A banker with a conscience

Eric Martin returns in another financial thriller from Georges Bénay. This time, acting more on a hunch than real evidence, he suspects that there is more afoot with a successful stock trader. Eric has more than a pebble in shoe when he tries to investigate the data behind all the homerun transaction — he’s offered a foreign post in his banking firm. Eric is persistent as a mule, which prompts a visit from the bad guys. The ‘motivation’ doesn’t work. Eric is now more determined to find out what’s what. A plot device from his first book, Nomad on the Run, reappears in this story, but you wouldn’t have had to read the first book to appreciate its significance.

The novel’s start was a bit slow for me. There was a lot of Telling than Showing with some backstory before anything happens. I found it difficult at times to discern what was important to Eric’s investigation. The story does pick up, there are some clever red herrings, and I found myself thinking and guessing along with Eric. That is no easy task for any writer. Bénay describes the esoteric world of financial crime, which few know or understand, and delivers a fast-paced thriller in exotic locales, and peopled with memorable characters who are ambiguous.

With some patience with the story’s start, the reader is rewarded with action, intrigue and a guessing game behind the mystery.

Note: I received this book free of charge from the author for an honest review.

Both books in the Nomad Series are available at Amazon.

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Nomad on the Run

Nomad on the Run is my first introduction to Georges Bénay’s writing. I plan to read his next book, The Nomad’s Premonition, to see what happens next with Eric Martin. Either bored with his life as bank director or plain greed compels Mr. Martin to respond to an email that guarantees a 30% return on investment, if he’ll move to Morocco. With one mouse click, Eric’s life is changed. Martin is not unlikable but he is flawed, and I’m not convinced that, despite his intelligence, he’s a better person by the end of the story. He’s soon on a roller coaster of adventures, twists and turns, through European cities to keep one foot in front of both the good and bad guys, while he is trying to prevent a mystery person or persons from using a predictive algorithm to upset global financial markets.

Bénay doesn’t spend too much time explaining what a ‘predictive algorithm’ is, but it isn’t a McGuffin, because such software programs do exist and are used to anticipate a stock prices. A financial thriller is a challenge to write because it can get cerebral and lose the reader, but Bénay pulls it off. If you enjoy a brisk tech-thriller, the sights and sounds of foreign locales, a brief love interest for variety, and guessing whom to trust every few pages, then you’ll enjoy Nomad on the Run.

Note: I received this book free of charge from the author for an honest review.

Nomad on the Run on Amazon.

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A quiet patriotism and humility

Angelo DiMarco was a US Army Ranger who survived the decimation of the Ranger First Battalion, who endured psychological torture, and as a POW made a harrowing escape from certain death in a labor camp. His story is a testament of survival, quiet patriotism and a memorial to lost comrades, and a story told with sincere humility and gratitude. At Cisterna di Latina, he engaged an overwhelming enemy. The explicit German victory shattered the Ranger First Battalion and forced the US Army to reassess its strategy in the early days of World War 2. The Nazis so destroyed the city that it took until the 1970s for Italy to rebuild it.
Angelo’s stoicism is both what is admirable and tragic about More Than A A Soldier. Most men of his generation did not talk about war. His story emerges after decades of silence, after his death in 2010. Most men of that era did not admit to wanting to kill for their country. Angelo wanted to kill. He sought out combat. He recounts his first kill. Men of The Greatest Generation did not express their emotions. My grandfather’s emotional rapport, for example, was limited to a handshake. These men did their service, came home, put their papers, medals (and memories) into a literal and metaphorical box, and then went out to get an education under the GI Bill, or a job somewhere because that is what men do. The inherent tragedy is that what we now call PTSD went untreated. I have no doubt that Angelo suffered from it.
War is the backdrop in this well-written and respectful narrative. The ‘real story’ is Angelo’s relationship with his family and with the family in Italy who harbored him at great personal risk. Angelo’s Italian father is himself a man of a different time and place: patriarchal and impossible to please. It’s moving and painful to read how Angelo begged for one crumb of acknowledgement from his dad, and just as visceral as Angelo’s account of how he had felt inadequate around his family in Italy. He wanted to pull his own weight, earn his keep, and felt embarrassed that he was vulnerable. Like most men of that generation, he made a promise to his family abroad and Angelo kept his word. His gratitude, his humility are virtues, and that I did not once feel preached at, or reminded of Angelo’s extraordinary heroism is a high compliment to D.M. Annechino’s understated and laudable style.  

