RENÉ GRIFFON is a French veteran of the trenches turned private investigator who makes his one and only appearance in the powerful Le der des ders, (translates as "the war to end all wars."), a 1984 French novel which offered a hard and unflinching look at France's role in WWI, and the aftermath.
It may be his only appearance, but it's one hell of a read, definitely not for the squeamish. It's a dark, relentless, sobering and often cynical take on the media, politics, business, heroism and what real patriotism means in times of war. Reading it as I did in the months following 9/11, it offered a refreshing respite from all the flag-waving yahooism and rah-rah patriotism.
France may still be reeling from the war, but René is determined to put up a brave front, indulging his taste for all things big, flashy and American, including his beloved 12-cylinder Packard (that he's almost finished paying for). He's also close friends with an expatriate Yankee black marketeer named Bob who sells army surplus blue jeans and anything else that isn't nailed down.
And then René's hired by a decorated war hero to tail his wife, whom he suspects of adultery. But René soon finds himself dealing with blackmailers, radicals, murder, amputees, war profiteers and a scandal that could rip a still fragile France apart.
In other words, there's something sfor everyone in this novel. There's even a French-kissing scene in there (with René's and his lover/secretary, Irène) that'll just steam your shorts. Okay, in the edition I read, there were also a few clunky bits of translation (they've translated some French slang for some British slang that seems a bit off) and there's one awful typographical glitch where they didn't break for a new paragraph and really should have, but I think it's still well-worth checking out, for those of you who aren't afraid to read something a little different. And a more recent English translation in 2012 may have rectified those problems.
Or, if your French is good enough, check out the 1998 graphic novel adaptation by Jacques Tardi, who's also responsible for some some excellent adaptations of some of Léo Malet's Nestor Burma series and several other novels by French crime writers such as Patrick Manchette and Daniel Pennac.
Author Didier Daeninckx is often touted as being France's leading mystery writer. Certainly, his 1984 novel Meurtres pour Mèmoire, inspired by the October 1961 riots in Paris and featuring his popular series character, police inspector Cadin. caused quite a sensation. It embarrassed and forced the French government to try Nazi collaborators and led to the life imprisonment of Paul Touvier. It won the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere.
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