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NAZIS IN THE METRO
by Didier Daeninckx and Anna Moschovakis, trans.
Melville International Crime, March 2014
176 pages
$14.95
ISBN: 1612192963


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Although the American hard-boiled private eye novel of the 1930s and 40s often contained strong political themes, caution bred of the McCarthyism of the 1950s tended to downplay the overt expression of left-leaning convictions. As a result, the Cold War hard-boiled and noir detectives of the era of Mike Hammer veered away from the social awareness of the pre-war period to pursue a vigilantism that satisfied the hero's desire to be the agent of bloody retribution rather than the relatively restrained and sometimes even sorrowful attempts of earlier noir detectives to restore a bit of social justice.

In the mid-nineties, three French writers who liked beer, politics, and pulp noir decided to attempt to resurrect the earlier tradition. What they invented was very clever and very French - a series, to be called Le Poulpe (Octopus), that would feature a detective, Gabriel Lecouvreur, who would be defined by those he chose to take on. The books were to be a collective enterprise and could be written pretty much by anyone willing to abide by "the bible," the unifying set of identifying characteristics of the hero, and some two hundred have tried their hand at turning out one of these pulpy novellas. An early participant was Didier Daeninckx, whose contribution, NAZIS IN THE METRO, has happily been reissued by Melville International Crime.

This time around, Gabriel learns that one of his literary idols, André Sloga, has been savagely beaten and left for dead. The cops think this was a robbery gone wrong, but Gabriel is not so sure. When tries to visit the novelist in hospital, he is told that Sloga is in no condition to talk but that he has been repeating a particular phrase, "Max, the bank, the loudspeaker on the square." Further investigation will lead Gabriel to a used book dealer specializing in anti-Semitic books, then to a copy service that is holding the manuscript of Sloga's latest book. This last will send Gabriel away from Paris to a small town that was the scene of a murder in years past. This crime is the basis for Sloga's book and Gabriel believes it may have something to do with the violence visited on the author.

But before he can come to any firm conclusions, he runs afoul of some neo-Nazi groups back in Paris, engages in political discussions with his friend Gilbert Gache, philosophy professor and wine lover, in which the influence of the Far Right on the French Left is examined, and, in a glorious finale, disrupts a meeting of the Académie française, which earns him a couple of days in the slammer.

NAZIS IN THE METRO was published almost twenty years ago, but it still seems fresh and relevant as well as a lot of fun in its own way. Any reader who has a soft spot for the trashy end of noir should seek this one out.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, March 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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