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Aurélien Masson, Life is a Thrill(er)

An article from Libération  by Sabrina Champenois that I translated for NoirCon16. Space and consideration prevented it from its inclusion in the conferences proceedings.

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788880-aurelien-massonHis rock star looks and exalted nature clash with the milieu of publishing, but the boss of Gallimard’s Série Noire has proven himself.

Photo credit: © Fred Kihn

Since first meeting him ten years ago, little to nothing has changed. Always with the allure of a gutter cat, dry and nervous, he wears black from head to toe, in jeans, a rock T-shirt (The Stooges this time) under a leather jacket. Aurélien Masson keeps – he’ll be forty soon – a post-adolescent pace, jacked up by a machine-gun-like flow, theatrical movements, a carnivorous smile, and fervor of worldliness. In his Paris Headquarters, a bar just a step away from the Lyon Station, he looks the mantra “Love.” Nevertheless, Masson does not work at Harlequin, but at Gallimard’s Série Noire, the den of national thrillers previously embodied by Marcel Duhamel, Robert Soulat and Patrick Raynal – not exactly sissies. And Masson doesn’t dress up the seventy-old Dame Gallimard. In one decade, the reckless dandy injected some new blood – especially, French — some adrenaline; some gambles from poker and reinvigorated Gallimard in an already hypercompetitive and swollen market. Ballsy, yes — but in his own way. “Ah yes, I call him the Feisty Horse,” smiles Caryl Férey (Mapuche), the gatekeeper and gondolier of Série Noire, according to Masson.

For love of the author. We find him bent over a manuscript – Help! A caricature. But his authors affirm in unison, Masson is obsessed with texts, ‘You can’t find anyone more involved in them.’ (Férey). The deep-sea diver, they say, is coupled with a patient, precise and loyal publisher. DOA, the acronymic pseudonym of a Série Noire author, which comes from the 1950 Rudolph Maté noir film, Dead On Arrival, was a 2015 sensation with his novel Pukhtu, the first in a series: “He is curious, open, and under his rock-and-roll restlessness and vibe, very cultivated. His idea is not so much to publish texts as it is to publish good texts […] in which authors and he himself find themselves.” Dominque Manotti (or Noir [Gold Medal series]), mistress of the sociopolitical thriller: “Aurélien is hyper-attentive and hard-working. With him, you feel that your publisher is there every moment.” Elsa Marpeau, a sounder of psychological depths: “He’s with you deep inside [the work], but distant enough to point out what is missing.”

The Oulipian [‘Oulipe’ is a school of critical literary theory in which the text does not have any inherent authority] Jean-Bernard Pouy: “He reads well and beyond his zombie demeanor, he has maintained a line, one of socio-political criticism.” The man of the hour speaks for his part as a paradoxical gang leader, a mothering type: “I need to make them happy, I tell them, ‘You’re right,’ all the while making suggestions; I do that so that they are treated better, so that there are no cuts, so that they make out better in the end. I also tell them to be ambitious, even if this kind of talk is frowned upon in the circles of the Polar [crime-thriller genre]. For my part, I am not in the aesthetics of sabotage.”

