Utu | a novel by Caryl Férey

I’m three quarters of the way through a novel by French author Caryl Férey. I’ve paused from reading only to write this post as I’m otherwise completely engrossed in the story…

Paul Osborne is spiraling out of control. Full of drugs and booze and self-hate, he has washed up in Sydney, where he has a walk-up in Kings Cross, a bad case of sunstroke and an even worse reputation as the local bars. But now his former boss from the Auckland City Police Department has tracked him down and wants him back on the job. Jack Fitzgerald, a former colleague and Osborne’s only real friend on the force, has committed suicide in the middle of an important investigation. And despite his current state, Paul Osborne, once a tenacious detective, is the only one qualified to take over the investigation. Osborne has no interest in playing detective anymore but returns to Auckland at the behest of his captain for one reason only: he’s sure that Jack Fitzgerald couldn’t have killed himself and he’s determined to find his murderers.

An expert in Maori culture, Osborne retraces his dead friend’s steps into a world of occult, mystery, tribal discontent, billion-dollar backroom deals, and political corruption in a search for the truth about Jack Fitzgerald.

In the Maori language, “utu” means revenge. In this gripping crime novel, the desire for bloody revenge runs deep and far and nobody, innocent and guilty alike, will be safe until it has been sated.

As with most books translated from another language, you have to assume that some of the power of the wording has been lost, and that some elements may have not made it across with the dexterity of the author’s original language. I’m finding a few things, although minute, annoying; like the constant reference to how very “British” things are. Having been to France (where the author is from), England and New Zealand (and of course being an Aussie) I can state that I would not refer to NZ as being colloquially British. Also references to things like distance and degrees is in Imperial instead of Metric (miles and Fahrenheit versus kilometers and Celsius). Other than that though the author has done his due diligence with regards to the description of the places surrounding the key locations in the novel; Sydney and Auckland.

I find Paul Osborne to be the quintessential ‘noir’ anti-hero protagonist of the story; he’s not at all endearing (too violent, has a strong disregard for the law although he is a cop & takes copious amounts of drugs), he’s cynical of the world and alienated. At times his violence is utterly shocking but I find myself liking him. I want him to come around and to succeed. Maybe it’s his handsomeness and his intelligence that sucks me in; he can instantly read people and despite all of his faults and the fact that he’s pretty much smashed all the time, he’s actually a decent detective.

The generalised crime thriller plot is underlayed by a strong undercurrent of social injustice between the past and present; the colonisation of NZ and how history has impacted the lives of generation after generation of the Maori people. Osborne is a pākehā (Maori term for white/European/British people) but his own off-centre ethics orbit around the pathological need for retribution for the social injustice he sees in his country because of the love of a Maori girl from his childhood. The author uses flashbacks to give insight and build character depth and uses the native language to provide authenticity which he follows up with footnotes so the reader can follow.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, joyously called Glee Books and I although I haven’t quite finished it, I highly recommend it!

*****

Footnote: Caryl Férey’s novel Utu won the Sang d’Encre, Michael Lebrun, and SNCF Crime Fiction Prizes. Zulu, his first novel to be published in English, was the winner of the Nouvel Obs Crime Fiction and Quais du Polar Readers Prizes. In 2008, it was awarded the French Grand Prix for Best Crime Novel. He lives in France.

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2 thoughts on “Utu | a novel by Caryl Férey

  1. Sounds like a really interesting book.
    I read a lot of books by Jodi Picoult, Sarah Dessen, Libba Bray which are usually strong women characters, but I’m keen to try something new and the subject matter being close to home makes it appealing.

    Thanks!

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