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by Didier Daeninckx and Sarah Martin, trans.
Melville International Crime, December 2012
224 pages
ISBN: 1612191843

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This short little mystery starts out slowly but ends with a big bang. Where most mysteries go wrong is in developing a solid storyline, then faltering at the end. In the case of A VERY PROFITABLE WAR, it is

almost the opposite.

The story, set in a war-weary 1920s Paris, begins when private investigator Rene Griffon is hired by a war hero to investigate the behavior of his wife, whom he suspects of having an affair. There is also the problem of blackmail, although the Colonel who has hired Griffon is very cryptic about his suspicions. Griffon and his partner-behind-the-scenes (his girlfriend) begin to do a little independent investigation into just what secrets the husband and wife are hiding.

When a ransom note is intercepted by the PI, things begin to take on a much more dangerous hue. This, of course, is at exactly the time that the Colonel decides to release Griffon from his duties. Griffon continues to follow the case unbeknownst to the Colonel. It soon becomes clear that the infidelity is the least of the Colonel's problems and that both he (and Griffon's American friend Bob) have been setting the detective up.

From there on out, it's nonstop action and unsuspected twists that lead to a completely surprising ending. Of course, there is much focus throughout the storyline on World War I and the horrible effects of war, not the least of which are profiteering and misrepresentation. There's some interesting sections focused on the lives of the anarchists of Paris, and much reference to cars and motoring through the small cities surrounding Paris, which although tangential in appearance end up factoring into the neat wrap-up.

Though it first appeared in France in 1984, it is far from an historical curiosity. This is a quick and enjoyable read, and if the reader can soldier on through some of the early plodding, the pay-off delivered by Daeninckx (winner of the Grand Prix de Littérature policière) makes it all worthwhile.

§ Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, January 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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