Saturday, October 8, 2011

RWC Quarterfinal 2: England vs France (Billingham vs Manotti)

As I said earlier today, one of the biggest sporting events on the planet  is currently being staged right here in New Zealand; the Rugby World Cup 2011. As a way of celebrating crime fiction from around the world, and joining in the 'everything rugby themed' atmosphere down this way at the moment, I'm creating crime fiction posts that mirror the playoff games being played. So for the next eight games (four quarterfinals, two semifinals, one 3rd/4th playoff, one final) I will highlight a crime, mystery, or thriller novel from each of the countries playing the game, that I have either read or purchased in the past year or so.

Second up (following the Celtic tussle), it's another ding-dong battle with plenty of history and tradition, as England meet France in the second quarterfinal of RWC 2011. Like the Ireland vs Wales game, I'm intending to go and watch the game at 'The Cloud' in downtown Auckland - a fan zone with food, drink, activities, and tonnes of big screens to watch the action. But onto the crime fiction match-up:

Representing England: GOOD AS DEAD by Mark Billingham
Just as England is the home of rugby (in the 'where it was created' sense), you could make an argument that England is something of the home of modern detective fiction - or at least the place where it first rose to great popularity with the likes of Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, then Agatha Christie (the bestselling author of all time, in any genre). As such, there's plenty of choices you could make to represent England in a crime fiction sense, but in terms of picking just one to highlight, I'm going to go with the most recent English born and based author, English setting, novel that I've read; GOOD AS DEAD by Mark Billingham.

Few if any are better than Billingham when it comes to contemporary British crime. His tenth novel to feature DI Tom Thorne finds the gritty London copper in a race-against time to save police officer Helen Weeks (from IN THE DARK), who’s being held hostage by a dairy owner who’s snapped. What does the gunman want? Not money or his personal safety, but for the Police to properly investigate the death of his son in custody; he’s sure it wasn’t suicide.

For me, Billingham never disappoints, and GOOD AS DEAD was no exception. An exciting plot (more of a 'ticking clock' type pace than Billingham usually uses) marries with compelling characters, and continuing threads that run throughout the series, to create a great, gripping read that will leave longtime readers wondering what is next for DI Tom Thorne. Billingham also gets you thinking about a few issues, salting in some nuggest of social commentary, in amongst the page-turning prose.

Representing France: THE LORRAINE CONNECTION by Dominique Manotti
In all honesty, I haven't yet read any French crime fiction - which is a travesty considering I go out of my way to source, purchase, and read plenty of translated crime fiction, and crime fiction from a variety of countries. I do have some French crime fiction that I have bought, but not yet read, however, including THE LORRAINE CONNECTION by Dominique Manotti, which I purchased earlier this year.

When a cathode ray tube factory in a small French town is hit first by a strike and then by a suspicious fire, the battle for the takeover of the plant’s beleaguered parent company heats up. The Lorraine factory is at the center of a strategic battle being played out in Paris, Brussels, and Asia for the takeover of the ailing state-owned electronics giant Thomson. Accusations of foul play fly, and rival contender Alcatel calls in its intrepid head of security Charles Montoya to investigate. He soon uncovers explosive revelations and a trail of murders, dirty tricks, blackmail, and corporate malfeasance.

Result: well, it's a bit unfair for me to call this one, considering I haven't yet read Manotti's book (not that not watching the games or knowing very much prevents far too many people commenting about the rugby on talkback radio and the Internet etc, of course). As for the real game, although I'd like to see France win - as badly as they've been playing, they have some flair and can play great rugby on their day - plus, it would be nice for them to finally do to someone else what they've done to New Zealand a couple of times - I think England will edge it in the end. But you never know in the oval ball game.

So, who do you think should win, England vs France - in the rugby, or the crime fiction context?

Updated (Sunday 9 October): Well, well, well. In the real life rugby result, the Manottis stormed out of the gate, getting a great first-half lead that the Billinghams just couldn't overcome. Another great RWC 2011 upset that sees Martin Johnson and his lads heading home to Blighty. There was certainly plenty of francophile celebrating here in Auckland last night, that's for sure. Here I am with a very proud and happy Frenchman at the Cloud, just after the final whistle.

Allez les bleus!

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