A Very Profitable War by Didier Daeninckx, translated by Sarah Martin
Melville International Crime, December 2012
originally published as Le der des ders, 1984, published in English in 1994
Source: library copy
Didier Daeninckx is a writer I first heard about in Rich’s review of Murder in Memoriam, the only other Daeninckx available in English, and the political element of his writing caught my eye. But besides politics, A Very Profitable War deals with the life of a private investigator: René Griffon, a World War I veteran who’d like to forget about the war completely is hired by Colonel Fantin, a war hero, to track his unfaithful wife in Paris in 1920. Of course Griffon uncovers much more than an unfaithful wife (blackmail, political exploitation, and more), and Griffon and Irène, his partner and girlfriend, are surprised by the dangers of the investigation.
I don’t read historical crime fiction much, but this book strikes me as exceptionally evocative of the industrial, residential, and political landscape of Paris after World War I. There is also, of course, lots of information about World War I since Griffon remembers his service and what he’d like to forget about, but it’s handled in an interesting way. It’s much less confusing than the war sections of Nesbø’s The Redbreast, for example. It does, however, slow down the action in the first third of the book.
Though Daeninckx has lots of sympathy for René and other war veterans, especially in a scene in a sanatorium, it strikes me that he doesn’t flesh out the rest of his characters. Irène, especially, is an idealized figure without much to do, and the villains are a bit flat. That being said, it’s an interesting and brief read with some surprises along the way despite the few things that bothered me, i.e. the female characters, Griffon’s obsession with his Packard automobile, and lots of descriptions of driving directions.
Only two Daeninckx books have been translated into English, and the third, Nazis in the Metro, is scheduled for publication in February 2014.