Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How Murderous Is the Tour de France? THE BLACK JERSEY by Jorge Zepeda Patterson

Award-winning Mexican journalist and novelist Jorge Zepeda Patterson released THE BLACK JERSEY, a dark and threatening look behind the scenes of the bicycle race called the Tour de France. Through the eyes of Marc Moreau, a professional cyclist whose own past has included strange experiences in the military, the complexities of the race and its "teams" take on a harshly competitive atmosphere. The stakes of the race are high enough to overwhelm ordinary morality and inspire an "anything goes" mentality ... as Moreau suffers the trials of an athlete tackling mountainous terrain, yet in far more danger from the other riders.

As crime fiction, THE BLACK JERSEY -- the title is a riff off the tradition of the cycling leader wearing a yellow one -- is fast-paced and intense. It will make a great addition to the shelves of anyone regretting that they're not at the top of this cycling adventure themselves, since the miseries of both the sport and the aggression make staying home seem far more appealing!

American readers will find two challenges to the book: First, it's narrated entirely in first person, rich with personal insight at a literary level that's not common in this kind of crime fiction. Second, the translation, by Achy Obejas, sweeps a flavor of translated Spanish fiction like that of Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Shadow of the Wind) through the pages. If you're a fan of the Zafón work, you'll feel right at home. But if you're happier with the familiar phrasing and pacing of American crime fiction, you may feel stranded in a foreign land.

Here's a sample to get the feel of the writing:
Once again, Radek spoke for our collective indignation. "If you do anything like yesterday," he told the Lavezza leader, "I'll kill you. ... I'll do it, do you hear me?" Radek insisted, then looked at me defiantly, as if I'd also disrespected him. I nodded without a word, thinking anything I said could make him angrier or, worse, lead him to fulfill his promise. ... "Don't kill him," I said after a pause. "Just make sure he's not wearing the yellow jersey in Paris." I went for a festive tone, as if the whole conversation was nothing more than a joke. I hadn't finished my sentence when I realized my mistake. Radek pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes, like a Templar receiving a holy assignment. I won't uncover the killer, but I'm going to end up creating one,  I thought with a shiver.
Grab a copy if you're ready to dig into this challenge. And by all means, give a copy to any cycling racer who has time to hit the couch with this slow work of quintessential noir. You never know — you could save a life, or at least protect a good friend from daring the Tour.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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