A Very Profitable War by Didier Daeninckx

AA-Very-Profitable-War-235x300 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.

Other reviews appear in The Complete Review and Reviewing the Evidence.

Only two Daeninckx books have been translated into English, and the third, Nazis in the Metro, is scheduled for publication in February 2014.

8 thoughts on “A Very Profitable War by Didier Daeninckx

  1. Rebecca – I’m really interested in the hisorical aspects of this story. I think it’s because I’m fascinated by history. That said, though, I’m sorry to hear that the characters didn’t really come alive for you. I still may read this – the era does interest me.

    • The main character is interesting, and the history is very interesting, so the lack of other characters didn’t bother me too much, Margot. I’m currently zooming through the latest Jan Costin Wagner, and it’s very good.

      • Oh, good to hear, Rebecca! I’ve been wondering if that’s a good ‘un.

  2. Probably one I’ll pass on. I do read the odd book from this period, though I’d struggle to tell you the last one, but I don’t like reading much before WW2. The author’s a complete unknown to me.

    • He’s written a lot– crime novels, essays, and more–, so I’m not sure how representative this novel is. I’m sure his style has changed in the 29 years since he wrote this!

    • Only two of his books have been translated so far so he’s not too well-known here. What book are you reading about Paris in 1919, and do you recommend it?

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