Created by Didier Daeninckx
RENÉ GRIFFON is a French veteran of the trenches of The great War turned private investigator who makes his one and only appearance in the wrenching Le der des ders (translates as “the war to end all wars.”), a 1984 French novel which offered a hard and unflinching look at France’s role in WWI and the aftermath.
It may be René’s only appearance, but it’s one hell of a read, definitely not for the squeamish. It’s a dark, relentless, sobering and often cynical take on what media, politics, business, heroism and patriotism mean in times of war. Reading it as I did in the months following 9/11, it offered a refreshing respite from all the flag-waving yahooism and rah-rah patriotism I saw all around me. War is a time when bullshit reigns, and too many people grow to like the taste.
France may still be reeling from the war, but René is determined to put up a brave front, indulging his taste for all things big, flashy and American, including his beloved 12-cylinder Packard (that he’s almost finished paying for). He’s also close friends with an expatriate Yankee black marketeer named Bob who sells army surplus blue jeans and anything else that isn’t nailed down.
And then René’s hired by a decorated war hero to tail his wife, whom he suspects of adultery. But René soon finds himself dealing with blackmailers, radicals, murder, amputees, war profiteers and a scandal that could rip a still fragile and scarred nation apart.
In other words, there’s something for everyone in this novel. There’s even a French-kissing scene in there (with René’s and his lover/secretary, Irène) that’ll just steam your shorts. Okay, in the edition I read, there were also a few wonky bits of translation (they’ve translated some French slang for some British slang that seems a bit off) and there’s one awful typographical glitch where they didn’t break for a new paragraph and really should have, but I think it’s still well-worth checking out, for those of you who aren’t afraid to read something a little different. A more recent English translation in 2012 may have rectified those problems.
But if your French is good enough, check out the 1998 graphic novel adaptation by comic master Jacques Tardi, who’s also responsible for some some excellent adaptations of some of Léo Malet‘s Nestor Burma series and several other novels by French crime writers such as Patrick Manchette and Daniel Pennac.
But however you read it, you won’t have wasted your time. A sadly timeless classic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Didier Daeninckx is often touted as France’s master of political crime fiction,and in fact he may be known just as well in some quarters for his politics as for his fiction. An avowed anti-fascist, his 1984 novel Meurtres pour Mèmoire (Murder in Memoriam )inspired by the October 1961 riots in Paris and featuring his popular series character, Inspector Cadin caused quite a sensation. It embarrassed and forced the French government to try Nazi collaborators and led to the life imprisonment of Paul Touvier. It won the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere.
- “An entertaining thriller… Daeninckx doesn’t just think outside the box as far as this fairly well-worn genre goes, he shatters it.”
— The Complete Review
- “The most controversial of contemporary French crime novelists.
— The Independent
- Le der des ders (1984; aka “A Very Profitable War”) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- LE DER DE LES DERS | Buy this book
Based on the novel by Didier Daeninckx
Adapted and drawn by Jacques Tardi
- Les Flics Privés
- Nine Mysteries Set in the Immediate Aftermath of World War I
Jeff Pierce, on the beat for CrimeReads.