The Madonna of Notre Dame
Author: Alexis Ragougneau
Translator: Katherine Gregor
Publisher: New Vessel Press
US Release date: Oct 11, 2016
La Madone de Notre-Dame
was first released in French in Jan 2016
also available as ebook
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
One thing book blogging changed in my reading is paying more attention to the publishers. Before book blogging, I would never check who published what, I didn’t really see how important it is. Since blogging, for almost 6 years now, I have learned to recognize books by their publisher, and I’m not just taking cover art (though it would apply in this case). New Vessel Press, specialized in books in translation, has the knack for releasing excellent books with unique perspective and high-quality writing. They also have the good idea to request the help of France Book Tours to organize book tours for them! So when I saw they were publishing The Madonna of Notre Dame, a thriller set in Notre Dame of Paris, I didn’t hesitate a second. And you should not either.
The book opens on August 16 in the cathedral Notre Dame of Paris, the day after the major procession in honor of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
After this high day, a gorgeous young woman is found dead in the cathedral. Who is she? Why is she all dressed in white? Who could have murdered her there and why? Could it be the doing of “the blond angel”, a rather unbalanced fanatic who had an altercation with her the previous day? The police draws quickly their own conclusion, but Father Kern suspects there’s more to the story, and he decides to lead his own investigation.
In itself, the plot as I presented it sounds like a fairly simplistic story. But there’s so much more to it. If I can’t reveal where it goes, I can highlight the richness of the multiple layers.
First, there are pitch perfect descriptions of the interior of the cathedral (ah, the light from the stained glass windows!), settings and happenings, the work of the sacristan, the constant flow of tourists and how they interact with the more regular faithful.
The characters definitely offer another very rich layer with their complexity, portraits of justice and religious figures. People with corners of light and darkness, strengths and hidden weaknesses. And there’s a whole bunch of “cathedral strays”; trumps, prostitutes, and gang members, many wounded people, in their body or psyche, or obsessed with their past.
Sometimes, these people interact in unexpected ways, like Father Kern with Djibril, sentenced to life imprisonment in Poissy, or Father Kern and the magistrate Claire.
Ultimately, the book is about justice at a deep level, about faithfulness to oneself and to one’s path. It is not that usual to get that type of message from thrillers. It made the work all the more fascinating. I’m now curious to read other books by the same author, his second work in now available in French.
EN DEUX MOTS :
Polar bien mené, aux personnages riches et complexes. Une présentation des coulisses de Notre Dame, pas celle des touristes aux appareils photos. En plus, une fois n’est pas coutume, ce thriller nous offre un message sur la vie et la condition humaine.
VERDICT: Through a set of complex characters, thrillers like this one can also offer great messages on human condition. It works. Try it.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is a playwright
and The Madonna of Notre Dame
is his first novel.
He has worked in Notre Dame Cathedral
helping monitor tourist crowds
and knows well its infinite secrets
and the forgotten souls
who linger in its darkest corners.
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