Empire of the Wolves, by Jean-Christophe Grangé, trans. Ian Monk

A lurid farrago of Oriental stereotypes
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The Independent Culture

For centuries there was a species of atrocity story circulating in Europe: the Turkish Outrage. In the 16th century, prints portrayed evil Turks spitting babies on their lances. Terrifying tales of wicked Ottoman sultans mutilating their subjects horrified the Christian West and perpetuated the Crusader view of the evil Muslim world.

For centuries there was a species of atrocity story circulating in Europe: the Turkish Outrage. In the 16th century, prints portrayed evil Turks spitting babies on their lances. Terrifying tales of wicked Ottoman sultans mutilating their subjects horrified the Christian West and perpetuated the Crusader view of the evil Muslim world.

One hopes it is merely a historical curiosity that Jean-Christophe Grangé's latest thriller exploits this particular vein of racism. The author would no doubt deny this, but his plot involves a catalogue of horrors, including facial and vaginal mutilation, attributed to - who else? - a bunch of Turks.

It was the French who invented "Grand guignol", a genre which can have its attractions if it means an enjoyable wallow in excess. Grangé's wildly improbable species of modern French Gothic has succeeded in the past on account of his gripping narratives and dramatic situations, as in his novel Blood-Red Rivers. In Empire of the Wolves, we start with a venerable chestnut: the woman who has lost her memory. Can Anna Heymes trust her husband, who, naturally, is a suspicious character who might or might not be responsible for her plight?

This is such a daytime TV staple that Grangé has to do something special to turn it into a worthwhile mystery. His answer is to pile on the blood and anguish and bring in fiendish Oriental practices. Running parallel with our heroine's search for her identity, hideous murders are committed on Turkish workers in the garment-making 10th arrondissement of Paris.

Elaborate and revolting tortures have been inflicted on the women, who all came from the same Anatolian village. It is interesting that the mutilations include the atrocities traditionally attributed to Turks in the European popular consciousness: the slicing off of nose and lips.

The two themes eventually coalesce. Our heroine and the murdered women are in fact being pursued by a Turkish fascist group, the Grey Wolves, survivors of a failed coup and followers of a psychopathic leader.

Weaving in and out of this tangle are two policemen, the embittered and brutal Jean-Louis Schiffer, who has specialised in working in the Turkish community, and the sympathetic Paul Nerteaux, attempting to maintain some standards of decency. The plot is digressive and rambling, including a long chase in the cemetery of Père Lachaise.

Anna Heymes is a strong personality and interesting questions are raised, such as the possibility, given modern drugs and analysis, of really wiping out someone's memory. But in spite of the spasmodic power of Grangé's writing, the end result is as offensive as any of those old caricatures of fiendish Oriental torturers.

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