Loser's Corner by Antonin Varenne and Frank Wynne (translator)
|Loser's Corner by Antonin Varenne and Frank Wynne (translator)|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: An intriguing if not wholly successful mixture of meditative historical novel, thriller and characterful action story. Think perhaps along the lines of Graham Greene for the content and you're halfway there.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: December 2014|
|Publisher: MacLehose Press|
Meet Georges Crozat. He's a policeman in Paris, who boxes on the side. After a bout that leads to an almost embarrassing victory, he is made two offers – one from a clearly corrupt man behind the scenes in the sport, who seems to offer a few thrown fights for Georges, then some kind of status as assistant – training, guiding, profiteering; the other comes from a man known always as the Pakistani (or an unkind abbreviation of that), who has a friend of a friend who wants someone to do an enemy a mischief with their fists. Georges doesn't take too long to choose the latter. In alternating chapters, however, we're in the 1950s, and a rookie to the forces, Pascal Verini, is being shipped out to Algeria to work on the civil war causing the republic to break away and become independent from France. Like Georges, he finds his situation one which also causes what may be misguided violence, even if he has a very different attitude to it.
The alternating storylines have, of course, to merge at one point, and where and how they do so is for you to find out – this is one of those books where the less you know as regards the story (stories) the better. But the character has to be discussed, and so I will. Georges offers his own, for sure – that of the surly, loner cop, hardened by both his careers and with a definite insecurity and naivety added to the self-assuredness both sides to his life would presume to offer. But for me the greater pleasure was spent in the company of Pascal. The way he is thrust into a dubious war, the way he sees the moral differences (if not the religious ones) at play, the way he sits back and hopes to protect his innocence through inaction, all bring to mind a minor Graham Greene character. I say minor because I don't think the classic genius would spend much time over such a reactive personality, but from this remove the look back at the French time fighting for the last jewel of their empirical crown has some of the character, exoticism and commensurate assurity of Greene's foreign-set books.
Plus of course Greene was always wending his way across the border of straight fiction and that of the thriller novel. And here, I think, despite a debut that was wholly genre-based, Varenne does too. There are aspects (such as all the plot I could have featured and haven't, and all the character tropes I found on these pages so have left off this review) that are definitely direct from a thriller, but in among that and the style of short paragraphs with non-attributed dialogue there is also the historical basis, the strong look at the masculine personality and physical persona when it's past its best, and a lot more.
That style did hiccup me a lot, however. The book twists between starting with a bout described in George's own voice in the present tense, before going to past tense, then back to present and so on. It seems to settle in past tense eventually, and I can see the present tense forces more contact with, awareness of and perhaps reader's collusion with the lead characters, but the switches – at one point just after two paragraphs of the chapter – had me scratching my head in wonder at why it was really done. That, and the fact that a couple of elements both major and minor are pure thriller fiction and not on par with the more far-reaching rest, mean this book is not quite as strong as Varenne's first effort, but is definitely an intriguing one for readers seeking something suitably aware of the long-term damage that war in a foreign field can cause.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
Algerian troubles were brought to the French shores elsewhere, in Death on the Rive Nord: An Inspector Lucas Rocco Mystery by Adrian Magson. War wounds closer to home can be had with Unmanned by Dan Fesperman too.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Loser's Corner by Antonin Varenne and Frank Wynne (translator) at Amazon.com.
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