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Open Letters Monthly: "Georget is really good stuff."

Date: Jul 23 2013

Europa Editions’ “World Noir” series hits another high note with the publication in English of Philippe Georget’s easygoing, deceptively intelligent French Mediterranean police procedural Summertime, All the Cats are Bored (L’ete tous les chats s’ennuiens, here given an engaging translation by Steven Rendall, who handles Georget’s weird shifts from slap-dash conversationalism to almost stilted courtroom diction with singular aplomb). The genius of this Europa series is the incredibly invigorating way it opens up the too-frequently parochial American reading habits to whole new worlds of entertainment. It’s the surest way to overcome the reading public’s timidity toward literature in translation: serve up really good stuff, and customers won’t even care that it wasn’t written in Texas.

Georget is really good stuff. His story centers on the sleepy seaside town of Perpignan, where Inspector Gilles Sebag – middle aged, feisty grown children, minor schlubby health problems, femme fatale wife, move along folks, nothing to see here – is slowly shutting down internally with the sheer boredom of routine police work when suddenly an actual crime is dumped in his lap: a Dutch woman is found murdered on the beach, and shortly after that another woman disappears in the city. Suddenly, not only is the press of Perpignan awakened, but so too are Sebag’s policeman instincts: underlying a well-deployed procedural plot is the largely implied story of one man’s unexpected awakening, and it’s grand fun to read.

Sebag often functions as a mere conduit for Georget’s quick, wry observations:

In front of Sebag’s car, two enormous turbines were sweating dirty, stale water as they pumped out into the street the saturated air from the gym. Air conditioning is a soft drug that is spreading throughout the world, he said to himself.

But all the rest of the time, he’s wonderfully his own character – much like Ngaio Marsh’s Chief Superintendent Alleyn, Sebag is a constant observer of everything around him, picking up contrasts and never standing in the way of his own unconscious impressions, as when he interviews flashy events coordinator Gerard Barrere:

Objects worth their weight in cash and ostentation were arranged here and there on the glass furniture. A few old books, probably rare, a statuette in genuine ivory, numbered Tintin figurines, a coaster containing ancient Roman coins. On the desk was a miniature replica of Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man.

“It’s a copy, but it’s a real one,” Barrere explained.

Sebag pointed to a garish painting, the only decoration that hung on the walls. Composed of splashes of color with a preference for blood red and goose-shit green, it reminded Sebag of the first autopsy he’d witnessed when he was a young cop.

Murder mystery fans won’t be disappointed here. Summertime, All the Cats are Bored is virtually guaranteed to please them, on long summer evenings when heavier fare wants to wait for the cool of the morning.
–Steve Donoghue

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