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Polars: nine nuggets to offer at Christmas... but not to just anyone!

Offer a thriller at Christmas: the idea seems excellent and easy to achieve.

- 23 reads.

Polars: nine nuggets to offer at Christmas... but not to just anyone!

Offer a thriller at Christmas: the idea seems excellent and easy to achieve... until you find yourself in front of the "detective novel" section of the bookstore. The offer is abundant and the choice is often difficult. You should know: there is not ONE thriller lover but a multitude. Each with their own tastes, habits and dislikes. A fan of noir de noir does not necessarily like classic police investigations, others swear by historical thrillers, Swedish series or legendary American authors. To help you make the right choice for the right person and avoid the odds, we have selected nine very different titles from recent releases and associated them with a particular reader profile. The pairing will sometimes seem easy or caricatural to you, we assume that. It is not forbidden to reverse, to innovate, to amaze, but we assure you, you will have the best holidays if you follow our recommendations.

Greed, by Deon Meyer (Gallimard, transl. from Afrikaans by Georges Lory, 594 P., 20€)

A few months ago, to make us wait between two "good-real" Deon Meyers, the publisher offered us a novella far from his usual writings and a bit disappointing. What happiness, in this winter, to find our favorite characters, the two cops Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido, whom we have been following for years. Is it their humanity - Cupido is this time convinced he's obese? Is it the captivating dive into the police and South African politics? We grab this novel and we don't let go, the 600 pages are swallowed in a few days. Because if he always uses the same elements, Deon Meyer does not give in to the ease of the one who created a successful series. He works on his intrigues, takes us into the gloomy underworld of South African society, he takes care of the action scenes with particular talent. In particular the opening one - we are there, we live it. Meyer gently brings his two stories to converge on each other, until the last line of the last page where we say "ah, no!" It's so good that you shouldn't hesitate to borrow the gift from the father-in-law once he has read it. All lovers of good thrillers will love it.

If they weren't so crazy, by Claire Raphaël (Rouergue, 288 P., 22€)

One night in a group of buildings in the Paris region, a man wakes up, he heard a gunshot. He discovers his neighbor, dead. The police intervene in the form of a duo, composed of an experienced cop and a forensic science engineer. Less than the outcome, what fascinates in Claire Raphaël's book is the course of the investigation, described in a cold, almost clinical way. We follow in the footsteps of the two police officers, we follow hour by hour their steps, the hesitations, their way of tracing the thread of broken lives and the reasons that lead to it. We measure their share of humanity in the face of the schizophrenic daughter of the victim who accuses herself of the murder. And this is the other fascinating aspect of the novel: a dive into the world of mental illness, of what it produces in grief and small glimmers of hope, summed up in this very nice title "If they don't weren't that crazy." An ultra-realistic text written with a chalk line, all the stronger, no doubt, as the novelist works in the scientific police.

A scarf in the snow, by Viveca Stern (Albin Michel, trans. by Rémi Cassaigne, 482P. , €21.90)

A scarf in the snow

Albin Michel

Viveca Stern abandons its usual Swedish islands and its heroine who has become the star of a TV series for a new universe and new characters. But she does not change what made her successful, since we remain in a closed and isolated environment - this time, a ski resort - with a duo of investigators - a police heroine in trouble with her hierarchy, a little in margin of the official teams, and an inspector well in court but who chose to move away from the capital. The story begins with the discovery of a frozen body on a chairlift, then a woolen scarf. The two heroes will work to delve into the daily life and intimacy of this small society where everyone knows each other, observes each other and helps each other (at least in appearance). As in the series that takes place in Sandhamn, the intimate lives of the two protagonists occupy a central place in the book: the birth of a baby for one, the breakup and the dismissal of the Stockholm police for the other. . It reads effortlessly, we get attached to the characters, we're already ready for the next volume.

The dark paths of Karachi, by Olivier Truc (Métailié, 272P., 22€)

For once, Olivier Truc leaves the far north of Sweden where he has set up his "reindeer police" to explore the streets of Karachi in Pakistan. He is successfully trying out a delicate exercise: revisiting the attack which, in 2002, cost the lives of 14 people, including 11 French engineers, employees of the DCN, who came to transfer technology to submarines. Those most keen on current affairs remember the kickbacks and hidden financing of Edouard Balladur's presidential campaign in 1995, but on the Pakistani side, what happened, what led to the tragedy? It was by following in the footsteps of a journalist from Cherbourg and several of whose relatives worked at the DCN at the time that Olivier Truc constructed his version of the case. Because he has been to the country several times, he draws from it, beyond the politico-judicial intrigue, a novel rooted in the city and in two worlds which do not have much in common and whose the values ​​are difficult to reconcile. Between these two worlds, are friendship and love possible? Or is it all treason or self-interest? A fascinating way to re-examine recent history.

