A man torn between two continents finds himself in a dangerous confrontation between tradition and corruption. Solo is a former cop who ran away from a dark past in France to start his life over again in Bamako, Mali, as a PI. An ordinary case turns out to be not so ordinary. The drug mule gets her throat slit. The French lawyer is too beautiful and too well-informed. The cocaine is too plentiful. This is classic hard-boiled noir with a modern twist set in Africa.
|Publisher:||Le French Book|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
After a successful career in law enforcement, Laurent Guillaume is now a full-time, award-winning crime fiction writer. He studied law, then served France, and graduated from the police academy a lieutenant. He started working urban crimes in the projects outside of Paris. His unit’s logo was a bat and the men called Batmen. They worked nights, in direct contact with dealers and drug addicts, thieves and vandals, traffickers and the down-and-out. His excellent physical and organizational skills led him abroad, on missions of international cooperation in Chad and North Africa. Back in France, he returned to his home region of Annecy for a calmer job. There, he discovered crime fiction and began reading the genre’s founding writers. Eager to be on the move again, he signed up to be an advisor to the police in Mali in 2007, where he specialized in fighting drug trafficking. It was in Mali he began to write. Two novels, two literary prizes and TV rights sold right off the bat, Guillaume returned to France in 2011 to work financial crimes in Annecy. In 2013, he left behind the red tape, judges and lawyers to write full time. He has seven published novels to date. White Leopard is the first to be translated into English.
Read an Excerpt
By Laurent Guillaume, Sophie Weiner
Le French BookCopyright © 2013 Editions Denoël
All rights reserved.
Bamako, Mali, 2009
It was a beautiful morning. It must have been about ten o'clock, but it felt like daybreak. She was waiting for me at the top of the outside stairs. I didn't notice her at first. I was too focused on getting up the crumbling concrete steps. I hadn't had a bout of malaria in several weeks, but I still needed to hold onto the rusty handrail like a shriveled old man. Reckless — perhaps suicidal — geckos were dashing between my feet. When I looked up, she was there, standing on the walkway in the intense June sunshine. She was wearing a white dress as light as the first breezes of the Harmattan, the dry wind that sweeps over West Africa in the fall and winter. Her eyes were full of both seriousness and hope. I wiped the thin layer of sweat from my brow and stepped past her, pretending not to take notice. Beautiful women do nothing but cause me trouble, and judging by her looks, this girl would be World War III. I pulled a key from my pocket and approached the door, with its gold plaque trumpeting "Camara Investigations." She moved aside to let me pass.
"Are you Souleymane Camara?" she asked from behind me as I slid the key in the lock.
I opened the door.
"That depends." I turned around to look her in the face.
She was tall — almost my height — and elegant. She was most likely a native of a Maghreb country. I'd have bet Morocco. I could see the outline of her muscled thighs under her gauzy dress. Her leg was just inches from my hand, and it was all I could do to keep myself from reaching out and touching it. Her jet-black hair was pulled back in a tight bun, with a few wisps around her ears. The style wasn't at all unflattering. It highlighted her perfect oval-shaped face and intense dark eyes, which probed me mercilessly. It had been a late night for me, and based on the look of disapproval in her eyes, the excessive activities I had recently been engaging in were blatantly clear. Strangely, it bothered me that she would judge me so harshly.
"That depends on what?" she said.
"That depends on why you're here and whether I owe you money or have caused harm to you or someone close to you."
"And what if that's the case?"
"Take a number and get in line."
"Are there that many people?"
"More than I can count."
"I've come to ask for your help, although I'm starting to question whether it's a good idea."
Her tone was cold and revealed a certain level of education. Underneath, there was a melodious Mediterranean singsong in her voice.
I opened the door all the way and motioned her into the office. "Go ahead."
She paused before entering. I pointed to one of the two chairs in front of my desk, the one without the frayed padding and loose frame. I had left my window open, and the hot midmorning heat was already seeping into the room. I glanced at the traffic outside. The street was congested, and the cop at the intersection was trying desperately to maintain order. On the sidewalk, merchants were hassling the passersby, and the beggars were pleading for handouts from drivers stopped at the light.
