L’Assassin

By PETER STEINER

There’s much to be said for good, old-fashioned thrillers, in which the protagonist is up against a tangled web of villains who have the president of the United States on speed dial. In the sequel to Le Crime (originally published as A French Country Murder), New Yorker cartoonist Peter Steiner revisits his character Louis Morgon, a retired CIA operative living in the sleepy French village of Saint-Léon sur Dême. Morgon continues to be persecuted by his deranged former boss, Secretary of State Hugh Bowes, who sets off a string of murders with a robbery of Morgon’s house that at first seemed “noteworthy only for its ineptitude.” The real crime is much more complicated, as Morgon is framed as a terrorist working with al Qaeda. Allegedly, this partnership helps him channel his hatred for America, an incendiary claim that fuels Morgon, along with a local police detective, Renard, to investigate matters, traveling to Afghanistan and the U.S., where he reconnects with his estranged grown children. Steiner’s prose, as that of Dan Brown and John Grisham, won’t win him fans, but his story, and Morgon especially, make for the literary equivalent of a mystery starring James Stewart: here is a man in the middle of a maelstrom who must stop a murderer and simultaneously sort out, with bumbling charm, his imperfect personal life.