The Beast, by Carmen Mola (Actes Sud, trad. by Anne Proenza, 480P., €17.99)

Surprisingly modern than this historical novel, a bit like In the name of the rose when it was released. It takes place in the 1830s in a Madrid taken by the fever of cholera and the civil wars started by the Carlists. As if it weren't enough for soldiers to die under arms and ordinary people from disease, a dismembered young girl is discovered in a poor neighborhood. Immediately, we accuse a mysterious being, "the beast". Nothing fantastic however in La Besta, the vein is that of the detective novel: an ambitious young journalist, a one-eyed policeman and a fearless orphan lead the investigation to discover what is hidden behind these murders. Carmen Mola, pseudonym of three Spanish writers and screenwriters, had already entertained us with two contemporary novels. This time, they take us from brothels to noble palaces, from miserable rooms to hospices at the beginning of the 19th century. We turn the pages with a certain happiness, we sometimes look away from the horrors of a city subjected to the worst demons, we learn a lot about an unknown part of Spanish history. In short, the job is done and well done.

Nuages ​​baroques, by Antonio Paolacci and Paola Ronco (Rivages, trans. by Sophie Bajard, 352P., 22€)


Newcomers to the Italian thriller scene, Antonio Paolacci and Paola Ronco land with a hero who thwarts the codes of the genre and an ultra-contemporary theme. The sub-prefect Paolo Nigra, who is leading the investigation, is not afraid to appear openly gay in a world that is not necessarily very open in terms of morals. However, the murder on which he is dispatched particularly moves him since it is a young boy found in a pink coat not far from a place where the civil union of homosexuals was celebrated the night before. The book tackles a multitude of very serious subjects: the possibility of living one's homosexuality without hiding, latent or displayed homophobia, but also political violence since the investigation takes place in Genoa, a city marked by the G8 of 2001, the death of a young demonstrator, the eruption of black blocks and police repression. But we can offer it without depressing the little cousin who is very aware of these fights: the form remains light, enamelled with humor and winks to the great veterans of Italian thrillers, the secondary characters who assist the sub-prefect Nigra are as earthy as can be. A nice discovery for lovers of originality.

Le grand soir, by Gwenaël Bulteau (La Manufacture des livres, 292P., €20.90)

For Gwenaël Bulteau, history is not just the setting for her intrigues, but a character in its own right. As much as noir novels, his stories are politically and socially inspired. Noticed in 2021 with The Republic of the Weak set in Lyon at the end of the 19th century, this time he put his pen between Paris and the northern mining basin between 1905 and 1906. We follow the misadventures of a young bourgeois girl who tries to find his cousin who disappeared on the day of Louise Michel's funeral, but also that of a union leader watched by the police, of miners on strike... We dive into the slums of the working world but also into the back - less than stellar courses in posh circles. The author pays particular attention to his historical reconstruction, teaching us a host of details about the context of the time. But without sacrificing any of its plot. Pitfalls, pretense, bad tricks, everything is there to spend a more than entertaining moment. We eagerly await the third volume of this trilogy. For Christmas 2023?

Unofficial, by Dan Fesperman (Cherche-Midi, trans. by Michèle Lenormand, 496P., €23.50)

Inevitably, like any good spy novel, Unofficial takes place in Berlin. We are in 1979, the Wall still separates the city in two and the CIA watches over the Soviet threat. A young American, assigned by the Agency to maintain the hideouts in which the agents meet, is, one evening, witness to two scenes which she should never have attended. In 2014, she and her husband, two apparently peaceful retirees, are murdered by their mentally deficient son in a remote corner of Maryland. What connection is there between the two events separated by more than three decades, one of which stems from the Cold War, the other from domestic drama? It is Helen's daughter, assisted by an experienced detective, who will try to understand. Very effective spy novel inspired by real events, Unofficial also has this originality to make us discover the place of women in a world of secrets where they have often had only a subordinate role while knowing much more than the majority of officers. Not unpleasant to see, for once, James Bond being beaten by Miss Moneypenny.


The woman on the second floor, by Jurica Pavicic (Agullo, trans. by Olivier Lannuzel, 240P., €21.50)

The mystery is lifted from the outset: for eleven years, Bruna has been serving a prison sentence under Article 91, Chapter 10 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Croatia for aggravated murder. But what did she do? Who did she kill? The woman on the second floor dresses up in thriller attire to tell another story. That of the "ifs", of if I hadn't done that that day, if I hadn't met this person and, above all, if I had known how to say no, at such and such a moment. After L'eau rouge, which won multiple awards two years ago, Jurica Pavicic is back with a social variant noir novel that will appeal to all those who don't like detective novels (but also those who like them when they come out of beaten track). Here, the investigation is only a pretext, we already know the culprit, but, from her youth of yesterday to her daily prison life today, we follow the paths of chance that can lead an ordinary woman to the murder. The writing is unadorned, the descriptions coldly precise, we are all the more chilled by the fate of Bruna in a Croatia that is beautiful and sad at the same time, far from the postcard image tourists who only go there in the summer.

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