Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Godmother

The Godmother / Hannelore Cayre
trans. from the French by Stephanie Smee
Toronto: ECW Press, 2019, c2017.
184 p.
I'm finishing up my #WITMonth reads with this crime novel from France. I really enjoyed it!

Patience Portefeux is a translator, Arabic to French, for the judicial system in France. She's 53, and becoming an "invisible woman". She's underpaid, living in a small apartment, and not very close to her two daughters. 

She's also the daughter of two outsiders who lived on the edges of French society when their own original countries were no longer there for them to return to. They made their living on the edges of legality, well, quite far over at various points. So she knows the routine, even though she's become respectable in her own life, for her own daughters. 

But then something happens. A crime family transporting hash to France, whom she's been following via her police translations, has a crisis. Patience is connected with them in another unexpected way, when she discovers that one of them works in her own mother's old age home. So she warns them. And then has insider knowledge that she suddenly decides to make use of. 

Patience becomes The Godmother, a mysterious drug dealer who appears out of nowhere and confounds the police, including her own sometime boyfriend, a cop himself. And what she does and how she does it is a clever reflection of societal expectations and prejudices, and the social stratification in France. 

Throughout this crime book (and don't worry, if you're like me and don't like dark gory crime, this is for you) there are statements about the corruption of the state -- how some Arabic drug dealers are arrested with great pomp and publicity, but others, including the police who profit from the same drug trade, are left to do as they please. How some people are punished for crimes that others profit by, how some people make a lot of money, but begrudge anyone else a cent. How judgments are made, both social and judicial, with a very uneven hand. This adds a strong flavour of social critique to the book, which, while it doesn't necessarily excuse some of the action, does give it more context. 

And the conclusion was satisfying, to me at least. To see Patience's decisions, to see how she reads the situation and adapts instantly, how she provides for her daughters first and then takes what she needs -- it all adds to her character. 

I really liked this one. Patience was an unusual and very believable character, and this novel has a sense of modernity and expands on a woman's role in all levels of contemporary life. Lots of issues are brought in, in a natural and fitting way, but it still reads like a crime novel and is full of interest and suspense. A great genre read to finish off this month with! 

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