Wednesday, August 12, 2015

French Art Mystery, THE COLLECTOR, Anne-Laure Thiéblemont

"Paris had a way of making even gray beautiful." That's Marion Spicer's observation, as she steps out of a mansion after examining a phenomenal art collection that could someday belong to her, and into a classy neighborhood from which she can head toward Paris's "Golden Triangle: Avenue Montaigne, with Dior, Chanel, Nina Ricci, wealthy clients, and prestigious auctions."

That neighborhood, and Spicer's profession as art examiner to detect forged or stolen work at exalted value levels, are alluring invitations into a newly released investigative novel, THE COLLECTOR, the debut by Algerian-born Anne-Laure Thiéblemont. Thiéblemont, a journalist, magazine editor, and art historian, grew up in Madagascar, Lyon, Paris, and Bogota. The South American slant appears immediately in the book, as Marion Spicer's challenges all connect to items of Pre-Columbian art from one of the continent's most inaccessible mountain villages. The art was collected by Edward Magni, whose recent death also became the announcement to Marion, at last, of who her father really was. 

Except ... who was Magni, really? His sneering and manipulative assistant Gaudin seems unlikely to help Marion track down the three other art items that she must locate in order to claim her inheritance -- three that Magni personally sold, even though he "never" sold his collected items. Moreover, they are clearly of excessive value, laden with extraordinary gems, as well as cultural significance.

It turns out that the Golden Triangle of Paris also represents top-level manipulation of the art market and its afficionados. Soon Marion, directed blindly by her dead father's specifications, is dealing with the dark underside of the greed and art lust of the global network of collectors and their nexus in Paris. 

All this makes THE COLLECTOR a must for a shelf of art-related mysteries, or French ones, or those featuring strong women, or, best of all, the wide scope of today's translated crime fiction. Le French Book brought out THE COLLECTOR this week, adding to its rapid expansion in translated mysteries with "French accents." This one, translated by Sophie Weiner, reads fluidly, and satisfies the traditions of a fast-paced international crime novel, with enough twists and red herrings to keep the pages flipping. 

I would have liked a bit more of a "French accent" to the dialogue, which lacks the zing of some other translations -- and the occasional misstep in slang (a career woman referring to another professional as a "dude"? I don't think so) can be a bit jarring. I would have enjoyed a more quirky ending, too, with Marion Spicer speaking out better from her expertise and experience. But I enjoyed the ride of action and investigation. Thiéblemont is a skilled storyteller, and the suggestion of a series ahead is good news -- this journalist's move into crime fiction is a fruitful one, and I already expect that she'll bring more French-speaking locales into the Marion Spicer art-action books to come.

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