A review of Murder in Memoriam by Didier Daeninckx

Murder in Memoriam is a police procedural that is entertaining, suspenseful and thought-provoking. There is a clandestine feel to much of the story, a sense that there are espionage agencies working in the shadows, and it is similar to Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen mysteries in this respect.

Reviewed by Paul Kane

Murder in Memoriam
by Didier Daeninckx
Serpent’s Tail
August 2005

Didier Daeninckx’s police procedural opens with a demonstration by Algerian immigrants in the centre of Paris in 1961. The demonstration leads to a massacre when the police lose control and hundreds of Algerians lose their lives and, in the midst of this, the premeditated murder of a schoolteacher called Roger Thiraud is carried out. Twenty years later, Roger’s son Bernard is also murdered while carrying out a piece of library research in Toulouse. Are the two murders connected? Well, of course they are – this is a detective story after all – but it is the nature of the connection coupled with Daeninckx’s incisive exploration of the insidious anti-Semiticism of France itself that lifts his novel above the ordinary.

Murder in Memoriam has in fact been quite a significant novel for France. On its original publication in 1984 it had a great influence on the French Government’s decision to try Nazi collaborators, and in particular those who assisted in the deportation of Jewish families to the concentration camps. Around this time also President Mitterand undertook to make 16 July a day of national reflection on fascism and racism. So for a novel written in the ghetto of genre it has had quite a significant effect on the world.

How does the book fare as a work of fiction? Inspector Cadin is Daeninckx’s cop but we aren’t really given any great sense of his character; instead, it is the story that matters. The main strand of the story involves murder and complicity in genocide and is as dark as dark can be. Whilst this is given its full weight, there is space here too for bizarre digressions and lightweight interludes, such as an incident where a jewel thief swallows some diamonds in a fit of pique and these then have to be recovered. The use of light as well as shade is, to my mind, one of the advantages of the police procedural as a form; and it is well used here. After all the police handle many cases, sometimes simultaneously, and not all are grim or tragic. It seems to me that it is effective storytelling (and effective pedagogy too for that matter) to couple a dark tale with other tales (or cases) that offer entertainment and diversion. Anyway, despite his serious central message the author thankfully has felt no compulsion to write a dry didactic tome.

Murder in Memoriam is a police procedural that is entertaining, suspenseful and thought-provoking. There is a clandestine feel to much of the story, a sense that there are espionage agencies working in the shadows, and it is similar to Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen mysteries in this respect. Most importantly of all, it is a near-perfect demonstration that writing a novel in a popular form can be effectively coupled with a serious intent.

About the Reviewer: Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and can be contacted at pkane853@yahoo.co.uk

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