Book: The Châtelet Apprentice by Jean François Parot

Pretty good; wish it were better

Jean-François Parot
The Châtelet Apprentice
Translated by Michael Glencross
Gallic Books, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-906040-00-0
339 pages
UKP 11.99

The Châtelet Apprentice is a police-detective novel set in late eighteenth-century Paris. Nicolas Le Floch is a young man from Brittany who has been sent by his pretty-important guardian and pretty-important godfather to Paris to be an early version of what turns out to be a police detective. He's put in charge of a case in which a policeman has disappeared. The case, of course, becomes more complicated and fraught as he investigates. There seems even to be a matter of state that's related to it.

If you ask me, that's a pretty cool premise for a detective novel. Unfortunately, the book doesn't quite live up to it. The plotting is interesting enough, but most of the characters, including Nicolas, are pretty one-dimensional. Especially disappointing is that Mr Parot never really manages to conjure the atmosphere of eighteenth-century Paris. There are particular scenes that are well-drawn, but nothing that rises to the level of a feeling of what it would have been like to be there.

Mr Parot provides a considerable amount of historical detail but, alas, it's not the sort of detail that creates atmosphere. For example:

    The inspector ordered him to take the quickest route,
    which meant going over Pont au Change, crossing
    Île de la Cité, reaching the Left Bank via Petit Pont,
    then speeding towards Porte Saint-Marcel and
    entering the faubourg. (p. 227)

It seems Mr Parot is doing little more than showing off his historical research here. That would be harmless except that it happens often enough to be obtrusive. After all, a police inspector's driver would take the quickest route as a matter of course.

Mr Parot uses the old device of having the detective gather all the suspects in a room before announcing his conclusions to them. That device is sufficiently hackneyed that it doesn't help the action feel natural.

The book isn't bad, but it's not as good as I was hoping for. This is Mr Parot's first novel and he seems to have written several more in the same vein that have yet to be translated into English. If and when another one is available in English, I'll probably give it a try in the hopes that Mr Parot will have matured as a writer.

There is a small error in the epigraph to chapter XI. There is "baits" (p. 200) where "bates" is wanted.

Posted: Tue - November 6, 2007 at 09:37 PM   Main   Category: