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The Madonna of Notre Dame

by Alexis Ragougneau

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There has been a murder in the great cathedral and in its aftermath a great cast of characters is introduced. The suspect, an angelic looking young pervert; Clair, a young deputy magistrate haunted by memory; a bad cop and his good cop colleague; a homeless drunk Pole; and a host more. I'm glad to see this is a series as Père Kern is both engaging and ill so it's good to see that he will have another adventure.

My copy from my subscription to New Vessel Press. ( )
  seeword | Jan 27, 2017 |
4.5 stars

I don't really know why I liked The Madonna of Notre Dame, by Alexis Ragougneau, as much as I did. On its face, it is a short murder mystery, written well (but not spectacularly so) and featuring as its protagonist priest-turned-amateur-detective Father François Kern, one of several priests who serve at Paris's famed Cathedral of Notre Dame. Been done, you say, and of course library shelves abound with such men, although they are usually found in England. Father Kern is neither particularly clever (I identified the killer long before he did, although the motivation was a bit of a surprise) nor particularly smart (he could have easily avoided a dangerous encounter with the murderer if he had just thought about the situation for 30 seconds). He has no police sidekick à la James Runcie's vicar Sidney Chambers and Detective Inspector Geordie Keating, and Notre Dame isn't even "his" church in the sense that Sidney Chambers presides over Grantchester or Reverend Nick Lawrence oversees Lakehurst.

I think this last point may reveal what is special about Father Kern and The Madonna of Notre Dame. Father Kern isn't "important"; he is simply one of the many players in the pageant which is Notre Dame. While he ultimately solves the mystery, many others play significant roles, including a security guard, the sacristan, and even a couple of regular visitors to the cathedral. It is this sense of the drama of little people's lives playing out against the grandeur of a national treasure which paints Father Kern in such stark relief and gives this stunted, pain-ridden man such presence on the page.

This review was based on a free ARC provided by the publisher. ( )
  BrandieC | Oct 17, 2016 |
I love reading mysteries written by authors from other countries. It’s an interesting form of armchair travel that has made me a forever-addict to the Akashic Noir series. I have an enduring love Fred Vargas whose procedural mysteries are infused with a deep compassion and humanity. Excited at the possibility of a new French mystery writer, I was eager to read The Madonna of Notre Dame by Alexis Ragougneau, which was translated into English by Katherine Gregor.

The story opens with the murder of a beautiful woman dressed all in white at the famed Cathedral of Notre Dame, a site visited by 50,000 tourists every day. But don’t think that means there are lots of witnesses. She was murdered during the night, placed so she looked like she was praying and not discovered until someone sat next to her.

Father Bern was one of the people who discovered the body and he begins to investigate because he is certain of the innocence of the obvious suspect, a mentally ill young man who had attacked the woman the day before during a procession. He investigates, as does a police detective who is also troubled by the easy, and obvious solution that makes everyone else happy.

★★

I was disappointed in this novel, though if Regougneau writes a second, I will give it a chance and read it because I think he has the makings of a good mystery novelist. I do not read French, so I cannot know for certain if the tone that put me off comes from the translator or the author. There was a prurience that made me uncomfortable. I know that when women are murdered, there are often details of the murder that implicate sexual fetishes and psychoses, but when they are lingered over with too much loving detail, I am turned off. There is a scene in the apartment of the obvious suspect that I thought was gross and unnecessary in its details and narrative excess. It turned me off so much I considered not finishing the book, but I was interested in the humane Father Bern and wanted to see where the author took him.

I also did not like the mysterious disease that afflicts Father Bern. Give him rheumatoid arthritis or chronic fatigue or anything but some mysterious recurring and debilitating disease that makes no sense, that seems more like an affliction induced psychosomatically or by a punishing god. I want it to go away forever. There is a hallucinatory scene with the priest that again makes little sense and makes this humane, kindly and intelligent priest seem too naive and unaware to ever be the same person who earlier in that same day made the logical leap that brought him to that neighborhood at that time.

