Duncan Lawrie International Dagger Winner 2008

Two years ago Dominique Manotti was shortlisted for the above award but lost out to Fred Vargas.  This year she has reversed the decision, at the same time ensuring that the trophy remains in France for the third consecutive year.

As a fully-fledged Vargas fan, I can say that reading the Lorraine Connection is nothing like reading Vargas.  Vargas equals quirky with premises that stretch the imagination.  Manotti equates to a cynical hard-boiled realism, the edges of which are sharpened by a deliberately detached documentary style.

The primary setting of the Lorraine Connection is a cathode-tube manufacturing factory in Pondage, Lorraine, France.  Working conditions are abysmal – so bad, in fact, that two separate incidents lead to a death and a miscarriage.  Following the latter, events quickly escalate out of control and the workers take over the factory.  During this occupation the workers gain access to incriminating information.  The occupation and, with it, a riveting first chapter ends with the factory in flames.

Enter the police, who wishing to lead a model investigation unwittingly become the puppets of those with much to hide. The factory is a Daewoo subsidiary and Daewoo are involved in an partnership with Matra to take over the ailing state-owned electronics giant Thomson.  No-one expects them to win the bid, but they do.  Suspecting further foul play their rivals, Alcatel, send in their own private investigator, Charles Montoya

The body count begins to rise.   The murder scenes are particularly cold-blooded and, thankfully, in some instances at least, mercifully short.  Indeed at times violence and death stalk Montoya, who, at first underestimates his foe.  But while it soon becomes obvious who is behind the mayhem, there’s no thaw in the chill factor.

This is due to the modernity of the themes.  Globalisation, corporate greed and corruption on an international scale, exploitation of the immigrant working class.  For the cynical amongst us – this is the real world.  The one that we don’t see in our sanitised news streams. Surprising too are the company names:  recognisable company brands.  I wonder how Manotti’s manuscript made it past the lawyers.  No wonder publication of  the novel was controversial.

One minor beef.  Montoya’s mysterious past.  Never fully explained and the fact that I’m moaning shows there’s enough detail to intrigue  but not enough to satisfy.  Is this good or bad?  Or the hint of a sequel that will deliver the missing links?

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