The Godmother | Hannelore Cayre | translated by Stephanie Smee |Black Inc | September 2019 | RRP $28.00 | 9781760641610
“My fraudster parents had a visceral love of money. They loved it, not like you love an inert object stashed away in a suitcase or held in some account. No. They loved it like a living, intelligent being that can create and kill, that is endowed with the capacity to reproduce.”
Hannelore Cayre’s The Godmother arrived at the bookshop billowing a trail of hype, anticipation and acclaim behind it. Winner of the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious award for crime fiction, and adapted to screen, this bite-sized slice of French noir tells the story of Patience Portefeux, a widowed 53-year-old translator for the Paris drug squad, who lives meagerly, struggling to provide for her daughters and her aged mother’s care. When she comes into contact with the mother of a drug trafficker, she uses information gleaned from the police wiretaps she translates to secure a large quantity of hash. Under the alias the Godmother, she constructs a small criminal empire, thereby securing her financial future, and her family’s, and marinating over the moral implications of her decision.
It’s eminently readable, and efficiently translated by Stephanie Smee, but there’s a distinct lack of tension or excitement in The Godmother. It reads at a lackadaisical pace, which never threatens to become boring, but never got my blood boiling. It’s a fascinating portrait of a woman pushed to extremes, and her sardonic observations of French society are lacerating, but it faded in and out of my life with a glimmer rather than the explosion I was hoping for. I was never particularly anxious about Patience’s fate, and for a novel that’s fundamentally about a woman exposing herself to a city’s underworld and steeping herself in a corrupt world, that’s a real killer. It’s not bad; I just prefer my crime fiction with underlying menace.