In a strong field of good thrillers and crime books that I’ve read towards the end of 2019, this is right up there. It has won several prizes in France and Europe, and I can completely see why, as funny, sharp, and thrilling. It features the wonderfully droll Patience Portefeux, who is a translator in Arabic in the regular employ of the French police. This affords her an insight into the world of drug dealing between North Africa and the streets of French cities – an insight which she decides to exploit for personal gain.
It’s beautifully done by Cayre – excellently plotted, written engagingly in the first person, and featuring myriad details and context that give depth to both the central character but also to those who are more at the fringes of the tale, like Mme Fo or (poor) Philippe, the detective who loves Patience dearly; or even her wonderfully named dog, DNA. However, it is Patience herself who is drawn best – of Jewish and Arabian descent, the daughter of a Tunisian mafioso (with a penchant for killing people in their back garden) and a camp survivor, she is sandwiched between looking after her mother in a care home and her daughters at university. And she is frustrated at working in a system which provides her with no security and seems to make little real difference.
All of which prompts her to get involved when the opportunity arises, and she starts to deal herself. I won’t divulge too much here, but the title of the film of the book that’s apparently been made tells its own story: Mama Weed. I rooted for Patience from the start – as she ingeniously stays anonymous, becomes fearless and intrepid, and also channels a righteous fury in a way that is admirable.
One of the best thrillers of the year, coming right at the end, and highly recommended.
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