Franck Guerin of the Brigade Criminelle from the pen of David Barrie. It's a good two years since I shared a few expressos with Franck and I was beginning to think I'd seen the last of him. But like all good detectives they always turn up when you aren't expecting them. In fact it's Franck who is rudely awakened in the middle of the night and whisked off to a location somewhere rural, without so much as a few moments to bolt back his ritual morning expresso. His old job has come back to haunt him as the DCRI (counter espionage/terrorism), led by his old boss the steely chain smoking Catherine Vautrin, try to close in on eco-terrorist Grabriel Agostini, an elusive character who doesn't flinch at murder to advance his ideals and whose escape four years ago at the infamous Corsican Incident resulted in Franck's forced career change. Agostini is nowhere to be seen but the scene of the tip-off is found to be occupied by famed intellectual Jean-Jacques Marsay, who it turns out is writing a book about the terrorist and his organisation. On returning to Paris Franck is called to a murder scene with Marsay's editor Virginie Desmoulins, lying in a pool of her own blood and tied to her bed.
As ever the investigation follows Franck's gathering of the threads that connect the victims and their potential killers. Franck isn't one for car chases or gratuitous action scenes, instead he meets for probing conversations in Paris' multitude of cafes, empty expresso cup already cooling at his elbow, as he seeks out the chinks in everyone's armour, collecting secrets and contradictions like ammunition for the fight. Agostini has lurked in the background of several of Frank's investigations in the past but none so much as this one. Franck's search for Virginie's killer brings him into territory that Vautrin and her DCRI occupy, but with both parties believing that their own target takes precedence inter-departmental cooperation isn't to the fore.
The intellectual world of Marsay, his voice and philosophies come across well, which isn't always the case when an author creates a character who is supposedly more intellectual than themselves. France treats its philosophers and big thinkers differently than many cultures, giving them status and veneration akin to celebrities elsewhere. It makes for an interesting background for the investigation with Marsay's notoriety overlapping his wife's profile in the French film industry as a respected actress and the inner workings of the publishing world behind Marsay's upcoming controversial book.
Barrie's plot is intricate enough to keep folk guessing until the 'pages remaining' grows thin. Though the clues are all there if you backtrack. Apart from Franck's official team working under the judicial eye of Yves de Chaumont, he sometimes consults Sylvie Thomas on matters with a monetary factor, finance and big business being one of the detective's blind spots. And Sonia Delemazure, a model, usually turns up, sometimes with a troop. Think the antithesis of the Baker Street Irregulars with an access all areas pass to the high and the famous. She also has some of the lighter scenes with Franck as we learn the level of knowledge he has of bras and his proficiency at Pétanque (a type of Boules).
The strengths of the previous books are all there as usual; strong sense of place, good characterisation and intelligent plotting. Paris is brought alive throughout with the backstreets and nooks featuring just as much as the tourist traps.
Tight-Lipped is out in paperback in October 2014. If you pick up a copy fire up the expresso machine, and find a quiet spot but just remember.... don't try to keep up with Franck.
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