Wednesday, August 24, 2005

26. Flic Story by Roger Borniche

Flic Story book pictureThey have a giant used book sale at this Arena in Rosemount every year. I think most of the books are the ones the libraries are getting rid of. I picked this book up there, on a whim. It was a hardback missing the dust jacket, so pretty anonymous but the age and quality of the paper and binding caught my eye. It was written in 1973, originally in French, and is the true story of a french cop hunting down criminals in Paris in the period after the end of the Second World War. The author is the cop (flic is slang for cop in France) and he prefaces the book with a bit of bitterness, suggesting that all the books about crime are written from the criminals perspective and he wanted to show what it was like to be a cop.

The translation is a bit awkward, especially considering that a lot of the dialogue is in gangster jargon and french underworld sland. Also, the book moves forward jerkily, sometimes going to the past, sometimes changing perspectives (Borniche often narrates the criminals behaviour as if he were part of it, without any explanation of how he knows the things he knows. But once you get a quarter way through the book, the stories (and the main story, his attempt to collar France's enemy #1 of the period) really pick up momentum and those things stop bothering you. You also get the feeling that he really wrote this book on his own and his writing, though not the best, is honest and filled with real detail. He has a humble and sardonic voice, and though it is often marred by the translation, when he talks about trying to afford a new stove for his mistress (this means girlfriend in the context; he isn't married), it's endearing.

The french criminal scene of the '40s and '50s, at least according to this book, seems as cool as it is portrayed in movies like The Red Circle and Touchez Pas au Grisby! The gangsters (and the cops) are constantly stopping what they are doing to get something good to eat (and describing it in sophisticated detail), drinking wine, champagne and pastis (pernod mixed with water, turns all milky) and smoking cigars and black-market american cigarettes. They cops and robbers always seem to be hanging out in the same place. You get the feeling that Paris was a small place or that the culture was just very consistent.

I'm really glad I found this book. Besides being fun to read, filled with great heists, collars and characters, it also gave me a much stronger and more authentic sense of the french postwar criminal world. I'm also happy to discover they made a movie of it with Alain Delon.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Sounds good. I was just reading in the paper that Kino has just recently released to DVD the Alain Delon collection which includes "Flic Story".