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Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Paris Directive, by Gerald Jay (hardcover, $25)

This is pretty close to mystery nirvana: a sophisticated book set in France, populated by interesting characters, with descriptions of good food. Ahh.

Paul Mazarelle used to be a well-regarded detective in Paris, but he relocated to the Dordogne region because his wife was dying and she wanted to return home. It is 1999 and Mazarelle, now a widower, is still a flic in Taziac. (Taziac, by the way, is a fictional village created by the pseudonymous Gerald Jay.)

Here is Jay's description of Mazarelle:  "Once in Paris on the Métro he'd even helped a pregnant woman deliver her baby. Libération, reporting the story, called him the 'Swiss Army knife of detectives.'"

Into Mazarelle's lap falls a violent crime. Four tourists have been viciously murdered in their rental home in the countryside. Author Jay threads another story through this one, one more political and international in nature. Two former French agents have hired an assassin, Klaus Reiner. It is clear that his target is one or more of the tourists. But why? And is he really the murderer. A handyman at the rental home, Ali Sedak, has the misfortune of being a foreign national from Algeria and is being looked at for the crimes.

Although he has been away from senses-sharpening Paris for a while, Mazarelle's instincts are still attuned to what is out of place. His instincts tell him that Ali Sedak is not the killer. Echoing that thought is the American daughter of two of the victims, who has flown to Taziac to claim the bodies of her parents. She is determined to help catch whoever it really was and instead, of course, winds up on the wrong end of a cat-and-mouse game.

The mysterious Gerald Jay has written a very good debut novel. I suspect, however, that this is not his first book. He combines two serious storylines with a good sense of place, a sense of humor, and well-rounded characters.

Jay deftly describes characters:

"One day Mazarelle's father, Guy, a serious boozer and womanizer had walked out of their house to go to work and never came back. An actor -- a large, handsome man before all his drinking and whoring caught up with him -- Guy was a peacock who fancied himself a star but was really only a bit player. A good voice though, a big resonant stage voice that reminded one critic of the American performer Paul Robeson. He made a career out of that review, dining out on his part as the Fire Chief in Ionesco's 'Bald Soprano.'"

and gives a rich sense of place:

"A Lucullan feast to end a trying day. The duck rich as Midas and meltingly tender, the local cèpes plucked fresh from their bosky depths and ennobled by the bird's savory fat and garlic."

Whoever the author is, he appreciates art and good food, essentials for writing a book set in France, n'est-ce pas?

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