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Sunrise Behind the Louvre by Léo Malet
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Sunrise Behind the Louvre (1954)

by Léo Malet

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Le soleil naît derrière le Louvre was the first in a series of Nestor Burma novels each set in a different Paris Arrondissement. This one is set - logically enough - in the 1st, the central district around the Louvre. The plot involves a painting stolen from the Louvre, the first murder takes place in the basement of a banana warehouse in Les Halles, the femme fatale lives in the Transocéan Hotel (the Ritz?) on the Place Vendôme, and there are scenes in an antique shop in the Palais-Royal, a bird shop on the quais, a yacht on the Seine, etc. Burma's office is also in this district: we aren't explicitly told where in this book, but according to Wikipedia it was above the shop Malet used to keep, on the corner of the Rue Sainte-Anne and the Rue des Petits-Champs.

Apart from all the 1950s Paris atmosphere, which is great fun (I dug out a pile of records of French chansons to listen to whilst reading this book), the mood is very American-noir. Wisecracking first-person narrative, hyperbole, dry understatement (but also terrible French puns and jokey literary references), ludicrous numbers of corpses, gratuitous sex and alcohol, and of course the detective forever getting hit on the head, shot, or tied up. Burma is as sexist as any of his American confrères, but thankfully he's self-consciously aware of it as part of the role he has to play and refuses to take this aspect of himself seriously. In the scenes where he's trying to get Geneviève to lean forward so that he can look down her dress, it's made pretty clear to us that we're supposed to be laughing at him and not with him. Just in case we don't get the point, his competent and self-confident secretary is always standing by to take the mickey if he gets too full of himself.

I think it would be quite easy to get tired of this formula if you read too many at once, but for once in a while it is very entertaining. Definitely something to keep in stock as comfort reading for next time I'm ill... ( )
1 vote thorold | Mar 6, 2016 |
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