May 2010

Jakob Arjouni - Chez Max

"...the feeling of Paris is certainly there; a city where romance and subversion go hand in hand..."

The year is 2064 and the world is ruled by a huge superstate consisting of Europe, Asia and North America. The rest of the world is securely fenced off to protect itself from countries living in poverty whose inhabitants make frequent attempts to cross the border for a better life. Society is patrolled by Ashcroft, a security agency with a network of spies who go about their everyday lives whilst informing on their family, friends and colleagues.

One such agent is Max Schwartzwald, owner of the smart Parisian restaurant, Chez Max. Although paid to identify and inform on any subversive activity, Max's success rate is depressingly low and he resorts to informing on his clientele for minor misdemeanours. But the main thorn in his side is his colleague Chen Wu, a coarse and disagreeable agent who delights in winding up Max about his restaurant and his love life.

When Max unexpectedly stumbles across evidence that Chen is a double agent he decides to focus his investigations on exposing his colleague and thereby improving his career prospects.

This is an unusual book by Jakob Arjouni. Although set in the near future, it traces the origins of the paranoia and suspicion that dominate society back to the events of September 11th and the response of governments to it.

Society is therefore like the one we live in now only more paranoid and closed. It is a stroke of genius to set the story in Paris. All the things that we associate with the city including its restaurants and cafes are there but provide a backdrop for a much more insular society. Because the story is told from Max's perspective, we never really get a feeling of how the society feels from an outsiders perspective, from someone who is not a government agent. But the feeling of Paris is certainly there; a city where romance and subversion go hand in hand...

The story itself is very well told although the ending is a little oblique. The writing is excellent and one of the best aspects of the novel is its clear prose. The book also brings together the science fiction and crime thriller genres very well and will appeal to both audiences.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating:

Back to review archive