cover image Write to Kill

Write to Kill

Daniel Pennac. Harvill Press, $23 (224pp) ISBN 978-1-86046-535-2

Benjamin Malauss ne is not only the director of Vendetta Press, a small, literary Parisian publishing house, but also the official company scapegoat. And as this accomplished, satisfying third English-language installment of the French crime writer's Belleville series (The Fairy Gunmother, etc.) opens, Benjamin, tired of the ugly imperatives of the book business is tendering his resignation to Queen Zabo, matriarch of Paris publishing. But almost immediately, the queen makes him an offer he cannot refuse. Sales are dropping off for Vendetta's sole brand-name author, mysterious J.L. Babel, and Vendetta decides to launch a behemoth publicity campaign under the pretense of revealing the author's identity. By signing a lucrative deal to publicly impersonate J.L.B., Benjamin plans to secure the future of the numerous siblings he supports, though his formidable journalist girlfriend, Julie, disapproves. Benjamin is also the center of an extended, ethnically diverse, criminally suspect circle of cronies in the Belleville quarter of Paris who, together with his family and his epileptic canine, Julius the Dog, form his ""tribe."" The tribe is ambivalently preparing for Benjamin's sister Clara's wedding to Clarence Saint-Hiver, the governor of a model, experimental prison where the inmates form a collective of writers, sculptors and composers. But when Clarence is found gruesomely executed--apparently by his faithful charges--on the morning of the wedding, the previously undetectable thread connecting J.L.B.'s towering success, Benjamin's charade and the prison slaying commences its sly, gradual unwinding. Pennac's mastery of his genre is complemented by his sly asides and carefully tempered irony, and his polished prose (deftly rendered in Monk's British-inflected translation) makes it plainer still that this is serious, sophisticated entertainment: crime fiction at its most admirable. (Oct.)