From a quick trip to Paris to see my daughters I came back with a small unpretentious book I warmly recommend. I missed it when it was published last September. Its title is Mort d'une drag-queen (Actes Sud, collection Babel Noir, 2007) - A Drag-Queen's Death. Its author, Hervé Claude, is a French journalist and writer born in 1945. He was the maverick news anchor for French Television daily evening news for many years. He now works for Arte and shares his time between France and Australia.
Mort d'une drag-queen is the third of a series of romans noirs set in Australia within the gay world. The story is told by Ashe, a middle aged French former insurance investigator who lives in Perth, one of the ends of the world. After a drag-queen is found dead on a gay beach in Perth, Ange Cattrioni, the local police officer, asks his gay friend Ashe to investigate because he is convinced that the Federal Agency which has taken over the case will not very actively pursue it, in a mainly conservative and homophobic Australia. The plot brings Ashe to Sydney and its fashionable gay scenes, around Oxford Street and Newton, reminiscent of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the Australian cult movie of 1996. To the spectacular wild 'bush' region west of Sydney, around Wagga-Wagga. To Adelaide and finally to Auckland, another end of the world, and the black beach of Kare Kare, "ce paysage brut, sans trace de civilisation, aux collines abruptes et anarchiques couvertes d'une végétation très dense, qui reçoivent toutes les tempêtes d'ouest" ("that raw landscape, without trace of civilization, with its steep and cluttered hills covered by a very dense vegetation which endure all the storms coming from the west"), made famous by the emblematic movie, The Piano Lesson. Along the way he is confronted to the secret event which destroyed the lives of four young rugby players, and to an improbable love affair, as he is himself deeply moved by a young transvestite. The novel is a page turner.
Among other books, I also bought Philippe Besson's last novel, Un homme accidentel (Julliard, 2007) - A Fortuitous Man - which has just been published. Besson's first two books made him famous. En l'absence des hommes (Julliard, 2001) includes Marcel Proust as a central character, while Son frère (Juillard, 2001) was adapted for cinema by Patrice Chéreau in 2003. Both have been translated into English. Un homme accidentel, his eighth novel, is ostentatious and very disappointing. In the early 90s a Los Angeles young police officer is investigating the death of a male prostitute in Beverly Hills. He is happily married and his wife is expecting a baby. When he meets Jack Bell, to question him as a potential suspect, his life is changed forever. Jack Bell is a 24 year-old handsome Hollywood movie star. And guess what? They fall in love!
Besson seems impressed by LA, "ville mythique" but his depiction of the city is extremely dull (p. 15). In addition the story is full of small details which do not fit with California: "Un café serré, pris au coin de la rue", "Une concierge portoricaine", "J'ai pris une poignée de carambars..." They are so obvious to anyone having visited the US that one wonders if they have a purpose... But they are still exasperating. As are some of the episodes which are clearly inspired from Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's famous movie of 2005.
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