I closed the window, and the chaos of Bamako subsided. Using my remote, I turned on the AC. The cool air rushed into the room, drying my sweaty back. With a sigh of satisfaction, I sat down in my made-in-China executive chair. I propped my feet on the desk — also from China — and, with a stone face, stared at my female visitor. It was a technique the older cops had taught me when I was still on the force. Always put the other person in an uncomfortable position. Confronted with silence, they'd want to alleviate the tension, fill the time, and perhaps let slip a few helpful insights — things they would have kept to themselves under different circumstances.
But now my efforts were yielding nothing in return. She maintained a polite silence. Finally, I spoke. I cleared my throat and asked, "Well then, what can I do for you, Mrs....?"
"Ms. Tebessi. Farah Tebessi."
She had insisted on the "Ms.," as if it were of great importance to her. That amused me.
"I'm a lawyer, a member of the Paris bar. Perhaps my name rings a bell for you?"
Indeed, the name struck a vague chord in my brain, which was still foggy from too much alcohol. Something I had read in a paper, something that was mentioned on ORTM radio. I rummaged through the mayhem on my desk and extracted an issue of Le Républicain. "Suspected drug trafficker arrested before flight to Paris," a headline blared. And just below that, a readout: "Police say female passenger had 13 kilos of cocaine hidden in luggage."
The article described the impressive effectiveness of the Bamako drug squad bloodhounds. They had neutralized the "dangerous drug-trafficker" just before she boarded her plane. Accompanying the article was a photo: a woman, who appeared to be in her twenties. Distraught and fatigued, she was handcuffed and posed in front of a table with the seized cocaine.
"That's my sister," Farah said. "My little sister, Bahia."
I threw the paper in the wastebasket. The police had been finding coke all over Bamako — by the kilo and by the line.
"I don't see how I can be of help to you. Your sister's fate is sealed."
Farah Tebessi leaned forward with a pained smile on her face, the kind a teacher uses on a kid who's acting too cocky.
"Look, Mr. Camara ..."
"Solo ... Call me Solo."
"Solo, Bahia is ..." Farah hesitated, then continued. "Bahia is your average girl next door. She's in her second year of law school and works part time at an industrial bakery in Val-d'Oise. She's got a young daughter, but the father's gone. She's just getting by, and I assume that makes her the perfect prey for traffickers. There's no way I'm abandoning her. My niece is waiting for her mother. I want to bring her back to France."
"What you want doesn't matter here."
Farah leaned back and sighed. "I'm sure you realize that I didn't set out on this journey without educating myself beforehand. I'm not naïve. I know the local customs. There's always something that can be done."
"I'm curious to hear what that may be."
"I would like you to contact the examining magistrate responsible for this case and offer him something in exchange for my sister's freedom."
I looked at her skeptically while playing nervously with the tagelmust draped around my neck.
"Are you asking me to buy off a judge?"
She let out a scornful little laugh.
"I thought I made myself clear. Don't act all high and mighty. According to what I've heard, buying off people is the national pastime in Mali."
"Who gave you my name?"
She smoothed her dress and locked eyes with me.
"Thanks to my work as a lawyer, I'm in regular contact with the police. I've even become friends with a few. Commander Lefèvre suggested that I speak with you."
Lefèvre — the head of my old drug squad. Pensively, I rubbed the scars on my left hand.
"He told me not to trust my first impressions, that you were a commendable cop back in the day," Farah Tebessi continued. "He said if someone could help me in this country, it would be you. That's why I haven't given up yet."
"Did he tell you how I'm a disaster waiting to happen and that partnering with me can lead to a whole world of trouble?"
She gave me an irritated look. That was clearly a talent of hers.
"Yes, he told me. But I'm not scared — I mean, by what you did."
My throat was feeling as dry as the Sahel. I looked over at the minibar, where my bottle of Scotch was waiting for me. But it was too early. I had to hold out a little longer — until noon, at least.
"I have a saying: in Mali everything's possible and nothing's certain," I replied.
"Okay then, do everything that's possible. I've already said good-bye to certainties."
"How much?" I asked.
"Fifteen thousand euros for the judge, and three thousand for you," she said. That's about ten million in CFA francs for the judge and two million for you, give or take."
"Divide that in half, and it'll be enough. No need to whet any appetites."
She kept staring at me. "For you too?"
"Yes. For me too."
