Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: CORRUPTED ON THE COTE D'AZUR

CORRUPTED ON THE COTE D'AZUR by Richard Donald (Mary Egan Publishing, 2015)

Reviewed by Tony Chapelle

A young New Zealander, Tom, obtains a job in the South of France as a sous-chef. His sister, Maggie, joins him and becomes the mistress of an influential and unscrupulous owner of a supermarket chain. His list of misdemeanors includes theft, tax fraud, omitting to tell his numerous partners that he is HIV positive, child pornography and indirectly, murder. The question is whether he will manage to corrupt the legal system and avoid justice? Will Maggie be corrupted by her dangerous liaison?

A brother and sister from New Zealand, he a sous chef and she, it seems, an incorrigible seeker after the high life, are caught up in a web of dangerous intrigue.

The action is set mainly in the south of France, with excursions into Paris and Italy. There is a strong element of ‘innocents abroad’ and ‘Famous Five’ in this book. The two somewhat na├»ve antipodeans and their French friends meet frequently in cafes and other places to plot the next steps in their quest to locate and bring to justice the irredeemably nasty villain of the piece. There are thefts, home invasions, kidnappings, car chases, glamorous and amoral women, meetings with both helpful and obstructive policemen, corrupt local politicians, and brushes with the mafia. There is also tax evasion, a murder and evidence of child pornography.

The author is clearly familiar with the settings for the story, and frequently introduces authenticating detail concerning architecture, local food specialities, the merits of various hotels, and so on – to the extent that at times the book could almost double as a tourist guide. There is also plentiful use of French terms and phrases, often with accompanying, and sometimes cumbersome, translation or interpretation.

Much of the plot is unfolded through explanatory dialogue as the protagonists decide on their tactics and discuss their successes and failures, but at other times details concerning what happens are sketched in as narrative. An uneven but generally fast pace is set from the start and more or less maintained throughout.

Underlying all the derring-do is the much darker question of human selfishness and the propensity to give way to temptation. Essentially, as the title suggests, the story deals with corruption – both physical corruption in the question of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/Aids, and moral corruption resulting from a hunger for wealth and a lust for power. These are seen as an almost inevitable result of the systems by which the western world operates – systems that reward rather than punish the greedy and ruthless.

There is much of what one would expect from a high-voltage adventure yarn in this book – violence and tension, sex and subterfuge – though the sex and violence in particular are treated in a rather coy manner. There are also characters in the story for whom the reader can develop and maintain some sympathy, just as there are others who are beyond redemption or who prove in the end to be unworthy. A heavily loaded epilogue attempts to tie up the numerous loose ends, but also creates some more. We learn that ‘good’ has some victories, but it does not triumph; and apparently in only one instance does love (there are two incipient romances) conquer all.

While there is throughout an uneasy co-existence between the narrative and the author’s penchant for instruction and explanation, Donald does display a flair for plot, and a clear desire for the reader to get a true feel for place.

Tony Chapelle is a Manawatu writer and retired academic who has won and been shortlisted for several short story competitions. He has published a collection of short stories set in provincial New Zealand and a novel set in Victorian England. You can read more about his in this feature from the Manawatu Standard newspaper. 

This review was first published in FlaxFlower reviews, which focuses on in-depth reviews of New Zealand books of all kinds, and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

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