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Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Paris Lawyer: When Inexperience Tries My Patience

I downloaded The Paris Lawyer by Sylvie Granotier from Net Galley.  This is a French mystery novel that was very well received in France and was recently translated into English.  The central character is a lawyer who has been assigned her first homicide case.  She is defending a woman of color charged with the murder of her  husband.  It was an inter-racial marriage in a rural French community where all outsiders tend to be viewed with suspicion, but I anticipated that racism would play a role in the way that the accused woman is viewed.  I thought that this book would grapple with some interesting issues.


I will  say that Granotier has created multi-layered characters with complexity. Complex characterization doesn't necessarily make for sympathetic characters.  There were only two characters in this book that I found sympathetic and neither of them was the protagonist, Catherine Monsigny.  She didn't understand her client because of her own racism.  It's true that all defense lawyers in France are hampered by France's legal presumption of guilt until proven innocent. Catherine Monsigny also has a tendency to leap to unwarranted conclusions which doesn't serve her well either as a lawyer or as an "investigator". I  put this in quotes because she doesn't really investigate.  She stumbles on evidence, but never examines it fully or investigates further. I feel that she displays poor judgement in both her professional and personal life.  I would normally make allowances for her inexperience, but she doesn't seem to learn from mistakes.  The plot strand dealing with a mystery in Catherine's past didn't raise my estimation of her acumen at all.

Olivier, one of the characters in this novel who I did consider sympathetic, has an interesting surname that reminded me of a legacy of historical persecution.  His last name is Huguenot which is what French Protestants were called.  Huguenot on Wikipedia  is a good introduction to the topic.  It chronicles the prejudice that Protestants in France faced, and the history of their emigration to other nations including the United States. The prominent American revolutionary, Paul Revere, was a Huguenot. Yet some Huguenots did remain in France. This era of oppression ended when Louis XVI signed the Edict of Versailles in 1787.   If Olivier was of Huguenot ancestry, as seems likely with such a name, this would explain why he was more tolerant than others in his village.  I imagine that Granotier  gave him this name because she intended to underscore the fact that one didn't always need to belong to another race or ethnic group to be the object of prejudice in France. 

Although I already knew about Huguenots, I did learn from The Paris Lawyer that all lawyers in France are addressed as "Maître" which means master in English.  This title applies whether the lawyer is male or female.  The female equivalent "Maîtresse" is used for female school teachers and a number of other occupations according to this French-English dictionary but not for lawyers.  This can be seen as the French paying tribute to women who are lawyers. In my view, the title Maître implies that they are masters of their field and fully the equals of male lawyers.

So this book did deal with some significant themes as I initially thought, but I still don't recommend it to mystery fans.   Catherine Monsigny's shortcomings irritated me.  In fact, my opinion of her worsened over the course of the novel.



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