Translated from French by Nick Caistor
Olivier Norek and his translator, Nick Caistor put on such a good show at Noirwich Noir earlier this year (still available here) that I immediately set about begging, borrowing or stealing an advanced review copy from Maclehose Press. My review is a little early as the novel isn’t published until 12.11.2020 but hopefully it will have you rushing to the pre-order button!
Olivier Norek lives in the area of Paris featured in his novel – Seine St-Denis or Department 93. It is the most criminal area in France. As a cop of 18 years standing, Norek knows his streets “by the crimes that have been committed there”. He talks of a contract between himself and his readers. His books or rather 95% of them are based on facts. So the truth behind The Lost and The Damned is that when The Greater Paris was conceived, burroughs wishing to join had to have a crime rate less than or equal to Paris itself. The crime rate in Seine St-Denis was +30%. So the authorities decided to bury the excess cases by destroying the files. The Lost and The Damned are the victims of those crimes that were never investigated, who never received justice. They are the victims of murders “that never happened”.
“All I had to do” says Norek modestly “was invent a murderer who was so inventive in his murders, that they could never be buried”.
I think you can tick the inventive box when the police force start discussing zombies and spontaneous combustion as potential explanations.
Norek delivers so much more than just an inventive murderer, of course. In his Capitaine Coste, who Norek says is “a bit like me”, he has created a vocational cop, and one who breaks the mould. He is not a loner, he is not a drunk. He is single, but on the look out for a partner, but somewhat cautious when it comes to the forensic pathologist, Léa Marquant. (Bless his cotton socks.) Norek wants “rays of sunshine” to emanate from his cops. There is no need to add broken dreams, he says. There’s enough of that in the world they inhabit.
The Lost and The Damned is part 1 of a trilogy with the main goal of forming the team. When Norek’s deputy and longstanding best friend, Matthias Aubin, transfers elsewhere, the team needs to reform. Aubin’s replacement, Lieutenant De Ritter, doesn’t get a free pass. She has to first overcome a few sexist prejudices and earn the respect of the other team members. Norek puts the team through a full form, storm, norm, perform cycle and, indeed, the banter during it is most enjoyable.
First novels in a trilogy can be a bit weighty. All that apparatus of getting people in place, establishing their backstories, etc. There’s none of that here. Norek, who has worked as a scriptwriter on the French series, Spiral, delivers 60 short, sharp chapters which clip along at a fair, old pace. There are chapters from Coste’s perspective, from his team’s perspective, and also from the villain’s. Some of the detail is on the gritty, gruesome side. Other pages contain elements of humour such as the autopsy that Coste will never forget. There are satisfying answers to what, why, how and who, and a very disturbed villain who, unlike the lost cases, cannot be entirely damned.
Nick Caistor has already translated Turf Wars, the second part of the trilogy. In it Norek says he gives Coste hell. Coste won’t be looking forward to it, but I sure am!