Review: The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre - a snappy piece of French noir

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre
Released: 3rd September 2019
Published by: Black Inc Books
Genre: Crime Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 197
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
The French bestseller La Daronne 
Now a major film starring Isabelle Huppert 

Meet Patience Portefeux, fifty-three, an underpaid French-Arabic translator who specialises in police phone taps. Widowed after the sudden death of her husband, Patience is wedged between the costs of raising her daughters and the nursing home fees for her ageing mother. She’s laboured for twenty-five years to keep everyone’s heads above water. Happening upon an especially revealing set of wiretaps ahead of all other authorities, Patience makes a life-altering decision that sees her intervening in – and infiltrating – the machinations of a massive drug deal. She thus embarks on an entirely new career path: Patience becomes ‘the Godmother’.

With a gallery of traffickers, dealers, police officers and politicians more real than life itself, and an unforgettable woman at its centre, Hannelore Cayre’s bestselling novel shines a torchlight on a European criminal underworld that has rarely been seen, casting a piercing and darkly humorous gaze on everyday survival in contemporary France.
Thank you to Black Inc Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

It's not too often that a crime novel like The Godmother comes along. Coming in at just shy of 200 pages, you may at first think that in such a short span it would be impossible to create a plausible and meaty plot-line with the right balance of action, mystery and character development that this genre demands. But therein lies Cayre's genius - the whip-smart narration from our protagonist Patience Portefeux and her scheming in playing both sides of the law provides just the right atmosphere for a piece of French noir that is entirely compelling.

Dark humour, as the blurb suggests, is rife here - alongside the corruption within the ranks of the justice system and shady line between who has the upper hand in world of organised crime. Patience, once a straight-laced court translator turned trafficker, provides a sardonic insight into her career and the many faces of the drug trade. The writing style and character development is where The Godmother shines - as while the content itself is serious, dealing with large-scale money laundering, the experiences of immigrants assimilating in Europe and all the while trying to find some moral ground, the narrative voice cuts through all of this with a sharply pragmatic tone. 

...Frankly, you could devise a better system, couldn't you, in terms of incorruptibility. Well, I find it pretty disturbing, And I have been corrupted. At first I thought it was funny, then one day I wasn't laughing any more. 

In one instance it's almost surreal to have a scene depicting an armed robbery with shocking results relayed with a sense of detached calm; the mania of the entire situation construed through a completely unemotional lens. It's this writing style that I'll remember most from The Godmother, and draws the readers focus towards the greater themes at play about how the main character justifies her actions - both within her own mind and in the dialogue she has with the reader themselves throughout. 


While there is no shortage of crime fiction to choose from, The Godmother comfortably holds its own. The most memorable books are often those with a distinct voice and a main character facing some sort of moral dilemma. This one executes both exceptionally well.