Saturday, 4 April 2015

ARAB JAZZ by Karim Miske

Arab Jazz by Karim Miské
Translated by Sam Gordon
Page Length: 304 (H/B)

Publisher: Quercus Books (MacLehose Press) - February 2015
Source: A whopping big thanks to the publisher


Genre: Crime Noir, Thriller, Multi Cultural Religious Tension, Black Humour

Book Synopsis:
Kosher sushi, kebabs, a second hand bookshop and a bar: the 19th arrondissement in Paris is a cosmopolitan neighbourhood where multicultural citizens live, love and worship alongside one another. This peace is shattered when Ahmed Taroudant’s melancholy daydreams are interrupted by the blood dripping from his upstairs neighbour’s brutally mutilated corpse.

The violent murder of Laura Vignole, and the pork joint placed next to her, set imaginations ablaze across the neighborhood, and Ahmed finds himself the prime suspect. However detectives Rachel Kupferstein and Jean Hamelot are not short of leads.

What is the connection between a disbanded hip-hop group and the fiery extremist preachers that jostle in the streets for attention? And what is the mysterious new pill that is taking the district by storm?

In this his debut novel, Karim Miské demonstrates a masterful control of setting, as he moves seamlessly between the sensual streets of Paris and the synagogues of New York to reveal the truth behind a horrifying crime.

My thoughts:
Prophetic with hindsight of recent tragic events of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris by religious extremists, and with increasing tension surrounding religious extremist groups, Arab Jazz by Karim Miské (originally written two years earlier) is set in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, where the inhabitants live in, not so much, a multicultural melting pot as a seething bubbling cauldron of religious hatred which is about to boil over. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Jehovah's witnesses all live in close proximity to each other. Add corrupt police officers, rising tension between these groups, sociopolitical issues, oh and of course murder, then you have this engrossing gripping and all too realistic read.

Ahmed Taroudant is a loner and a dreamer. He also has some mental health issues. Ahmed prefers to stay in his apartment daydreaming, reading poetry and crime novels.  Until, that is, the day he finds his neighbour, Laura Vignole, savagely murdered in her apartment located directly above his.  Enter detectives, Jean Hamelot and Rachel Kupferstein. The two detectives discover that Ahmed has a key to Rachel's flat, however they do not believe that he is their prime suspect, and this is where it's gets interesting. Ahmed, desperately wants to find the killer as he believes he has been set up to take the blame.

The characters are vividly portrayed, and fully fleshed out.  I really got a feel of who they were and how their life experiences had shaped their personalities. Of particular interest to me was Jean and the dark demons from his past. His, is an unsettling character that could certainly be developed and I would love to read more about him and the duo's adventures.

Albeit a seriously prophetic, gritty crime thriller there are also some humorous moments for instance when a pair of killers are attempting to dispose of the body of one of their victims. It is perverse but also amusing.

The pace is initially slow but progresses steadily into a riveting read that definitely held my interest throughout.  The plot is uncomplicated but the relationships between the developing characters and their religious beliefs, and the unravelling of events were a little confusing.  I compiled my own crime scene chart (in a note book, not a huge wall mounted one!) and had great satisfaction lining up the characters and their developing relationships to each other. There is a fair amount of data, and backfill information so this process was definitely beneficial to me in keeping pace as the story unfolded.

The one niggle I had was the slightly 'Scooby Doo' mystery reveal at the end, but that's such a small niggle it's hardly worth noting, although I did detract a point on an otherwise 5/5 rating.

I loved it and definitely recommend it to anyone interested in unusual crime noir with a twisted edginess.

Karim Miské is a journalist and documentary maker and is born to a Mauritian Muslim father and a French Atheist Marxist mother. Arab Jazz is an exciting debut novel and I'm eager to see what he does next.

Arab Jazz is translated from the original French into English by Sam Gordon.  I'm usually a little wary of translated novels as they don't always work well in my opinion but this is extremely well done.

Gushing over ... Just read it!

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