Saturday, May 28, 2011

OO-LA-LA!

 
How about a new (to U.S.) series of mysteries that take place in the twenty years or so before the French Revolution in 1789? Sounds good doesn't it? Our detective is Nicolas Le Floch. The police force is new to Paris and Floch is new to both the police force and Paris.

I discovered these books, there are 5 so far, poking around on the Internet. I was looking for a novel I had read a thousand years ago about a lace maker in sixteenth century Paris. Sounds like quite the page turner, right? Well it was and someday when the stars a line, when Mercury collides with Mars, when Sourcebooks* reprints it, I will find but until then what I found instead was the website for Gallic Books, "the best of French in English". Well blow me down. I am always interested in novels in translation. If the translation is into English. Any other language? Not so much. Does that make me a small person?

So. The Le Floch mysteries? Voila! They are terrific. Le Floch like all detectives is an outsider. He's an orphan from Breton where he had worked himself up to the respectable position of a legal clerk. Through the five novels his origins become less of a riddle and his experience and intelligence bring him an erudite sophistication, promotions and a few enemies.

The crimes in the books take Le Floch from back alleys to Versailles, from beggars to royalty from squalor to splendor. Every possible walk of life in eighteenth century France is examined and brought to life within these mysteries. The author, Jean-Francois Parot fills the plots with a large variety of characters and settings. He writes in a somewhat old fashioned style that fits the time period without being mannered or too colloquial. These are books where the descriptions of the food, the habitats and habits are as vivid as the crime scenes.

In all historical fiction you know what's coming next and the authors have to work with and against your knowledge. In the Le Floch series the reader knows that in almost twenty years the Revolution is coming. Parot does an excellent job in setting up the politics of the pre-revolutionary period from all different sides. Le Floch struggles as much with crime as he does with ministers, bureaucrats, free thinkers, business men and the socially ambitious of the 1760's. It's all fascinating but never over takes the importance of the plot.

You do not have to read the series in order, but doing so does enhance the experience. So in order the Le Floch are:

1. The Ch√Ętelet Apprentice

2. The Man With The Lead Stomach

3. The Phantom of Rue Royale

4. The Nicolas le Floch Affair

5. The Saint-Florentin Murders

Aren't those covers gorgeous? The design, the typeface, the artwork--it is all a perfect fit. As much as I am a fan of the time period, it was the covers (Of course!) that sold me.

I do not know if any or all of these books are available from a used bookstore in the U.S. They have not been published here so they are not available new at your local. After I found them on the publishers site I asked a fabulous friend who lives in London to get them for me. How spoiled am I?

Why haven't the Le Floch books been published here? They are terrific reads. The translations are done, thank you Howard Curtis and Michael Glencross, so what's holding up the works? Are they not Scandinavian enough? Some sharp eyed editor needs to make an acquisition, my friends. And! Keep the same covers!
 
*Let me say it! Sourcebooks has a fabulous back into print publishing program featuring authors like Georgette Heyer and Daphne du  Maurier but just try finding them and other writers on the Sourcebooks website. Extremely annoying and not user friendly.

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