Originally published in French in 1995, translated into English (by Margaret Crosland and Elfreda Powell) in 2001, set in 1980, ROUGH TRADE is a blistering police-procedural novel set in the Sentier district of Paris, home to the rag trade. The Turkish community of illegal immigrant workers is mobilising to demand proper status and rights, led by Solieman, a handsome young political refugee. The book is written as a series of calendar entries over the period of a month: quick-fire, upfront, brutal, even crude – yet not salacious or gratuitous.
At the outset, a very young Thai girl is brutally murdered. When drugs seem to be involved, Inspector Daquin is called in to investigate. In a breathtaking series of set-pieces, each following on before the reader can draw breath from the last, Daquin and his team uncover a vast network of drug running, murder, Islamic militancy, prostitution, American CIA spying, police corruption, fraud and smuggling. At the same time, the Turks are threatening to disrupt the city in a series of demonstrations and militant actions to force the slow pace of their integration into French society. Daquin begins an affair with Solieman, at first so that he can infiltrate and control the Turks, but soon out of genuine affection and even love. The men's relationship is passionate yet touching – and ultimately useful to both parties.
The story is told in a completely unsentimental way. There are no straight heroes in this book, the police are just as capable of raping a woman as the villains, and beating up female witnesses is par for the course. The interplay between the police is so vivid: everyone is prey to their impulses, whether drinking, eating, or stronger pursuits. Yet Daquin and his team have their own integrity: when they begin to suspect some of their own colleagues of being involved in some of the crimes that surround them, they don't hesitate to act. I don't think there is a sober, boring character in the book – even the accountant called in at an early stage by Daquin to go through everyone's accounts has an amused tolerance, even admiration, for the unconventional methods and events played out around him.
As well as the zesty plot, it is fascinating to read the political background of the drug trade in the middle east and the plight of the Turkish economic migrants, combined with the growing threat of religious fanatical terrorism, particularly with the hindsight of the 12 years that have passed since the book was originally written.
ROUGH TRADE is an excellent crime novel. It is written in an unfalteringly assured style (it is hard to believe it is a first novel), the overlapping mysteries are realistically conveyed and the outcomes believable, the characterisation is strong, and there is real emotion in some of the stories, moving and tragic, that are played out in the pages.