In The Spotlight: Karim Miské’s Arab Jazz

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Modern Paris is a crucible of different cultures, religious backgrounds, and more So, it’s interesting when a novel’s focus isn’t so much the traditional French culture we often think of when we think of Paris. After all, members of many other cultures have made their homes there. Let’s take a look at one such novel today, and turn the spotlight on Karim Miské’s debut novel, Arab Jazz.

The novel opens as Ahmed Taroudant discovers that Laura Vignola, who lives in the apartment above his, has been brutally murdered. He’s got several reasons to care deeply about this killing. For one thing, he’d formed a sort of relationship with her, although it wasn’t really what you’d call a dating relationship. For another, he has a key to her apartment, and he was at home at the time of the murder. So, he’s smart enough to know he is a ‘person of interest.’ Mostly, though, he wants to find the person who killed Laura as a way of making up for the future they will never have together.

In the meantime, Lieutenants Rachel Kupferstein and Jean Hamelot begin the work of investigating the murder. Since Achmed was a friend of the victim, and had easy access to her apartment, he’s at the very least someone to interview at length. But both police detectives soon get the sense that he isn’t guilty. He’s not a violent person, and he had no disagreements with the victim.

Besides, there are other possibilities. For one thing, Laura’s parents were deeply devoted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Laura, on the other hand, rejected that religion utterly and left home. Her parents – especially her mother – are fanatic enough that they might have killed her.

Religious fanaticism could also have played a different role in her murder. Groups of strictly observant Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Muslims live in the area. Laura, being neither, didn’t dress or behave as ‘proper’ orthodox women are supposed to do. And some of the people in the area might have been fanatic enough to punish her by killing her. There are aspects of the murder that point in that direction.

Little by little, Kupferstein and Hamelot learn more about Laura, her background, her friends, and her work. Meanwhile, Ahmed is working through some of his own issues and trying to do what he can to help bring his friend’s killer to justice. In the end, and each in a different way, the police and Ahmed find out the truth. They find that it leads to some dark places.

One of the important elements in this novel is a hard look at religious fanaticism. Paris’ 19th arrondissement is a melting pot of Jews, Muslims, and other religious groups. In general, they live together with no real problems. But there is tension among the groups, and there are fanatics who are quite willing to die or kill for their cause. And there is, at times, a sense of bigotry.

The novel takes place in modern Paris, but it’s not really the traditional Paris you read about in travel brochures. It’s a mélange of different people, food, music, and more. On the one hand, it’s vibrant and culturally very much alive. And there’s an interesting question of what, exactly, makes a person French in today’s world of globalism.  On the other, it’s got a dark, gritty side.

And that gritty side is another part of this novel. There is violence in the story, some of it brutal and ‘onstage.’ Readers who dislike that sort of violence in their novels will want to know this. The solution to the mystery is in keeping with the story. Without spoiling the novel, I can say that this isn’t the sort of story where the ‘bad guy’ is caught, led away in handcuffs, and justice is done. Rather, it’s a case of, ‘We do the best we can. Evil will always be there, and we fight it as best we can.’ That said, though, the novel is not remorselessly bleak.

As the story evolves, we see the network of relationships among many of the characters. There’s Ahmed; the police detectives; the victim’s family; the victim’s friends; and more. This web of interactions and relationships plays an important role in the story. Readers will want to keep track of the ways in which the various characters are drawn together.

The story is told from several different points of view (third person, present tense, for the most part). Readers who prefer just one point of view, and past tense will notice this. In this way, Miské provides backstory on many of the characters. We also learn what motivates them, and we get their perspectives on the other characters. In their ways, all of the characters are carrying ‘baggage,’ and it impacts them all differently. None of the characters is what you’d call contented and at peace. And that’s consistent with the darkness in the novel.

Another element in this novel is the writing style. It’s not a straightforward telling of the story, as is the case with many crime novels. It’s more of a literary style. It’s also worth noting that the timeline is not strictly chronological. At times it shifts back and forth, as we gradually learn what, and who, is behind Laura’s death. Readers who prefer a more linear plot and a more chronological timeline will notice this.

