Friday, 13 September 2013

"Hard Hearted", David Barrie

Back in 2009 I wrote a few lines about David Barrie's debut novel, the rather good "Wasp Waisted". Since then he's gone on to three more works featuring Franck Guerin connected variously with perfume, ballet, and now, with "Hard Hearted", high finance and (perhaps more loosely) 17th century literature.

Like the previous works in the series, "Hard Hearted" succeeds in feeling quintessentially French. This is Gitanes and espresso territory, where the geography of Paris is laid out before you, and everything is done with typical Gallic flair. This is delivered with a sense of wry humour, never more pointedly than when Guerin points out that "Defending French as a language of international communication is a keytone of our nation's foreign policy. Even if I could speak English, I'd have to pretend that I didn't".

The Paris of Barrie's work manages to combine the beauty of the Hotel Menier, by Parc Monceau, the elegant facades of the Sorbonne juxtaposed with the rabbit's warren within, and the more impoverished garrets in which the creatives and workers of Paris still exist cheek by jowl. Cast against this is a highly absorbing crime story mixing the theft of a rare manuscript, the murder of a beautiful woman, and the sort of financial activity that sits somewhere between being very clever and maybe a little bit criminal. Throughout it retains the ability to surprise, and at times shock, which holds attention throughout, and leaves you disappointed when you come to an end.

Barrie's works remain on the margins of crime fiction, strangely neglected by mainstream publishing. "Hard Hearted" languishes at 1,343,726 on the list of Amazon's best sellers. This is a huge shame. These engaging and erudite books deserve a much larger audience, and I can't help feeling that if anyone who enjoys the thinking person's flavour of murder picked one up they'd really enjoy it. 

Go on, try one, if nothing else it should spark an interesting discussion with your friendly local bookseller, and may encourage Barrie to finish the promised fifth volume in the series.

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