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CRIME FICTION Dominique Manotti remakes the crime novel

American crime fiction, despite its many addictive attractions, always seems to be caught up in replicating the libertarian laissez faire of the  American Old West.  With writers such as Elmore Leonard there was an easy transition as he stopped writing Westerns, continued to utilize  the same archetypes, and wrote contemporary crime fiction instead.

The man who could write such stand out Western yarns as Hombre and Three-Ten to Yuma, later found a comfortable niche creating Mr. Majestyk and Get Shorty from the same stuff. The ethos was more or less the same.

But elsewhere on the planet that  template has been broken , or simply by passed.  European crime fiction  today is also much richer and more variious than the exploits of John Rebus, Maigret or Kurt Wallander . And within that capacity to remake the crime novel, is  Dominique Manotti.

Rough Trade is the first of her novels to be translated from its original French (originally published in 1995). This is as far  from a neatly orchestrated  who-dun-it? as you can  get. Most of the time you aren't  sure  who is supposed to be the hero as there is so much activity driven by cynical street politics that  there are no self evident good guys to latch onto. While this is a police procedural  , the gendarmes are not to be trusted. Nothing is what it seems in this tale  set   in the Sentier district of Paris -- just after the 1979 Iranian Revolution,  and prior to a major shift in the  international drug trade that followed.

How these events relate to the brutal murder of very young Thai girl is uncovered by  Inspector Daquin who has to watch his back as much as he investigates the murder. But nothing is even that simple as the Sentier is not only the centre of the Parisian rag trade, but those who  mostly work in the district's sweatshops are Turkish, and many members of the workforce  are illegal immigrants. So the take home pay and working conditions  of   illegal  immigrants has a lot to do with the many layers of corruption that infect the industry. While the Turkish workers are trying to organise a trade union to  secure base rates of pay, others are seeking a return from more nefarious pursuits  and among those so engaged are some leading politicians, mandarins ... and coppers.

Manotti's novel has been called neo-realist  and it certainly has a pervasive grubbiness that is very palpabe, even shocking at times.  Because it unfolds consecutatively day by day, even hour by hour, it has a stark  immediacy that meanders through a complex web of inter-relationships and competing self interests. But for all that, Manotti writes as a detached observer leaving events to speak for themselves as even the many incidences of violence and corruption merge with a much broader, even international, political reality.

How she has managed to reference her work on  such an epic scale, make political sense of it  and still create bona fide crime fiction at the level of  a  few neighboring Parisian blocks is a major literary achievement.
Manotti, Dominique -'Rough Trade (translated by Margaret Crosland and Elfreda Powell)Paperback: 272 pages (Apr. 2006) Publisher: Arcadia Books ISBN: 1900850877

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