cover image The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat

Daniel Pennac. Harvill Press, $23 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-86046-442-3

Pennac's comic mysteries about a young man who takes responsibility for everything that goes wrong at his job and who looks after his wayward mother's many children at home are very popular in his native France. They're also catching on in England, where this new edition of a book written in 1985 originated. Whether this Pennac effort will find a home in American hearts is problematic--first because of Monk's Britspeak translation (""as thick as a docker's sandwich"" is just one of many stoppers), and second because of a style that emphasizes color and character while coming up short on story and logic. Benjamin Malaussene's official title at the giant Paris emporium known only as the Store is quality controller--but what he really does is let customers and staff blame him when refrigerators catch fire, going through a ritual drama which saves the Store many lawsuits. At home in the largely Arab neighborhood of Belleville, Ben plays father to an assortment of half-siblings. All of this is charming, even fascinating stuff, full of very French insights into work and family roles. But when bombs begin to go off in the Store while Ben is on the job, and the people being killed are an odd assortment of WWII relics, Pennac appears almost apologetic to be interrupting our fun with the darker necessities of crime fiction--like who the victims are and why we should care about them. (Oct.)