(hard-boiled African noir)
Release date: November 19, 2015
at Le French Book
Website | Goodreads
Everything is possible and nothing is certain in Bamako. A man torn between two continents finds himself in a dangerous confrontation between tradition and corruption. Solo is a former cop who ran away from a dark past in France to start his life over again in Bamako, Mali, as a PI. An ordinary case turns out to be not so ordinary. The drug mule gets her throat slit. The French lawyer is too beautiful and too well-informed. The cocaine is too plentiful. This is hard-boiled noir with a modern twist set in West Africa.
The White Leopard is definitely noir. The PI set on a case by a woman, and continuing on it to avenge a friend… it’s like The Maltese Falcon, except there’s no falcon, and I have a feeling that Sam Spade might take awhile to get up to speed in this modern world, where it’s drugs people are after, not mysterious and legendary falcons.
Solo, the PI, has cunning and guts, and is startlingly cool under pressure. Yet he’s human, like everyone else in this drama, and he has his weaknesses. Beautiful women, girls without protectors, his friend and houseman, and a kid needing a job. Like most PIs, he’s troubled, and running from (or just plain avoiding) a troubled past. He’s also quick-witted, reminding me somewhat of Henry Kane’s hero, Pete Chambers (just minus New York).
Bringing noir to an African setting instead of a more typical US metropolis got me interested quickly, and Guillaume’s compelling writing kept me reading. I am so glad Le French Book had this one translated. I hope they’ll translate more from M. Guillaume in the near future, because I think I’ve found another favourite author.
LYON, FRANCE, THE PAST
There she is, a metal monster with a tricked-out engine, lying motionless in a chop shop outside the city. She’d been souped up with heavy side panels and a supercharged engine. Perfect for trafficking. It’s stinking hot out, but they really should have closed the door of the garage.
Sweating’s better than bleeding.
I check my watch. I don’t have much time before the others show up, lights flashing, sirens blaring, and all that crap. I lift the latch and push the gate open. It hardly squeaks. I stay off the gravel driveway and walk through the overgrown yard to avoid being spotted. The makeshift shop looks like it was once a house. Bodies of abandoned cars are rotting away all around it. Waste oil and battery acid are seeping from their guts, making holes in the weeds. The men are there. They’re busy taking apart the front of the car. The crushed radiator and bumper have already been ripped off.
It’s the watchdog that spots me—a rottweiler mutt with a big muscular chest. His black and wild coat’s full of scars, some of them still fresh, no doubt from being forced to fight in basements of the neighboring projects.
Chained to the rusty body of a Renault 11, he leaps up on all fours, baring a steel-jaw trap and yellow fangs.
He gives a muffled growl. From deep inside.
Slowly, I walk closer, bringing my finger to my lips.
“Shush!” I whisper. How pathetic. The dog turns his huge snout toward his masters. When they don’t react, the animal starts barking. The men raise their heads. I freeze. They look at each other and come out of the garage, glancing around. No surprise, considering what they’re working on. Eddie, the giant, wipes his huge grease covered mitts on a rag. Steve, the weakling, approaches the animal, who’s barking louder now and foaming at the mouth. He leaps toward me with crazed eyes. The dog’s chain looks ready to break. The skeleton of the car rises each time the animal jumps.
“Who’s the black asshole?” Steve asks.
“Can’t you see he’s a pig? Fuck!” Eddie shouts.
“I know he’s a cop. Why’s he alone?”
The animal has gone quiet. With a half-smile, Steve starts unfastening the chain that holds him back.
“Go on, Panzer. It’s lunch time.”
I’m not scared. I know what I have to do. I open my jacket and slip my hand on my weapon. The freed watchdog rushes toward me. The two brothers howl with laughter, cheering the attack.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is a multiple-award-winning French writer
and former police officer.
In law enforcement,
he worked anti-gang, narcotics,
and served in Mali as advisor to the local police.
He is now a full-time writer.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Sophie Weiner is a freelance translator and book publishing assistant from Baltimore, Maryland. After earning degrees in French from Bucknell University and New York University, Sophie went on to complete a master’s in literary translation from the Sorbonne, where she focused her thesis on translating wordplay in works by Oulipo authors. She has translated and written for web-based companies dedicated to art, cinema, and fashion as well as for nonprofit organizations. Growing up with Babar, Madeline, and The Little Prince, Sophie was bitten by the Francophile bug at an early age, and is fortunate enough to have lived in Paris, Lille, and the Loire Valley.
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