Whether it’s shooting thugs in the kneecaps, punching them in the solar plexus, or chopping off their hands at the wrist, author Laurent Guillaume doesn’t pull any punches in his gritty and graphic English-language debut, White Leopard.
Guillaume’s anti-hero Souleymane (Solo) Camera is a tough-as-nails private investigator making his living in arid Bamako, Mali, in West Africa after running from a dark past in France, where he was a former drug force detective. Solo’s cases typically involve chasing down and photographing cheating husbands in divorce cases, although he has handled a few higher profile criminal cases, netting him the title’s nickname from police. (He’s part French, part Malian, and reviled by both.)
A simple case—“buying” the freedom of a woman arrested on drug charges by offering a bribe to the local magistrate (apparently an all-too common occurrence in corruption-rife Mali)—takes an unexpected turn when the woman is brutally murdered upon her release. The sister of the victim, who hired Solo in the first place, boasts that he will bring the killers to justice, which only serves to make Solo the next target for the thugs.
First, the killers break into his home and kill Solo’s longtime friend and groundskeeper, Drissa, then make an attempt on Solo himself. Already angry over losing his wife and child when he left France, Solo is only fueled further by these actions in his quest to strike back with brutal vengeance. (This is where the shooting of kneecaps and other body parts comes in.) Solo follows the trail of thugs to the cartel leader and a final bloody confrontation.
When he’s not exchanging gunfire with the bad guys, Solo enjoys a few vices of his own with sexual flings and lines of cocaine. The sexual interludes are surprisingly graphic for a crime book, reading more like an erotic romance novel, but are in tune with the hard-boiled elements of the rest of the story.
Guillaume is an award-winning author of six previous books in France, but this is his first English-language publication. A former police officer, he worked anti-gang, narcotics, and financial crimes, and also served as a police advisor in Mali on drug trafficking cases. His familiarity with the Mali government and community is evident in his vivid, unflinching portrayal of the novel’s setting and characters.
The novel is aptly adapted to English by translator Sophie Weiner, who has a master’s in literary translation from the Sorbonne. Le French Book is a New York publisher specializing in great reads from France.
G. Robert Frazier is a former journalist, a reader for the Nashville Film Festival and Austin Film Festival’s annual screenwriting competitions, La Vergne Library Board member, and member of the Nashville Writers Meetup and Tennessee Screenwriters Association. He is currently working on a mystery/thriller novel and a screenplay. Follow him on Twitter at @grfrazier23 and visit his Adventures in Writing blog at https://grfrazier.wordpress.com.
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