Reviews for The Dark Angel

Crime Review by Arnold Taylor – May 3, 2014

Two girls living in Paris find their flatmate brutally murdered when they return home. Two neighbours, Ingrid Diesel, a masseuse, and Lola Jost, a former police officer, get to know each other following the murder and decide to investigate.

The cover of the book shows caricatures of the two women, Lola, middle-aged, overweight and with a cigarette hanging from her lips, and Ingrid, youthful, slim, muscular and capable of pursuing, catching and then subduing a local hoodlum.

If their physical differences are marked, their temperaments are even more so. Lola has a caustic wit that she is liable to use on anyone, together with a foul temper for which she makes no apologies. However, instead of being intimidated by the abrupt way in which Lola makes her views known, Ingrid usually manages to give as good as she gets – a reaction that earns a grudging admiration from her colleague.  Nevertheless, it is still difficult to imagine that they will have enough in common to form an effective partnership.

Perhaps they would not have tried had they not been spurred on by the knowledge that the man in charge of the investigation, Commissaire Grousset, is generally incompetent and unlikely to make much progress. The decision to combine their individual talents is largely due to the unnecessarily brutal nature of their neighbour’s murder, but it is also influenced by the fact that Maxime Duchamp, the rather mysterious owner of a neighbourhood restaurant, has come under suspicion. Lola regards him as a friend, Ingrid as a potential lover and neither can bring herself to believe that he could be responsible.

Prior to this we have been provided with a very gripping and vivid account of a bank robbery carried out by four young men. Part of the reason for its being so effective is the skill with which the author conjures up the less salubrious areas of Paris – those grim banlieues largely occupied by immigrants committed to crime as a way of life because no other seems attainable. There is something almost universal about the helplessness felt by these young man in the face of a society which largely ignores them and, whilst the violence they demonstrate is always to be condemned, the reasons for it should also, perhaps, be understood.

It is very much to the credit of the author that although the part played in the story by Farid and Jean Luc is small, they come alive for us every bit as much as the main characters. This is true also of the tough, feisty Khadidja and the surprisingly resilient Chloe. Each time a new character is introduced – the neighbourhood tramp or the manager of the cinema given over exclusively to horror and gore – they are interesting characters in themselves and not merely included to provide additional suspects. In the end, however, it is the relationship between the two main characters and particularly the wit and crispness of their conversation, that makes this book memorable.

If the characterisation is convincingly done the plotting is at least as good. Assisted by a carefully drawn Paris setting, it moves along at a pace and, as it does so, the reader is made aware of other murders which must be connected in some way with the one under investigation, although the precise relationship is unclear almost to the end.

If there is a criticism it is, perhaps, that there is rather too much in the way of plot and the final scenes set in a ski resort give the impression of having been tacked on. They clearly are intended to provide a psychological explanation for one of the murders but it is a somewhat perfunctory one, which adds very little to our understanding of the motive for the murder. This, however, is only a very slight flaw in what is an exciting and convincing thriller. The cover of the book states that it is “A Lola and Ingrid investigation”, as if it were one of a continuing series, whereas it is their first outing. It is, however, unlikely to be their last.

Arnold Taylor is a retired Examinations Board Officer, amateur writer and even more amateur bridge player.

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upcoming4me.com, published in BOOK NEWS – March 17, 2014

While the synopsis about Lola, grumpy retired policewoman who’s obsessed with red wine and jigsaw puzzles and Ingrid, best masseur in Paris, might led you to believe that The Dark Angel will be an easy, comical take on the whole detective things, its opening will definitely shatter any illusions. Sylvain opens his tale with ruminations about life on the streets, crime and its consequences and tackles one of the most sensitive issues of the day – immigration. After the robbery, one of the culprits disappears while his girlfriend is found horrifically murdered and the money is gone.

Case is assigned to Lieutentant Jerome Barthelmy who is still finding his feet after his former boss, Lola Jost retired. She is still his friend and mentor, and when he calls her to complain and, hopefully, get a sound advice she’s quickly hooked. Old habits die hard. Lola is an archetypal detective – she’s grouchy, lives unhealthy, has troubled past but is, on the other hand, completely brilliant when it comes to solving puzzles. To be honest, she ticks all the clichés.

In the course of the investigation Lola strikes friendship with Ingrid Diesel, a complete opposite to her and together they are almost a wholly functional person. Together this unlikely duo embark on the probably most important case of Lola’s career. Lola and Ingrid are fantastic together and this is where the comical side of things truly come to light. I’ve absolutely loved their banter and I can only imagine how fantastic they would be on the big screen. Since Ingrid is an American and hopelessly in love with Paris, she brings a healthy dose of enthusiasm to their proceedings. As such, good things about this massive city are brought to the forefront, providing a welcome change from recent, usually much grittier, takes on a Parisian crime novel.