Farah told me she was staying at the Laïco Hotel, just across from the French embassy. We agreed to meet at the same time the following day. She planned to exchange her euros for the African currency at a Malian bank and hand it over to me at our appointment. A branch of the Mali Development Bank was conveniently located near her hotel. I suggested that she have a guard from the bank accompany her to the hotel. She could leave the money in the hotel safe until our meeting. We shook hands, and she left. I remained seated for a moment, looking back at the minibar. A hint of jasmine wafted in the air.CHAPTER 2
I was walking down the Avenue de l'Yser and, as always, felt suffocated by the powerful smells of open sewers, earth, and spices, despite the cool shade of the centuries-old trees, which gave the river district a measure of charm. I had decided to pay a little visit to Hamidou Kansaye, the police commissioner. He happened to be my father's best friend and was the one man who could shed light on Bahia Tebessi's case. Over time, I had learned that in Bamako, things were rarely what they seemed and that going into situations blind could be risky. And so I had decided to ask the best officer in Mali to help me.
I was working my way through a colorful crowd. A woman with sagging breasts was frying banana beignets. Two giggling toddlers with big bellies were waddling around her, their steps not quite steady. In the streets, antique Mercedes taxis, Chinese mopeds, and city vans — soutramas — crowded with passengers were jostling for the right of way. It was a happy uproar of horn honking and curses in the Bambara tongue. Making little progress on foot, I hailed a cab. I gave the driver the address of the national police force and slid into the backseat, trying my best to avoid the broken springs. The police headquarters was in the ACI-2000 district, a monstrous growth of modern buildings and immense Stalin-style avenues on the west side of Bamako.
A good half hour later, the taxi dropped me off in front of the drab yellow headquarters. I asked a guard armed with a Kalashnikov to inform the commissioner of my presence. While he walked over to the security post to use the phone, I took a good look at the building. Even though it had been built no more than two years earlier, it had a seventies-style look. Malians were good at putting up new buildings that looked old right from the start. The guard informed me that Kansaye was waiting. He made sure I knew the way and then, without any other formalities, let me go in unescorted and without even a visitor's badge.
I walked into the monumental — and empty — lobby and climbed two flights of stairs before advancing into the hallway to the commissioner's office. In the waiting room, a police officer in a sky-blue uniform was nodding off on a tattered velvet couch. As I shook him awake, I noted his stripes.
"Deputy chief, the commissioner is expecting me. Could you let him know I'm here?"
The man emerged from his lethargic state and looked at me with empty eyes. Finally, he recognized me. He sat up, saluted, and let out a booming, "Warakalan Jeman. I'll inform the commissioner."
I had solved a few cases that got heavy play from local crime reporters hungry for front-page stories. The hacks loved to give investigators noms de guerre. It spiced up their stories. And so I had joined the inner circle of private sleuths and police detectives with zoology-themed nicknames like the "Sparrow Hawk of Mandé" and "Macky the Wildcat." My sudden crime-solving celebrity brought with it certain advantages. I rarely had to wait for anything, I was invited to society gatherings, and my clients were convinced that I possessed magical powers, thanks to my totem. Animism was still very much alive in Mali, even with a majority of the population being Muslim. Deep down, though, I would have preferred staying in the comfortable shadows of anonymity.
I was White Leopard. It has always surprised me that, despite my mixed-race café au lait skin, Malians consider me white. In France I was a black dude on the force. It felt like the fate of the multiracial man meant always being opposite to whatever was commonplace. I was perfectly fine with that. I liked to stick out of the crowd.
The uniformed officer knocked on the metal door, and an electric bolt clicked. The deputy chief stuck his head through the opening and announced that I was there. I didn't hear the response, but the officer waved me in. Hamidou Kansaye was standing behind his desk with the receiver of his telephone glued to his ear. He motioned for me to have a seat. Shivering, I complied. The room felt colder than Siberia. The AC was on full blast, as was often the case in the offices and homes of Mali's rich and powerful. The more powerful you were, the colder it was. One of the three cell phones on the leather desk blotter started vibrating like a big beetle. Kansaye brought it to his free ear. Now he was entertaining two conversations at once. He alternated between French and Bambara as he told off both people on the receiving ends. Kansaye had the reputation of being irascible. His pals on the force had nicknamed him Pinochet. The locals called him "The Incorruptible." I didn't know if that was accurate, but I did know that everyone respected and feared him. Anyone who had ever tried to slip one by him always regretted it. Kansaye never forgot. He might as well have had "revenge is sweet" sown on a throw pillow.