Arab Jazz offers a look at one section of modern Paris. It tells the sometimes-dark story of a group of people who were all touched by one life, and what happens to them when she is murdered, and it offers a look at the way members of different religions and cultures interact. But what’s your view? Have you read Arab Jazz? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 11 February/Tuesday, 12 February – Only the Innocent – Rachel Abbott

Monday, 18 February/Tuesday, 19 February – The Blue Hour – Alonso Cueto

Monday, 25 February/Tuesday, 26 February – The Dark Lake – Sarah Bailey


Filed under Arab Jazz, Karim Miské

21 responses to “In The Spotlight: Karim Miské’s Arab Jazz

  1. tracybham

    This sounds very good, Margot. I will be on the lookout for this book.

  2. Col

    Hmm, a bit undecided on this one. Onto the maybe list, I think.

  3. I loved this book, so glad you reminded me of it. The picture he painted of modern, multi-cultural Paris was wonderful, and the book had a good-heartedness about it, despite the dark themes. You are reminding me to see if he has written more, as I should like to catch up on him.

    • It really is a great look at Paris, isn’t it, Moira? You make an interesting point, too, about its good-heartedness. There are certainly characters of goodwill in it, and they add much to the story. I’d like to read more by him, too *nervous glance at tottering TBR…*

  4. This sounds like an intriguing read. Definitely going on my TBR list. Thanks for the introduction, Margot.

  5. Kathy D.

    I read it and I remember the multi-culturalism in that neighborhood in Paris.
    I was of mixed minds about it, but learned about this area and the interrelationships. Beyond that, I don’t remember much more.

    • There certainly is a lot in the novel about the interactions among members of different cultures, isn’t there, Kathy? And it’s a solid look at the city of Paris.

  6. Marina Sofia

    I really enjoyed the glimpse of the eclectic ethnic mix in this part of Paris. The writing style has something in common with jazz, the chopping, changing, sudden shifts in scale. Thanks for spreading the word about this book!

    • There is a jazz-like rhythm to the writing, isn’t there, Marina Sofia? It fits the context, I think. And, yes, it’s quite a fascinating look at life in that part of Paris. I’m very glad you enjoyed it as well as you did.

  7. Reblogged this on DSM Publications and commented:
    Check out the book that’s In The Spotlight: Karim Miské’s Arab Jazz from this post on the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist Blog.

  8. It would have to be very good to overcome my prejudice about novels – especially crime novels – written in the present tense, but you have maybe sold it to me, Margot. And if Moira likes it too . . .

    • To be honest, Christine, I’m not fond of the present tense, either – at all. But it’s not an absolute deal-killer for me. This is an unusual sort of novel that really shows one side of Paris that people don’t usually get to see. And you’re right; Moira likes it. I trust her judgement implicitly, so the fact that she likes it certainly says something about the book, in my view.

  9. It sounds like the kind of involved crime novel that I enjoy – as you know I’m a fan of switching viewpoints and fortunately don’t mind what tense the story is written in – I do love characters that have good backstories too.

    • And these characters do have fascinating backstories, Cleo. There’s a real network of different characters and different interactions, too, so, yes, definitely an involved novel. And there’s that clear picture of life in Paris’ 19th arrondissement. If you read this, I hope you’ll like it.

  10. I have not read Arab Jazz but your wonderful post makes me want to read it. It is interesting how the changing of Paris culture has seeped into its crime novels. Art imitating life. We are far away from the French detective Maigret.

    • Yes, we are, Carol. Paris has changed a lot in the past decades, hasn’t it? And it’s interesting how multiculturalism has become woven into crime fiction. If you do choose to read Arab Jazz, I hope you’ll be glad that you did.

  11. Kathy D.

    Such a good point: 180 degrees away from Inspector Maigret. Much time has elapsed and many changes have occurred since Simenon’s days to the world of Miske. The world has changed, and Paris, along with it.

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