However, as I’ve mentioned, Sylvain doesn’t shy away from tackling important social issues and here the humour is ultimately just a vehicle for a more horrific side to criminal life. Taking a leaf out of Camilleri’s book, in The Dark Angel Sylvain embraces the best qualities of Montalblano while imbuing it with the true French style. I’ve really enjoyed this satisfying and different tale and will be looking forward to further adventures of Lola and Ingrid.

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The Year in Books – a casual reader’s journal, posted by NancyO – January 25, 2014

A delightfully new quirky crime series, starting with The Dark Angel, by Dominique Sylvain

If like myself, you are tending to tire of Scandinavian crime and want something new and quirky in your translated crime fiction, then you may want to check out The Dark Angel, by Dominique Sylvain.  It’s not yet available in the US, but there’s always Amazon UK or The Book Depository.

There’s something to be said for a crime novel where one of the lead characters is a kind of crusty, overweight middle-aged woman who smokes and wears a hideous bathrobe when she’s hanging out at home doing jigsaw puzzles.  The Dark Angel is the introduction to a series (I think/hope) featuring retired Commissaire of the Paris police department Lola Jost and her very worldly, beautiful and American masseuse crime-solving partner Ingrid Diesel.  While the mystery is pretty good, these two characters, most especially Lola, steal the show in this book.  If for no other reason, you should read this book on the basis of Lola’s character alone.  Whenever she wasn’t in the picture, I was eagerly awaiting her return.  It’s a murder mystery but it’s the characters that make this book work well — so darn quirky you can’t get enough.

You can read what I think about this one at the crime page of this blog – trust me. This Scandinavian crime stuff is getting old. Take a detour to France.  You’ll really like it.

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Blog Crime Fiction Lover by Raven – January 18, 2014

Opening with a fast paced hold up of a Bureau de Change, the The Dark Angel instantly drops you into the seedy underbelly of Parisian life. The culprits – Jean-Luc, Farid, Noah and Menaham – represent disaffected young men the world over. Tapping into the immigrant backgrounds of Farid and Noah in particular, straight away Sylvain conveys a realistic examination of the road to crime that such disaffection can cause.

After the robbery Farid disappears to his girlfriend Vanessa’s home to share his loot, but she is later found murdered in horrible fashion and the money is gone. Lieutenant Jerome Barthelemy from the 10th arrondissement police embarks on the murder investigation. He is still reeling from the departure of his old boss, Lola Jost, and struggling to cope with the sheer buffoonery of his new immediate superior officer. So Barthelemy calls on the redoubtable ex-comissioner Lola to air his frustrations, and her involvement in the case is cemented from this point.

By turns referred to as ‘the fat lady’, ‘the pain in the neck’ and the even less complimentary ‘the bitch’, Lola Jost is a short, unhealthy, foul tempered but has excellent powers of detection. Having left the force following the death of a colleague, she’s struggling to adjust to mundane civilian life, and despite her protestations, is all too eager to participate in the investigation. She is imbued with a natural caustic wit and if ever a character was said not to suffer fools gladly, she is it.

In an inspired piece of plotting Lola teams up with Ingrid Diesel, a statuesque American health freak with a colourful and well-travelled background, whom she meets through Maxime Duchamp, who himself is a key suspect in the case. Ingrid loves Paris and works as a masseur and an exotic dancer. Herein lies the strength of the characterisation, as the two women so defined by their differences, physically, culturally and emotionally, mesh together perfectly as a crime fighting duo par excellence. The humour and natural badiage between the two women leads to some real laugh-out-loud moments as Lola’s dour cynicism is pitted against the puppy dog eagerness of the lively Diesel. Interestingly, through their characterisation, Sylvain’s depiction of Paris takes on a different effect, filtered through the seen-it-all despondency of Lola as a native, and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of Diesel for the city as a visitor. So, we get to see the good and the bad nature of life within the city itself.

The girl’s body was mutilated in a cruel and unusual manner, and suspicion falls on Maxime Duchamp, a charming restaurateur whose suave exterior hides a tragic past. Convinced of his innocence, Lola and Ingrid hit the streets to unmask the real killer, one whose gruesome methods are inspired by a morbid obsession with Japanese manga.

Duchamp was enjoying a dalliance with one of the murdered girl’s flatmates, and as more of his back story is revealed it seems impossible that he wasn’t involved in Vanessa’s murder. However, Lola has an instinctive suspicion of the seemingly open-and-shut case and Ingrid has the hots for the charming Duchamp herself. So they set out to clear his name and discover the real killer, outside the auspices of the Paris police force. As the aforementioned Jean-Luc and the robbery gang enter their line of sight, Sylvain intertwines their involvement with the murdered girl leading to a well-constructed and intriguing tale of jealousy, greed and murder with a surprising conclusion.

