s done within 200 pages? That makes it all the more appealing! No “doorstop alert!”🙂

    • Thanks, Margot, it is the first time in a while I’ve reached the end of a book & been disappointed that it was the end, rather than feeling an air of relief that I’d made it through 400-500 not-entirely-necessary pages!

  5. I’m a great fan of Manotti’s books. I think I’ve reviewed this one, plus the first two Daquin books, for RTE. I read the third one in French, but I’m desperate for them to translate it so I can see what my rusty French missed!

    • Yes, Sharon, I’ve just found your RTE review – excellent, as ever. Sorry that it did not come up in a search when I wrote the post, but I’ve added it in now.

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  7. I have this one!! Great review. I don’t know why I bought it but I got it a long time ago. Now I will move it to the iPad.

  8. Is The Lorraine Connection written in the same style as Affairs of State, which many people I know had trouble following?

    • No, I’d say not. Although high-level corruption comes into LC, I’d say the plot is simpler & more linear. The entry-point of the factory workers is a good way to hook the reader in so s/he can follow the rest, and when the detective comes into it a bit later, that helps also (as he has to go around finding out what’s going on, helpful😉 ).

  9. This sounds really great, thanks very much Maxine – I’m going to wait to see if I can find a translation in Italian (so far no luck). Cheers.

    Sergio

    • Oh, I do hope you succeed, Sergio – as it won the International Dagger in 2008, I’d hope that it was/is translated….

      • I read mostly in English these days, but as Italian is my first language, I usually try to get French translations in my native tongue on the assumption that the two are more linguistically similar (which has nothing to do with the actual quality of the translation of course …)

        • PS well, Amazon in Italy doesn’t seem to offer this tile in Italian … Looks like it will be an English reading experience after all!

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