For love of love. Does Aurélien Masson owe his name to the emperor or to [Louis] Aragon, whose eponymous novel was published by Gallimard? We did not ask him. But if the second proposition were true, it would be a premonition. The admirer of Huysmans, Bukowksi, Céline, Ferrara, and other big lights, exudes the need for the absolute, for hardcore feelings [XXL is a television channel for erotica], ‘too much’ possibly embarrassing for the upholders of dignity but not deprived of panache in this era of thinking small where the social network takes the place of the public meeting places, of the I’ll-just-keep-myself-hidden-behind-my-keyboard kind.’ Masson says candidly that he ‘adored’ the meeting, and then sends a text-message, which he closes with childish ‘kisses’ says that if he loves a text. “I’m going to love the author, otherwise, it doesn’t last.” Caryl Férey: “He always has a kind word, of the type, ‘Oh, you were beautiful today,’ not exactly the kind of thing guys say to each other.” The affection takes a viral turn, causing the warship DOA to say, “I love him. However improbable it might seem, work and life made us friends.” At the same time, there’s a boomerang effect; Masson goes through roller coaster periods of great highs and great lows. It is just as well as he had the means right from the start to be moody. The son of a good Parisian family, with a doctor father who was a star of homeopathy and a mother mainly in advertising then a psychoanalyst, grew up in the posh 5th district. He had and always has had for a friend Raphaël (a singer today), and did not last long at the Lycée Henri-IV, “a factory of champions obsessed with exams.” In sum, the child Aurélien, a fan of McEnroe, Connors, and Lendl, dreams first of being a tennis player but a proclivity for tendinitis and anti-competitiveness torpedoes his whims for sports. He is succeeded by an adolescent Aurélien who just didn’t have it together, “hyper-shy,” glued to video games, who would “not know girls before twenty years old,” but who discovered “rock, joints, and the literature of thrillers from the bios of serial killers.” The third is still the same today (“I shall never be under the influence of cocaine or ecstasy, these capitalist drugs for traders; me, I need slowness”). His entrance into Série Noire, as a reader of English-language texts under Patrick Raynal, takes place after going to school for history and sociology and a road-trip of one year in Asia, mostly in an opium haze.

For love of life and death. Aurélien Masson is a father, for two years now. Named Iggy, in tribute to “the Iguana” and ex–Stooges, but Joey had its chance, in honor of The Ramones. Iggy’s mother, his Brazilian partner, is a legal specialist in copyrights. It seems that the affair sometimes takes rock-n-roll turns, with, on Masson’s side, “moments of absolute depression.” But there is good resolution in the air: “I try to find a happy medium, between joy and self-destruction.” To be consumed without burning too deeply: a tall order for a guy under Nirvana’s grunge influence, who loves the dark and even the sticky and is said to be obsessed with death, and defends “laborious texts,” and losers, and “guys who missed the train.” France moreover delights him, in its tensions and its depression: “France becomes more and more interesting as matrix of the crime novel, we’re witnessing a fallen world.” Hence his interest in “the guys who shit” — Marc-Edouard Nabe, Pierre Carles, Emmanuel Todd – arises from the coherence. Masson likes when things scrape, slip, disturb. Masson defends obstinately Antoine Chainas, author of baroque, claustrophobic, poisonous thrillers, not the usual easy-sell publisher drug. Masson recently even considered publishing the text of an obscure policeman, in alexandrines; he is still buzzing about it. A paper kamikaze? The quivering soul does not lay any claim to heroism, nor to sacrifice, points to the benefit: “It is through books that I find again the flame that we have in youth, this capacity to feel emotions crazily.” It is a question of remaining alive, in the end.

19 September 1975 Born in Paris.

1989 Discovers rock.

2000 Arrives at Gallimard, as a reader.

2005 Succeeds Patrick Raynal at Série Noire and meets Diana, his companion.

2013 Birth of Iggy.

2015 70 years of Série Noire.

© Sabrina Champenois for Libération

— 1 July 2015 at 6:06 pm

Translation: Gabriel Valjan

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Crazy by Elsa Marpeau

Not a translation, but the slightest of edits to words from Elsa Marpeau to Aurélien Masson for NoirCon16, where Masson received the David Goodis Award.

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Aurélien is a crazy man, a crazy editor.

Five years ago, I sent a sci-fi manuscript to Gallimard. Aurélien Masson read it and called me. He said this text could not be in Série Noire, but he would publish my other book.

“Which book?” I asked. There was obviously no next book yet.

product_9782070446711_195x320“The next one. The one you are about to write.”

He had seen me once, for hardly an hour, and even then I hadn’t known at the time that I was about to write this next book.

However, he committed to publishing it and I took him at his word.

I published my first book with Aurélien, and the second one too, and the fifth.

How crazy does that sound?

-Elsa Marpeau

em_77202_195x320

Titles at Gallimard.

Photo Catherine Hélie © Éditions Gallimard

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Vicious Circle: Antoine Chainas à Aurélien Masson

Not a translation, but the slightest of edits to words from Antoine Chainas to Aurélien for NoirCon16, where Masson received the David Goodis Award.

