Sunday, July 12, 2009

A novel with no heroes

As discussed in this space last week, the workers in Lorraine Connection make moral decisions, all right, but so do corporate executives at several levels in two companies, and the decisions are always callous and reprehensible. At all events, the story rapidly expands beyond the assembly floor at the Daweoo plant in Pondange, a old steel town in France's Lorraine region.

The workers do not get left behind, though. Author Dominique Manotti weaves them in and out of the story, as victims, conspirators and hangers-on, caught up in the deepening plot without being reduced to sentimental tools.

The plot is that of a corporate thriller ripped right from today's headlines: Two corporate rivals fight for control of a giant state-owned company about to be sold off by France's government. (It may be significant that no political party is named anywhere in the novel. That could lead to easy polemics, but power in Manotti's world has nothing to do with party lines.)

The weapons in the corporate battle are murder, drugs, bribery and sexual blackmail. Corporate and political battles like this must be waged at the whitest heat, yet Manotti's prose is cool, distant and choppy even when it probes its characters' emotional lives. Corruption and the risk thereof at the highest levels – in European Union privatization schemes, in the clubby nature of power in France – are cited briefly and matter-of-factly.

And, in the novel's most intriguing touch, the private eye is no hero. He's no villain either; that would be too easy. He's just one more figure in the story, employed by one of the rival corporate groups to discredit the other, a human with, like so many other characters in this short novel, a compromised past. It's not the least of Manotti's achievements that she has no truck with the ideal of the hero who can save the world through his own will or die trying. This may be the least sentimental crime novel I have read, and one of the most original and impressive.

Lorraine Connection won last year's CWA International Dagger for Manotti and translators Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz. This year's winner will be announced Wednesday, along with the winners of the short story, Dagger in the Library and Debut Dagger awards. Read about the 2009 International Dagger short-listed titles at the CWA Web site.

P.S. At the risk of being labelled excessively fastidious, I'll note that my only quibble with the novel is one incorrect reference to vocal chords rather than the correct vocal cords.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Blogger Sucharita Sarkar said...

I have never read a corporate crime novel and this sounds really intriguing. Corporate intrigue, blackmail, espionage and corruption is a great backdrop for crime, I think, because the stakes are big enough for the players to be ruthless.

In India, a couple of years back, there was a film - CORPORATE - which dealt with the plot of corporate secrets being stolen, and had sexual blackmail and other such stuff, but being a Hindi movie, it ended up taking sides and pointing fingers. Still, it was something new...

July 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My reading tends more toward the crime than the thriller side, so the corporate thrillers I could name are movies. But I just did a quick search and found a bibliography of corporate thriller books, so I know they exist.

Lorraine Connection may take sides, but it does not point fingers. Its "little" people are drug dealers and philanderers, among other things, but their misdeeds, related in a straightforward manner, shrink to insignificancse set against the larger crimes of the bosses and politicians. Especially intriguing is the larger corruption alluded to in the novel but not forming part of its action. This adds to the atmosphere.

I think American corporate movies, such as Wall Street point fingers, perhaps in the manner of the Hindi example you cited.

Dominique Manotti is a professor of economic history. Whatever this brings to her fiction, she creates a convincing background for the international shenanigans she writes about in Lorraine Connection. It will be interesting to see what she did in her other two novels available in English, which I have just ordered.

July 13, 2009  

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