A beautiful woman lies in the middle of the road stabbed through the heart, an eighteenth-century book clutched in her hand and wrapped in a bloodstained hand-stitched silk shawl.
Franck Guerin of the Brigade Criminelle is soon on the scene, making a welcome fourth outing in David Barrie's intricate Parisian and decidedly noirish detective series.
In the past the novels have been characterised by Franck having to immerse himself in a specialised aspect of Parisian society that he knows absolutely nothing about. Previously he's had to become an unlikely student in the rarefied worlds of lingerie connoisseurs, luxury perfumers and elite ballet dancers but in Hard-Hearted the author breaks the formula.Which is a good thing considering the main suspects are deeply imbedded in the world of high finance. Franck's very deliberate refusal to engage or try to decipher the mechanics of the trading machinations going on is the source of some of the more humourous exchanges. A scene where Sylvie boils it all down for him in a room wallpapered with diagrams is a standout. In contrast the other area that Franck's investigation leads is one of academia, specifically French eighteenth-century literature and even more specifically the ancient book found in the victim's hand; The Tales of Madame de Villeneuve, Volume one. It's the first part of a story that would eventually be rehashed and made famous by another writer and renamed Beauty and the Beast. David Barrie gets lots of mileage thematically and philosophically from some of the symbolism that can be drawn from the ancient fairy tale, weaving them through his plot, the characters and even perhaps Paris itself, as Franck's investigation, in between the posh frocks and lavish soirees, takes him to the city's seamier side.
I like Franck. He's got a wry sense of humour, he's very easy to relate to and best of all he's ever present in the narrative. He's still a man without much in the way of history though, beyond his previous employment fighting eco-terrorists, so it was a bit of a shock to finally meet his father, though the youth of Franck Guerin remains heavily veiled. With everyone scrambling to be the one who discovers the next big euro-noir these days you could do worse than give Franck Guerin a try. They also have the benefit of not being fed through the literary tea strainer of translation as they 're written in English. And they keep on getting better as the author hones his style. I look forward to the next one.