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Violent thunder shook the window.

It had been raining in Philadelphia since the beginning of the week. The heavy dirty rain looked as if it would never stop. Aurélien was here, in his hotel room. Lack of sleep had him in a bit of a daze. He was staring at the NoirCon 2016 printed program Lou had given him the day before. noircon-programThe pages were as sharp as a razor blade and Aurélien had cut his thumb leafing through them. He was now sucking the blood from his finger, reading once again the moronic short story Chainas had written for him. A kind of unfunny Borgesian joke. He couldn’t believe the words printed in the program. The story went like this:

Violent thunder shook the window.

 

commission_image_260_image_frIt had been raining in Philadelphia since the beginning of the week. The heavy dirty rain looked as if it would never stop. Aurélien was here, in his hotel room. Lack of sleep had him in a bit of a daze. He was staring at the NoirCon 2016 printed program Lou had given him the day before. The pages were as sharp as a razor blade and Aurélien had cut his thumb leafing through them. He was now sucking the blood from his finger, reading once again the moronic short story Chainas had written for him. A kind of unfunny Borgesian joke. He couldn’t believe the words printed in the program. The story went like this:

Violent thunder shook the window…

chainas_69420_195x320

© Antoine Chainas. Titles at Gallimard

Photos Catherine Hélie © Éditions Gallimard

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Roars in favor of Aurélien Masson: Part II

Second part of the translation. Link to Part I.

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Aurélien’s strategy is predicated on a disruptive style. He builds an asymmetrical collection that makes Série Noire the unique thing it is. While fitting it into a project that exceeds the framework of a genre, a project essentially contemporary, he gives to Série Noire serie-noire_right_column_logothe function of identifying this literature stripped of sanctity and consecration. The incarnation of the word, we prefer texture – the text like a body that we manipulate. Through the verb, the novel supplies a sensitive translation of our experience of the world. The crime novel – this loose and forbidden literature – puts into gear the dark desire to be witness to the fall and to the Decadence Movement [a late 19th-century artistic and literary movement].

The history of the publishing house Gallimard reminds us that the classic collection in a white cover has the ambition to propose “an extraordinary purification of literature.” Série Noire represents its absolute opposite, right down to its pages that contain an extraordinary degradation. This state of corruption finds itself not only in what we understand as the crime novel, but also more profoundly in this more ambiguous term: crime thriller. photo-146128Behind the slang diminutive [“polar” is short for “roman policier,” with the derogatory “-ard” particle added, though not negative when the ‘d’ is dropped in this word] that we use readily to characterize the more or less popular novels that have their origin in the detective novel lurks a hazy etymology related to photography. I understand, as others do, that the thriller is also derived from Polaroid, from that snapshot of poor quality, the unfortunate trace of a moment.

In considering photographic creation, Roland Barthes proposes on the one hand a purely emotional approach that he defines as the point, and on the other, a retrospective or memorial approach which he summarizes as “what was.” 3picturebookbarthescameralucidaThis double appreciation shows how much photography is founded on a sensitive reporting of reality. So then to prop this too fast and fraudulent demonstration, this intimacy onto the Polaroid reminds me of the parallel that Georges Bataille discerns between literary creation and the development of photography. So, it is a question in the framework of the novel to consider that the narrative is used as the process that proceeds to the appearance of the image – the final result leading to the conclusion, to the limited density of the verbal universe thus created. Necessarily, for Georges Bataille, it is not so much the photographic object that interests him as the process of taking the picture. The process of the Polaroid shows that the literary form of the noir novel has accelerated due to its contact with the contemporary world, becoming more like a snapshot, adapting the basic rules of aesthetics, committing to the anecdotal. This snapshot reveals in the limited framework of the crime novel the deficiency of a universe that grows smaller as its technical ambitions increase in size. In planting its roots profoundly into crime fiction, Série Noire becomes a more violent witness of it. With this disrespect originating from the gutter, it hijacks crime fiction to transform it into crime of fiction. The crime thriller goes against all propriety.

