I was sent The Dying Minutes a week or two ago and noted that this was 'A Daniel Jacquot Novel' and is all about an ex-rugby playing French detective and set in Marseilles. Gallic shrug from moi and Qui? I opened it and started to read and immediately found myself gripped (or should that be grippe...). I have not been to France for years and years and have never been to Marseilles, but after a few chapters of Martin O'Brien's book I had this overwhelming desire to catch a flight and fly there immediately. My French is of the La Plume de ma tante et sur la table de Mon Oncle variety, I know how to order a cafe au lait, can say Merde with the best of them and that is it, but I had this vision of moi sitting at a table on the waterfront knocking back a cafe, a Calva, eating freshly grilled fish and smoking a Galois, none of which I would dream of doing in real life. The book reeks of France and the sea and I simply loved it.
OK so wallowing in garlic and bouillabaise is all very well and wonderful, but is the plot and the story as good and oh yes it is Oui Oui Oui. Tut alors, c'est magnificque et.....(that's enough French Elaine).
Two deaths occur. One is that of Philo, a fisherman known among his friends and acquaintances as le Philosophe, not because he was particularly clever or wise, but because he always had a book in his hand (my kind of homme) and there were not many fishermean who lay back on their drying nets to read a book. He leaves his executor to give his boat, Constance, to somebody who will love and appreciate her and thus it comes into the hands of our Hero, Daniel Jacquot recently recovering from being shot (an earlier book one presumes).
Second death - that of a convicted felon, Pierre-Louis Lombard. On his death bed he asks for his lawyer, Claude Dupont, to visit him and gives him a packet to take away. This packet contains the key to a long term left luggage locker in the Gare Saint-Charles and he is given instructions to take out its contents and deal with what is there.
"The first things he saw was the gold. A dull yellow glimmer at the bottom of the case...one by one he lifted out half a dozen linen drawstring bags....wads of banknotes bound in paper collars and rubber bands....a walled stack of currency twenty centimetres high. Then the black velvet pouches....diamonds, maybe thirty or forty stones, emeralds, green as wet moss and in the third pouch a spill of deep blue sapphires..."
Also in the bag are packets of documents and photos all of which are of prominent people in compromising situations. Dupont decides to use these photos to bring about retribution and starts sending them out to selected recipients all of whom react in different ways (one is a priest with a penchant for choir boys who commits suicide when he opens his morning mail and see what is inside).
Starting this process unfortunately starts a chain of events which soon lose control and it is not long before Mr Dupont and Mrs Dupont receive some very unpleasant visitors...
In total contrast, we hear of a refuge for battered wives receiving a large donation, in cash and anonymously, which will help keep them going for years; a small shabby cinema also receives money, enough to refurbish and to keep going and other charities and good causes find themselves blessed with unexpected largesse.
So two deaths, two different legacies - how are they tied together?
The answer is: gold. As we learn in a short prologue at the start of the book there was a gold heist, daring and well planned some thirty years before. Most of the gold was recovered but one lorry load went missing and somebody is still determined to find out where it went.
A great read, packed full of wonderful characters, danger, romance, sex, greed, excitement and culminating in an action packed boat chase and shoot out which I can imagine would make a stunning finish if this was ever filmed. Had me on the edge of my seat (several books have done that to me lately, it's getting a bit worn) and could not put down and was up till after midnight last night finishing it.
I love Daniel Jacquot, he sounds very sexy..'then she saw him, younger, slimmer than she remembered. Leaning against a pillar, hands in pockets, one foot crossed over the other. A deep tan against a white T-shirt, an old cream jacket, faded blue jeans and espadrilles......A big warm smile as he drew closer, the gleam of his teeth making his tan even deeper....she felt herself caught up in his embrace, his arms about her, hugging her to him, a strange salty smell, mixed with a soapy pine scent...'
See what I mean?
OK and the the food, OMG the food. The descriptions just make you drool. Here is a sample:
"the broth was a creamy yellow, puddled with darker globs of oil, broken with thick flakes of fish, like icebergs, and the more treacherous blackened tips of mussels. He took the broth first, a spoonful of the liquor, blew on it and then tipped it into his mouth. The ocean, that's what it tasted like. Fresh and hot and sweet, the flavour filling his cheeks"
"Protected from the breeze by the wheelhouse, they stayed on deck, setting up the trestle table for the foie gras and toast and Merseult....and when every last smear of the foie gras was gone, he served a dish of figs and peaches to sluice away the richness of the liver, followed by a platter of Picodon and Banon goats cheese, aged and hardened into ball sized discs but softened by a mellow red from the Bellet vine-yards down the coast'
I love the Donna Leon books set in Venice and the Montalbano books set in Sicily, because not only are they excellent, but the food descriptions are wonderful and add to the ambiance. If you read a British detective story you are more likely to find them knocking back a fried egg sandwich in a Greasy Spoon or a packet of prawn cocktail crisps which is all rather dispiriting as well as playing havoc with their digestions. Lacks a certain je ne sai quoi no?
Sorry lapsing into Franglais again. Must stop.
Off now to find the rest of the Daniel Jacquot books now. As usual I shal read them wildly out of order and not know what is going on but, merde, who cares?
Terrific book - loved it and my thanks to the lovely Najma from Random House who sent it to me 'cos she knows I like detective fiction. More please.....