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Lorraine Connection

November 15, 2010 14 comments

Lorraine Connection, by Dominique Manotti. Translated in English by Amanda Hopkinson – Ros Schwartz

I always find it difficult to write about crime fiction, especially to sum up the plot without giving away too many details. Here is the blurb of Lorraine Connection:

“In Pondange, Lorraine, Daewoo owns a plant that manufactures cathode-ray tubes. It’s the only job provider in this area, which used to live on iron and steel industry. Nobody really cares about working conditions, until the employees start a riot. The factory is on fire. Is this fire really an accident? It’s Fall, 1996, the Daewoo plant is in the middle of a strategic fight to takeover Thomson, a blue ship of French economy. Matra, allied to Daewoo, won the bargain. But Alcatel, its supplanted rival, doesn’t give up the fight. And when such a firm fights back, it’s with considerable means. Murders, backhanded blows, underhand manoeuvres, nothing daunts the rivals that fight in this giant Monopoly”

The warning at the beginning of the book is clear: “This is a novel. Everything is true, everything is a lie”.  Indeed, Dominique Manotti writes crime fiction novels based on economical scandals and true facts.

Lorraine Connection was published in 2006 and is about the Daewoo plant which was built with European funds on the premises of former iron and steel works in Lorraine. The iron and steel crisis of the 1980s was a tragedy for this region. Factories closed one after the other, people were either unemployed or early retired (at 50). The landscape was made of dead factories, ghostly remembrance of a glorious past, when this place was an economical champion for France. I come from this region, not from the Fensch valley, described in this book, but from a nearby valley. Dominique Manotti found the right words to describe the place, its inhabitants, the atmosphere after the economical debacle. She even thought of culinary details, like when someone brings a “tarte aux questches” (a dark-red plum pie), which is a very local desert. Pondange doesn’t exist but sounds like many towns in that area, were names ending by ‘ange’ are widespread. I think Pondage corresponds to Hayange.

The only thing that sounded fake was the characters’ names: Maréchal, Quignard, Lepetit. The local dialect is based on German. The iron and steel industry attracted massive immigration waves from Italy, Spain, Poland, Portugal and later, from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. So those very francophone names are strange. When I was 15, I can only recall of one pupil having a francophone name in my about 25 students class. All the others had, like me, a foreign name, mostly Italian or German.

That’s the major flaw I found in this book. Otherwise, all clicks well. Dominique Manotti’s style is efficient and easy to read, with a good rhythm. That this book based on true facts makes me shiver. Only the characters were born from the writer’s imagination and fit in the Noir pattern: silly police officers, a private detective with his own wounds, moral code and tainted past, a handsome woman directly linked to the events. A good read, like a good movie.  Recommended.

Here are links (in French, sorry) about the Daewoo waste, if someone wants to learn more about it.

PS: This book was the 2008 winner of the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger prize, to award crime fiction books in translation.

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