Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Eyes Full of Empty by Jérémie Guez

Title: Eyes Full of Empty, Author: Jeremie Guez  Idir celebrates his 24th birthday in prison. Ten years later Idir is something of a private detective and fixer. His latest cases come courtesy of the wealthy friends he made during his university days. Actually friends might be stretching things a bit. First, Oscar Crumley asks Idir to find his younger half-brother Thibaut who went missing two months earlier. The second case comes from Eric, the father of one of Idir's college friends. Eric tells Idir that his very expensive car was stolen and he does not wish to report the theft to the police but wants Idir to find it instead. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that something shady happened involving the car, but when Eric offers to pay Idir one-third of the car's value (the car is worth 150,000 Euros) Idir can't bring himself to walk away. So Idir finds himself with two separate cases from two wealthy clients that quickly begin to intersect.

Eyes Full of Empty is the third novel of French author Jérémie Guez and the first of the three to be translated into English. It is set in Paris. Although I am aware that Paris is a big city with complicated big city problems and regular people just trying to live their lives, I tend to overly romanticize the city. Thoughts of Paris bring to mind a city of a thousand museums, of sidewalk cafes and romance, of Hemingway and the Lost Generation, of a City of Light. Of course, there is so much more to Paris than that, as Guez makes clear. There's not a lot of art or strolling down the left bank in Eyes Full of Empty, but there is plenty of blood and violence.

Idir has footholds in various worlds but is an outsider in all of them. He secured a foothold in Parisian white, moneyed society while attending college with the city's wealthy elite, but being of Algerian descent, not poor but certainly not wealthy, and now a criminal, he is an unlikely candidate for full fledged membership in that society. He is no more at home with his family, picking a fight nearly every time he comes into contact with them. Having immigrated to France and become a doctor, Idir's father is a success story. Idir, in turn, went to prison for assault. However, despite the violent nature of his crime, Idir is no hardened criminal and is uncomfortable when he finds himself among those who are very comfortable with violence.

If anything Idir came off as incredibly naive at times, or maybe he is just bad at his job. For instance, his initial assumption that Thibaut simply left town to get away from his conservative family seemed like a lazy conclusion from the beginning. He was constantly getting into fights and other sticky situations but yet was always surprised when other people brought out weapons. And it took Idir way too long to catch on to the potential seriousness of the shady business surrounding the missing car.

As a mystery, Eyes Full of Empty is nothing new. The answer to the question "who did what?" was not in the least bit surprising. Seriously, you've read this story before or seen the movie, probably both. Nevertheless I enjoyed the ride. I enjoyed being exposed to this seamier side of Paris. From what I've read Guez is a big deal in France. Hopefully more of his books will be translated because my French skills aren't good enough to read his work in their original language (though I am working on that).

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