Monday, July 2, 2012

Blood-Red Rivers, by Jean-Christophe Grangé

(read in May)

The Harvill Press, 1999 (UK)
originally published as Les Rivières Pourpres, 1998
translated by Ian Monk
328 pp

I had never heard of this book before, but one day I was looking for a foreign film to watch on Netflix and came across a movie called "The Crimson Rivers."  I started watching it, and as the opening credits flashed by, I realized that the movie was based on a novel of French crime fiction called Les Rivières Pourpres.  I put the movie on pause, asked Mr. Iphone for a translated version -- and there it was in the form of Blood-Red Rivers. I switched the movie to something else, and thanks to the miracles of modern technology, the book was at my house within the week.  So I finished the novel on the last day of May,  turned on Netflix again, and got a huge surprise -- the movie had been radically changed from the book -- which is why I always read the novel before seeing the film.   For me the book fell into the edge of the "okay" range, because it started out strongly and promised a lot, only to flatten out disappointingly when the big reveal comes because of the incredibly farfetched story behind the events in the novel. 

Pierre Niémans is a police superintendent in Paris who, as the novel begins, is one of the officers overseeing the 1400 policemen who are tasked with keeping order at the Saragossa v. Arsenal soccer match.   The cops are preparing for the post-game riot, and they are not disappointed.  Niémans also has his hands full as he watches two men gang up on another and kill him, throwing his body over a bridge where it causes a massive car pile-up.   He follows them, catches up and while under attack by one, beats him senseless with his gun. The damage is so severe that Niemans' boss wants him out of town before all hell breaks loose. He is sent to Guernon, a fictional town in the  Grenoble police jurisdiction,  where a man had been discovered completely naked, mutilated, and stuck in a rock wall.  As the investigation gets under way, and another death is discovered,  the scene switches to  policeman Karim Abdouf, from the Lot area, who is sent out to investigate a robbery at a local school where it appears that nothing's been stolen. He is also sent to a cemetery where a child's tomb has been desecrated -- a deed for which the local skinheads might or might not  be responsible.  Abdouf soon discovers that his two bizarre cases are actually linked -- and eventually his cases link up with the one Niémans is investigating.  

Up until just past the midway point of this book, I was actually enjoying this story -- there's certainly a great deal of atmosphere, the two main characters were really flawed (perhaps a little too much, though -- I didn't really care for Niémans all that much; his career washout was his own doing)  and the trail followed by Abdouf that links him to Niémans is well plotted and eerily mysterious. There are plenty of red herrings to keep you occupied and some dead ends that are frustrating but only add to the mystery of the story.  And then we come down to the part of the novel where the whodunnit and the motive ( neither of which I will  reveal) start to become clearer, and suddenly I'm on the edge of hurling the book across the room because of its level of sheer incredulity.  

While I didn't come away from Blood-Red Rivers with a satisified feeling, other readers have given it 4- and 5-star ratings and awesome reviews.  Once again, I find that I'm a tough audience -- the plot behind all of the action was just so silly I couldn't wrap my head around it, but I did like it up to that point so I can't totally discount the entire novel.  If you don't mind a farfetched motive that strains credibility at times, go for it -- it ends up as more of a "thriller" type novel  than a serious novel of crime fiction.

crime fiction from France


  1. Nancy - I'm sorry to hear this one didn't live up to its promise. As I was reading your description of the first part of the book I was thinking, "Hmm.. I've heard good things. Maybe I'll like this." Maybe I'll wait.

    1. Margot - as I noted, some people gave it stellar reviews and I'm probably a really tough audience, so it's really one you'd have to gauge on your own. I just thought that the big reveal was kind of silly.


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