cover image The Hanged Man of Conakry

The Hanged Man of Conakry

Jean-Christophe Rufin, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson. Europa, $17 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-60945-733-4

Set in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, this gem of a diplomatic thriller from Prix Goncourt winner Rufin (The Red Collar) opens with a crowd of locals gazing at the body of a man hanging by one foot from the mast of a sailboat moored in a decrepit marina. The victim, a vacationing Frenchman who’s been in the marina for months, also has a large wound in his chest. How he ended up hanging dead from a mast presents a puzzle that Aurel Timescu, a minor French embassy official with a lifelong passion for investigating crime, is determined to solve. Scorned by most of his French associates, Aurel, a small man of indeterminate middle age with an odd dress sense, grew up in Communist Romania, where he became accustomed to the “permanent union of respectability and crime.” Yet this outwardly ridiculous character possesses cunning and other hidden strengths based on such experiences as time spent in Ceausescu’s jails, where he was tortured, that make him a good detective. Rufin offers razor-sharp insights into cultural clashes in the former French colony as economical prose drives the intricate plot to a powerful ending. Readers will be reminded of Georges Simenon, only better. (Dec.)