9780252030192From then on, the noir novel proposes a revelation — not divine — but chemical: highlighting the world through its dark zones. It becomes emancipated of aesthetic constraints, free of gratuitous illuminations, self-sufficient processes, and accelerates the decay of a modern literature condemned to regeneration. At this time of an nth era of suspicion – Is it necessary to write to tell? Is it necessary to tell to write? – in the decay of narrative structures, in the rubble of style, in the perversion of the subjects, blossom new flowers of Jean Paulhan’s Flowers of Tarbes [a history of twentieth century literary criticism, published in 1941 and translated into English in 2006, and whose subtitle is “terror in literature.”]

Drawing its energy from moldering topsoil, Série Noire does godless work. It explores and maps madness and derangement as the unstable and logical outcome of a literary tradition of degeneration.

Ancient myth conceives itself as the intermingling between reality and invention. The verb shows its capacity to generate a territory bigger than that identified by the human senses. The Hybris — the demon of violence — of the Ancients, fulminates between the lines of a universe where gods and people mix.

514ajrt33yl-_sx304_bo1204203200_In the Middle Ages God is rarely embodied in the text. His presence is glimpsed through intercessions – from rare interventions, appearances, and messages. The fiction remains, from myths to songs, the divine and human spheres part. We remember Roland blowing into his horn. The brain escapes from the ears under the force of the effort. Then, he tries vainly to break his sword on the marble. His failure shows that man demands his part of the divine in vain. He becomes magnificent from it through the weakness of his humanity. The hero’s deficiency makes this act even more heroic.

Then, man’s place collapses as literary fiction approaches reality. New limits, always more binding, drive the divine out of the text. Man in the heart of words – literature is transformed into a laboratory that pushes us toward decadence. Finally, modern literature is deprived of the deus ex machina. The literature models itself on pure machine or machination. In God’s absence, man doubts his own presence.

Today, the crime novel is made the paragon of outrageousness – extravagance and insult – of the mediocre. By displaying the fringes, the crime novel reveals these mythological figures nourished with the anguish and follies of our time. A literature of deficiency, it reports the collapse at the core of the text – stories of internal collapse, people who consume themselves.

The end of the marvelous, the abandonment of the sacred, the devastation of the laboratory and the burns of decadence, doubt and mediocrity condemn the word to appear under its simplest nature – rough and unrefined: a deletion. Emptied of all substance, the exposed word has nothing more to tell. Here it is reduced to simple testimony of the practice of human writing.

crime-scene-tapeThe fictional engine of this 21st century lives in the exploitation of anxiety and ennui. The art of fiction is made minor. It’s not surprising that fiction develops from now on in the atmospheres of the police and crime – a search for the human in the daily blackness. The narrowing of the novel’s narrative framework is echoed in the verb. It’s not a question anymore of transcending a word or a vision that surpasses man, but to transmit the magnificence of the unimportant, to discover the magnificent in the unimportant.

The crime novel builds itself between the lines, by inventorying the void. In the manner of Beckett, literature turns on itself like a whirlpool. It devours itself as it develops. The crime novel glorifies mediocrity in the proper sense of this term – that is to say, in this sadness, which is not tragic, or in this greatness without heroism. It expresses contemporary idleness, work deprived of work exposing man deprived of a piece of work.

This literature recounts the strangeness of daily life, the grandeurs and decadences of ordinary people. It brings nothing more – it offers no direction, and it proposes no solution. The noir novel expresses nothing more than its own search within literature. It neither answers a question, nor asserts or counters. Thus, it does not reassure, it does not please, it does not amuse; it is the translation of a verbal relationship to the world between the writer and the external. The noir novel testifies to a dark form of creation that hits “the gut.”

788880-aurelien-massonWhile he’s alive, I shall not sing the praises of Aurélien Masson. It will be time to do that when his corpse goes to merge itself in the substance of Série Noire. Likewise, I shall not pass judgment against Série Noire because it answers no moral objective. Literature draws a snapshot topography that combines a multitude of clichéd Polaroids. Today, Aurélien ensures its continued existence by immortalizing its decay. They both have much to produce yet.

Thus, we wish them nothing.

We shout so that they continue.

16 February 2016

jaccaud_195x320© Photo of Aurélien Masson by Fred Kihn

© Frédéric Jaccaud. Titles at Gallimard

© Translation from the French by Gabriel Valjan

Photo of Frédéric Jaccaud by Catherine Hélie © Éditions Gallimard

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