Monday, June 25, 2012
The Paris Directive, by Gerald Jay
Nan A. Talese, 2012
arc -- my many thanks to the publisher!!!
The Paris Directive is the first novel by "Gerald Jay," the pseudonym of an author who lives in New York City. His protagonist is Inspector Paul Mazarelle, "formerly of Paris but now living in Taziac;" according to the blurb, the author is busily writing another book featuring this detective as we speak. It is a combination of crime fiction and political thriller where the murderer is known up front. Overall, the book was okay, although it might have worked a lot better for me personally had the author had made this a straight-up work of crime fiction without the political conspiracy thriller elements that left me sort of shaking my head in places.
A professional hit man named Klaus Reiner, who is very good at his job and in great demand by very top-level clients who can afford to pay, is commissioned to do a job in the Dordogne area of France. Reiner's work has made him rich -- an estate in Spain, his luxury cars and multiple bank accounts reflect just how much Reiner charges for his work and his popularity as a a hit man. He's also lethal -- a sociopath who sees his work as just another job. The first exposure to Reiner in this novel is a hit on behalf of a distinguished judge who left a dead bicylist behind in a drunken hit and run. A witness to the crime has to go -- and Reiner makes expedient work of it by pushing her down an elevator shaft. In the little Dordogne town of Taziac he makes his move on Schuyler Phillips, a wealthy CEO of a company whose aerospace division also handles military projects, and takes his leave. Unfortunately, there's "collateral damage" in the form of Phillips' wife and their two friends the Reeces, who are all sharing the same vacation rental. The murder is unlike anything the police in the town have ever seen. At first the local gendarmes are put on the case, but soon an order from a higher-up source turns it over to Inpector Paul Mazarelle at the Bergerac police station. Meanwhile, Molly Reece, the daughter of two of the victims and a district attorney from New York city, is informed about the murders and boards the next plane to France. An arrest is made, but Molly's presence in Taziac, along with her conviction that the wrong guy's in custody, makes Reiner's life complicated -- he is ordered back to France to get rid of her.
It's very easy to get caught up in the story while watching events play out among the characters and waiting for Mazarelle to solve the crime. The book does have some awesome moments, especially in how the murderer sets about framing the poor guy who ends up getting the blame for the Phillips/Reece killings. Jay's characterization of Mazerelle is also very well done -- he's a grumpy but good cop who, since leaving Paris, has been rather unhappy -- the calm life just isn't for him. As he notes, "homicide is my life," but he's now toying with retirement while trying to get over his wife's death. He's a guy who walks around under an umbrella while bleakness is raining down on him most of the time. Having the hit man's identity established at the outset doesn't really give Mazarelle a chance to show his stuff as a detective; hopefully he'll get to take out his magnifying glass more often in the next book.
There are some problematic moments as well. First, while the nature of most political thrillers almost demands that the reader suspend some measure of their disbelief, in this instance, the reasons behind Phillips' death seem really implausibly way, way out there and hard to swallow, and we don't find out the why until part three of the novel. Then there are clumsy plot elements. For example, you wouldn't expect that the investigation of the death of a man as important as Phillips would be initially entrusted to the local gendarmes -- this is a man whose company does high-level work all over the world and you'd think some higher-level police agency would get the case right away. When the Phillips killing is over, having the same hit man come back for another job when the cops think they have their murderer behind bars makes absolutely zero sense, and calls attention to the fact that they really don't. The two "agents" carrying out the work for some unknown Mr. Big don't seem to be the kind of hardcore bad guys anyone would put in charge of such an important mission, and if that's not enough, the hit man goes through some odd changes that aren't really satisfactorily explained. At first undeniably confident and keenly skilled at his craft, he not only ends up botching things so badly it's hard to believe it's the same guy, but he loses his Mr. Cool persona and goes a little nuts in the process. He also makes a lot of mistakes where you'd think he would be more careful, especially in picking up Molly while the police are obviously watching where she's staying.
While I may not have been blown away by this book, The Paris Directive is garnering some outstanding reader reviews which likely means that I'm the odd man out here. While the trip through the story was okay, for me it was Mazarelle that made reading it worthwhile. I'll probably give the next one a try just to revisit the gloomy inspector, and I'll recommend this one to readers who like to escape for a while with a political thriller/conspiracy novel and don't mind some odd moments.