The biggest flaw, though, is that this is not truly a fair mystery. Readers are provided the clues that make the detective and the priest doubt the official police narrative, but the evidence that narrows the field from a set of suspects toward a narrower group is absent. Well, it’s there, the priest sees it plain as day in a video and the detective is told exactly who the murderer is by a witness, but that is “off-screen” so to speak. It would be too revealing to give the specifics, but there should be some other clues that narrow the field somehow.

We are also give the “mind of the murder” narrative, my personal pet peeve, a flashback to the past when the fatal flaw was introduced into the killer’s psyche. It was unnecessary and psychologically unpersuasive.

But, despite all those flaws, I do look forward to reading another by Ragougneau for the following reasons. He writes complex and intriguing characters. He creates a strong sense of place and mood. While I thought that hallucinatory scene with the priest was unlikely, it was truly hallucinatory. As a reader, the whole spinning, out-of-control, why-am-I-here, how-can-this-be unreality of it was magnificent. Ragougneau can write! I just want a stronger plot.

The Madonna of Notre Dame is only available in electronic format at the moment and will be released in paper on October 11th.

http://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/the-madonna-of-notre-dame-... ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Oct 1, 2016 |
Name of Book: The Madonna of Notre Dame

Author: Alexis Ragougneau

ISBN: 978-1-939931-3-99

Publisher: New Vessel Press

Type of book: Mystery, murder, Paris France, 2000s, church, Notre Dame, secrets, identities, motives, behind-the-scenes, The Feast of Assumption

Year it was published: 2016 (original 2014)

Summary:

Fifty thousand believers and photo-hungry tourists jam into Notre Dame Cathedral on August 15 to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. The next morning, a stunningly beautiful young woman clothed all in white kneels at prayer in a cathedral side chapel. But when an American tourist accidentally bumps against her, her body collapses. She has been murdered: the autopsy reveals disturbing details. Police investigators and priests search for the killer as they discover other truths about guilt and redemption in this soaring Paris refuge for the lost, the damned, and the saved. The suspect is a disturbed young man obsessed with the Virgin Mary who spends his days hallucinating in front of a Madonna. But someone else knows the true killer of the white-clad daughter of Algerian immigrants. This thrilling novel illuminates shadowy corners of the world’s most famous cathedral, shedding light on good and evil with suspense, compassion and wry humor.

Characters:

Main characters include Father Kern who has a mysterious illness and is determined to help solve the crime of the murdered woman. Father Kern will also do whatever he can and seems to notice things before others do. There is also Gombrowicz who is one of the investigators, I believe, and for some odd reason I keep thinking of him as a lackey of sorts. There is also the suspect, a young man who seems to have an odd obsession with Madonna the Virgin and Madonna the Whore. The victim is a young woman who is best described as incredibly beautiful, provocative, and has a mysterious identity and past.

Theme:

There is more to the story than meets the eye

Plot:

The story is in third person narrative mainly from Father Kern's point of view, although few other characters such as Gombrowicz and Claire Kauffman are also given a glimpse of. The start of the story is very intriguing, especially the nature of the crime because it's not something a reader might have been introduced to before, but I do feel that towards the end some details get lost and I often felt uncertain on how they got to a specific point in the story.

Author Information:
(From back of the book)

Alexis Ragougneau is a playwright, and The Madonna of Notre Dame is his first novel. He worked for several months in Notre Dame Cathedral helping monitor tourist crowds and knows well its infinite secrets and the forgotten souls who linger in its darkest corners.

Opinion:

Because I previously reviewed The 6:41 to Paris, I expected for The Madonna of Notre Dame to at least be similar to the book. I know that its different authors and translators, but I guess because same publishing company did both, I had pretty high expectations. I think if I didn't previously review the 6:41 to Paris, I would have liked it a bit more because there are behind-the-scenes when it comes to Notre Dame church as well as interesting and quirky characters. I feel that the story carried on well enough until perhaps the middle or almost towards the end when it felt rushed to me.

This is for France Book Tours ( )
  Sveta1985 | Sep 25, 2016 |
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