Wednesday, 7 October 2009

“Wasp-Waisted”, David Barrie

Flippantly while refering to "Wasp-Waisted" I spoke of it being hard to resist, as it was a book simultaneously about murder and pants, however this is to do it a considerable disservice. Scottish author David Barrie has drawn on his experience of living in Paris to pull off that most accomplished of feats, an authentic feeling roman policier penned by someone other than a Frenchman.

"Wasp-Waisted" provides a fusion of murder and couture amidst an achingly fashionable Parisian setting. A series of murders connected by the extremely upmarket lingerie the victims are clad in and artistic photographs of their bodies supply all the raw materials needed for a crime novel suffused with Gallic charm and insouciance. The police are believably natural, Paris fashionistas and artists are chic and interesting in a Julie Delpy sort of way, and the murders richly depicted in a plot that steadfastly resists being predictable.

Franck Guerin is as engaging a central character as one could wish for. A former spook with DST, recovering from a controversial operation in Corsica, he neatly ticks many of the crime fiction 'must haves' as a loner, a man of action, and ill at ease with the more mundane aspects of police work. On the contrast between the resources available to the secret world (and the liberties taken with them) and the due process demanded by police work, he muses that "[p]laying by the rules might be good for one's conscience, but it could prove wearing on the nerves."

Personally Guerin's literate character is ambiguous in his relationships. Throughout the book he displays affection for a multitude of female characters, from an appreciation of model Sonia Delamazure's beautiful shoulders, the sparky relationships with investment banker Sylvie Thomas, and his frank interest in art professor Anne Subrini. Most striking is the lesson in lingerie supplied to him by magazine publisher Maryam Sehati. Throughout Barrie leaves the detail of Guerin's relationships almost completely unsaid, which all serves to add to the reader's interest in him.

As a novel it benefits from a bit of reflection, and the fact that you are thrown into Guerin's life very much at the deep end jars, but by Timothy this is good. It's the sort of book that left on your desk after a lunchtime indulgence calls out to you, and you feel obliged to stifle its siren song in a briefcase or drawer (not at all connected to the titillating pseudo erotic novel cover at all) and hanker to revisit it. As crime fiction it's different, engaging, well written, and deserving of all the attention it can possibly get.

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