The one with the potty-mouthed nun

Philippe Bouin, Revenge on the River (French 2014, 2012, English 2015)

What are the odds that I would be reunited with Sister Blandine (no less than 6 years after our first meeting) thanks to Netgalley? When I saw that one of those local mysteries set in the Lyon and Saône region has been translated to English and was available for download, I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

The plot may not be as twisted as a Fred Vargas’, but the characters are friendly, if not totally believable or directly relatable: who can put oneself in the shoes of a female police inspector reformed into a Catholic nun working as a nurse and living in a convent? On second thoughts, who cares only about believable and relatable when it comes to choosing novels?

The son of a local industry magnate is assaulted on his way home from a party. His assailant beats him up and threatens him with these cryptic words: Najuno, remember. This is “obviously” a revenge for an old incident that involved his father’s company in Chile years ago, where toxic waste has killed an Indian tribe called Najuno. But who is the hateful avenger and what does he want? As incidents keep occurring, the question is rather, where will he stop? Sister Blandine can’t keep away from this case especially as she knows both the victim’s family and some suspects.

The fast-paced plot isn’t very deep and it didn’t really manage to convey a sense of tragic urgency despite speaking of really serious events such as an industrial and environmental disaster. But the tone of the story is light and funny and the book is designed to be entertainment more than political denunciation, so I enjoyed it despite its weaknesses. The writer has worked in industrial companies and is careful of never showing a black-and-white picture of company managers and environmental activists. The level of violence is really mild and although Sister Blandine may rise some highbrows, she surely has the proverbial heart of gold, so readers will easily extend grace to her.

One of the strengths of the novel is the local setting in the Beaujolais area where the author lives, and English readers will certainly enjoy escapism in scenes of good meals and good wines that pepper the novel. The French translator has chosen to stay very close to native expressions, especially the most colorful or visual ones, and the language definitely contributes to the boisterous, joyful atmosphere.

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