It is unusual to find a crime novel that works on so many levels simultaneously in terms of characterisation, location, plotting and dialogue. However, Sylvain achieves this with aplomb, producing not only an extremely readable murder mystery that is defined by location and the social exploration of its plot, but also by her depiction of the two main protagonists and the humour that ensues. I was delighted to discover that this is only the first of a series to be published in the UK featuring Lola Jost and Ingrid Diesel, and will await the others with a sense of impatience. A wholly satisfying read.

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THE HERALD Scotland – Un drole de couple – January 5, 2014
CFL Rating: 5 Stars

Despite a mutilated corpse and a daring daylight robbery where Kalashnikovs are the weapon of choice, there is a pleasingly old-fashioned quality to Dominique Sylvain’s Parisian murder mystery.

There is an echo of Chandler’s gallant, world-weary Philip Marlowe in grumpy former police commissioner Lola Jost. There is a salute to Agatha Christie in the way the prime suspect is finally confronted and shamed by a chain of evidence pointing to their unequivocal guilt. There is also a strong flavour of Simenon in the way she evokes Paris through the inviting fug of its glowing cafés, after-hours clubs and shady denizens with guilty secrets they are reluctant to share.

Sylvain seems to have a particular preoccupation with weather. The Dark Angel unfolds in a Paris on the cusp of winter. The fragile light, weeping skies and soggy streets around the Bois de Boulogne are the marks of a city gripped by a damp chill that penetrates the bones.

The murder of a young woman called Vanessa also chills. She has been strangled. Both of her feet have been cut off using a butcher’s meat cleaver. There are a handful of suspects, but the finger of suspicion points to suave restaurateur Maxime Duchamp. The fact that his first wife was also brutally murdered casts a shadow over his claims of innocence.

There is a brisk efficiency in the way Sylvain sets out the pieces of her puzzle. The narrative is a pacy page-turner that invites the reader to join the dots and play detective, working out the connections between Vanessa’s murder and the robbery at a bureau de change on the Champs Élysée that nets the gang €1.5 million and loose change in dollars and yen.

The plot is intriguing enough, and Sylvain successfully weaves a spider’s web of unexplained events, suspicions and compelling motivations. There is also a dry wit sprinkled across the proceedings. A doorman’s face is “as expressive as a cold cut of lamb”. A character walks “a good distance before finding a taxi, a threatened species in Paris, especially at night”.

More appealing is the way she develops the central characters. Retired detective Lola Jost is described as someone who “always emerged triumphant from the worst possible situations”. Scarred by tragedy, she has embraced retirement as a warming comfort blanket. She spends her days consuming red wine and diligently attending to jigsaw puzzles.

It is no life for a woman with a healthy curiosity, a quotation for every occasion and the tenacity of a terrier. Vanessa’s murder happens in her neighbourhood and draws her back into the detective game, encouraged by Ingrid Diesel, an American masseuse in Paris who also has a reputation as a mesmerising striptease artist by the name of Gabriella Tiger.

The odd-couple friendship that blossoms between the two women becomes the heart of the novel. They bicker and banter, finding unexpected common ground in their very different approaches to life, and eventually solve a murder that brings Lola back to life and provides the key to unravelling other mysteries.

Sylvain has an obvious fondness for old movies. Lola wears “a raincoat buttoned up to the neck. It was the kind of coat Bogart wore in old films, except that it looked much better on him.” It is the way she blends the world of Bogart and Jean-Pierre Melville with the modern age of manga and mutilation that gives The Dark Angel its distinctive flavour. It is also a welcome antidote to the dominance of Scandinavian Noir, Nordic Noir and the fifty shades of grey and gruesome that seem to define a good deal of modern crime-writing.

Sylvain acknowledges a Paris of extremes and the city’s underclass of immigrants and unfortunates, but she has no inclination to turn the stomach, nor has she any appetite for shock-value tactics. The Dark Angel is concise, plot-driven and mercifully unlikely to give you sleepless nights.

In the characters of Lola and Ingrid Sylvain has created a partnership that leaves the reader with a sense of anticipation for their further sleuthing adventures. All told, this is a highly readable introduction to what could well become a series of Lola and Ingrid investigations.

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THE IRISH EXAMINER by Philip Robinson – December 23, 2013

Dominique Sylvain’s thriller has the usual twists and turns — and the obligatory dead body — expected of a crime novel. But what sets this typical piece apart from the others is the sleuths out to unmask the killer.

Set in Parisian backdrop, beautifully described with vivid realism, a beautiful girl is found murdered and the clues lead in many directions. Enter an unlikely detective partnership; Lola a bitter, wine loving, jigsaw-addicted retired police commissioner and Ingrid, an American masseuse/striptease artist.

When the finger points at a restaurateur with a dark past it seems to Lola and Ingrid that the law has the wrong man. The hunt for the real killer plays out alongside the story of the deceased’s lover, a thief with revenge on his mind. Both plots work well together and the writing is superb, however it does miss a little pace to keep me really turning the pages.

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