The Paris Lawyer (translated)
by Sylvie Granotier
As a child, Catherine Monsigny was the only witness to her mother’s death. Twenty years later as an ambitious attorney in contemporary Paris, she catches a professional break when her boss assigns her to major felony case in rural France. An immigrant stands accused of poisoning her husband, but her secrets are not the only ones hidden in the scenic rolling hills of Creuse. While preparing the defense, Catherine is reunited with images of own past and a high-intensity search for two murderers ensues. Who can she believe? And what will Catherine do with her past should she discover it?
Given the genre and the setting, this should have been the perfect book for me. I am addicted to legal thrillers, and when the story takes place in familiar territory (Europe, rather than the US – sorry, no offence!), then my interest is piqued and expectations are high.
Admittedly, at the outset, I struggled with the writer’s style. The constant switching from actual events to memories of the past had me more than a little confused. At times I had to re-read sections just to confirm which character was involved, but the more I read on, the easier it became to understand the writer’s tone. I enjoyed the concurrence of the two storylines, as they joined forces to give the reader a greater insight into the main character, Catherine Monsigny, exploring her strengths and weaknesses to create a whole. Her relationship with her father did strike me as forced and uncomfortable, and his attitude towards her is rather possessive and even obsessive, all of which is explained at the end with an intriguing plot twist (although I had my suspicions, so maybe not as unexpected as you might imagine)
Whilst the two plots come to some sort of conclusion, both reveal some interesting and surprising twists which kept me reading to the end, keen to see if my own deductions were correct. However, a few loose ends are left unresolved, seemingly dropped from the story and no longer considered of any relevance.
Originally written in French and having received great accolades and literary awards in France, it highlights perhaps a difference in both writing style and reader expectation for those of us reading the translated version. Maybe we have become accustomed to certain writing styles, particularly in the English-speaking world, so it was refreshing to have these preconceptions challenged. Although the tone is unusual and confusing to my mind, once understood, the overall effect is to create a suspenseful story. The settings are beautifully described, with great flair and an obvious passion for the landscape and ambience of rural France. The characters are not the nicest bunch of people, each of them flawed to some extent, and most definitely quite aloof.
Perhaps this won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you are interested in challenging your own views on this genre, then you will no doubt enjoy it. Just don’t expect the usual high-gloss and moralistic outcomes that so many legal thrillers dish out. Take the plunge and, as they say in France, “Vive la difference!”