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Arab Jazz    by Karim Miské order for
Arab Jazz
by Karim Miské
Order:  USA  Can
MacLehose Press, 2016 (2016)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Arab Jazz is a first novel by Karim Miské, a young Frenchman who writes knowingly about the Paris where he grew up. Published in French in 2012, this crime novel won the English PEN award and was called 'a brilliant debut' in The Guardian. Ahmed Taroudant, the main protagonist, discovers that his upstairs neighbor Laura has been murdered when he feels her blood dripping onto his upturned face as he sits daydreaming on his balcony. So begins the next two eventful days for Ahmed and the rest of the diverse cast of this amazing novel.

Soon after Ahmed sneaks upstairs to see what has happened to his friend Laura, he is interviewed by two young detectives, Lt. Rachel Kupferstein and Lt. Jean Hamelot, who later agree that although he might be considered a prime suspect by some, the thirty-year-old bookish, quiet French Arab could not have killed Laura. They are so impressed by his extensive reading of crime novels and the expertise that he has gained from this, as well as his knowledge of the neighborhood and its residents, that Rachel gives him her cell phone number and tells him that he can call her at any time.

Ahmed is shaken up by Laura's death and decides that he must do whatever he can to assist in learning who was responsible. He is also smitten by Rachel during their first interview, awed by her beauty, intelligence, and similar interest in some of his favorite crime fiction authors. Rachel's Jewish parents were atheists, but she learned about the religion of her ancestors from her Aunt Ruth. Jean's parents were Communist Bretons, and he grew up constantly reading, identifying with the strong, silent heroes in his books.

Their territory is the nineteenth arrondissement of Paris, they are both in their mid-thirties, and this is their first truly grisly murder investigation. The residents of this part of the city are a diverse mixture of Jewish, Arab, and Muslim citizens and immigrants, and the murdered woman, also in her thirties, was a lapsed Jehovah's Witness. Because the knife used to kill Laura was stuck into a pork roast and she was covered with pig blood, her death could be blamed on a deranged person who was influenced by any of these religions.

The plot of this book is delightfully complex and there are frequent literary and music references, with a playlist at the end. Our heroes are likeable without being perfect and while some of the bad guys are totally black-hearted, others gain our sympathy. Nearly all of the characters have a depth that increases the mystery. I found it helpful to make a list of characters as they were introduced, noting page numbers where they showed up with a brief description for later reference, partly because there were a lot of characters, and also because many of the names are foreign. That said I thoroughly enjoyed this puzzle of a mystery.

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