Finally, he cut the two conversations off, hanging up the fixed phone and wearily throwing the cell on his desk.
After a bit of small talk, he got to the point. "Leopard, to what do I owe this visit?"
Kansaye, a Dogon, was in his sixties, but was still sturdy and vigorous. He had a harsh face and a thin mustache. He was wearing one of the sky-blue boubou robes that he loved. His eyes sparkled, reflecting the keen mind of someone who came from the earth and ancestral traditions. He was also a scholar and a lover of French literature. My father and he were like brothers. So much so that after my father's death, Kansaye felt compelled to watch over me, and God knows he had his work cut out.
"Commissioner, I've come to talk to you about that French woman who was arrested for transporting cocaine."
The commissioner froze and stared at me. I had aroused his interest, which was no easy task.
"How does that concern you?"
"I need to know which examining magistrate has been assigned the case."
His eyes froze on me.
There was no point in procrastinating. I decided to lay my cards on the table. Kansaye had always been a faithful ally. Besides, it was impossible to put anything past this man.
"The mule's sister hired me. She wants me to contact the judge and buy him off."
He stood up and walked over to the AC. The temperature fell from Siberia cold to polar blast.
He shook his head.
"You have to be careful where you step, Solo. This case is more complicated than it seems. Some high-ranking players are involved. I'm walking on eggshells."
"Will you let me talk to Bahia Tebessi?"
He shrugged. "If you insist. She's still being detained by the drug squad. And as for your judge, his name is Moussa Guino. He's an asshole, but a greedy asshole."
Kansaye had just given me the go-ahead.
"Insha'Allah," he said in response to my promise to return the favor.
I thanked him and took off.CHAPTER 3
By the time I left the police headquarters, the sun had run half its course. My stomach was growling, and my throat was dry, so I stopped for lunch at Café du Fleuve. I ordered the grilled Nile perch — a West African favorite known as capitaine — and a fruit salad, which I enjoyed with three refreshing Flags, a local brew. Because my destination wasn't too far away, I decided to walk there after my lunch. As I passed through a neighborhood filled with small appliance shops, several street peddlers recognized me and invited me to have tea with them under the mango trees. I had some time to kill and accepted. It was an opportunity to practice my shaky Bambara.
After thanking my hosts, I set out for the small red-dirt square bordered by four worn buildings that housed the services under the Ministry of the Interior — national police offices, the juvenile crimes division, the drug squad, and the bureau of investigations. These units were in old villas that were in need of a good paint job. A throng of vendors and the loved ones of prisoners and victims were crowding the entrances. I elbowed my way through and presented myself at the drug squad station.
Excerpted from White Leopard by Laurent Guillaume, Sophie Weiner. Copyright © 2013 Editions Denoël. Excerpted by permission of Le French Book.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the authors first book translated to English. This is a story about a man who lives between two continents . Solo a former who cop has to run from his past in France. Anyone who truly loves intrigue and suspense should read this book LeFrench Publishers are one of my favorites. I received this book in exchange for and honest review.
WHITE LEOPARD by LAURENT GUILLAUME (translated from French) Solo Camara, known as the White Leopard, is a wanted man in France. While a cop, he killed the two men who were responsible for the deaths of his wife and daughter. Fleeing charges, he is now a Private Investigator in Bamako, Malia. A local attorney asks for his professional help in locating the men responsible for her sister's death. Conducting his investigation, he ends up crossing paths with a ring of drug traffickers. Camara is an interesting character. He's not particularly likable, he has no line he won't cross. He's brutal when it comes to vengeance. His only redeeming quality is that he is loyal to a fault to people that he trusts. The drug traffickers are also brutal, willing to main and/or kill anyone who gets in their way of a huge profit. It was an okay read. I found myself skipping pages here and there as it didn't really hold my attention throughout the entire book. NOTE: GRAPHIC VIOLENCE, GRAPHIC SEX, GRAPHIC LANGUAGE My thanks to the author / Le French Book / NetGalley who furnished a digital copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
[I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley. I thank them for their generousity. In exchange, I was simply asked to write an honest review, and post it. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising] “[I]n Mali everything’s possible and nothing’s certain..." Souleymane (aka Solo) Camara, a former French drug force detective expat living in his late father's house, runs Camara Investigations as a Private Dectective: shadowing illicit spouses, finding the "bad guys" and learning just how much you have to bribe a Malian to get anything done.... Then Farah Tebessi come into his life asking him to find her sister Bahia. Accused of being a drug mule, she's disappeared into the corrupt system of Bamako and Farah is desperate to find her as she has a small child at home, and she wants to bring them both to France where they will be safe. Solo agrees to find her, warning his client it's going to take bribe money to get any answers. Farah agrees, and the search begins, taking Solo all over Mali. This is a fast paced gritty story. People die, people are bribed for information, all the bones of a good "hard boiled detective story". It's violence is pretty detailed and rather crude, just like life in war torn Northern Africa. We get small flashes of Camara's personal history that help "flesh out" his quest, and how his anger fuels his present search, and how the past is put into perspective.
The very recent events in Bamako, the setting of White Leopard in Laurent Guillaume's book showed his portrayal of Mali was completely accurate. Bamako and Mali meant little to me before I read this book. Guillaume's police background, local Mali knowledge and his creative writing blends with sex and violence into a Mali cultural experience. It is fast paced and colourful. Guillaume crafts an 'earthy' page turner around cocaine trafficking and murder in what was once the French Sudan, depicting a country deeply submerged in corruption and where everything has a price. Guillaume require a much wider audience and I look forward to many more Guillaume titles in the future. Eddy Weatherill
Souleymain Camara (Solo) left his career as a cop in France for the supposedly quieter life of a PI in West Africa. Unfortunately, corruption is everywhere and it seems to follow him like a lost puppy. The beginning of his latest adventure brings a beautiful woman to his doorstep asking him to help her sister. Apparently the sister has made the very bad decision to get tangled up with drug smugglers. She was caught acting as a drug mule and was arrested. Her sister is willing to do anything to get her released and begs Solo for his help. Solo “plays ball” with the corrupt politicians of the area and gets the sister out of jail. But she never makes it home to her daughter. She is found with her throat slit the day after her release. The case continues to spiral out of control and quickly becomes very personal to Solo. He finds his life in danger as well as the lives of people he cares about. If the bad guys cross the line into his life, he is not above taking an eye for an eye. I’m not really sure if I like Solo, but if he were a real person, he would not care if I did or didn’t. The reasons he does what he does are because he is following a strict code to which he adheres, even though it isn’t necessarily one we would all follow. Guillaume, a French author making his English language debut with White Leopard, does not lose the integrity of the story, or the noir feel of his main character in the translation. As a former cop himself, Guillaume pulls from his vast knowledge of police work including narcotics, anti-gang and drug trafficking. This knowledge brings a graphic reality to this book and I would presume the others. This is a hard-boiled detective novel. The chapters are short, and the tone and language gritty. Reality is intertwined with fiction creating a heart-pounding, page turning thriller. White Leopard is his seventh novel; the previous six were published in French.
This books provides an incredible story that spans continents and cultures. it outlines a culture of depravity and corruption where Solo, the White Leopard, fights his demons, seeks revenge, and tries to help a beautiful French woman. The action takes place in Mali, but the principals are from multiple countries, cultures and walks of life. The death of a drug mule starts a chain of violence, brutality and death to drag the reader into a fascinating and engrossing story. In this world there are no good guys or bad guys. Everyone is a shade of grey, some darker than others. The net result is a feeling that human relationships are the only source of good in an evil culture.
Thriller set in Mali I received this as a giveaway on Goodreads. A hard-boiled private investigator is visited by a beautiful woman who asks him to help her sister who is in trouble. The PI gets into all sorts of scrapes while investigating and there is a lot of violence and some sex. Sounds familiar? Except instead of being in LA or New York, this takes place in Bamako, Mali, where bribery and corruption is rife. An engaging read with some grammatical errors and typos in the uncorrected proof version, hopefully corrected in the published version. I object to the near-death situations in which our hero finds himself only to be saved “regularly” at the last minute. Quite well-written, this is a good relatively brief read, worth the effort.