Monday, August 30, 2010

Murder in the Metro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s FranceMurder in the Metro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France by Gayle K. Brunelle

 My high hopes for Murder In The Metro started the moment that I spied it on the New Releases shelf at my local library. I was impressed with the subtle genius of the graphic design of the front cover (pictured above). Then, flipping to the back cover, I noticed that the book was written by two authors. The photograph showed two women, the co-writers of the book, seemingly sitting beside each other on a park bench. The woman on the left looked relaxed, down to earth and happy, possibly even having armpit hair. She seemed like someone that I would get along with, someone I would be interested in what she had to say. The other woman I wasn’t so sure about. There was nothing that struck me one way or the other about her.

I sat down and started reading and after 20 pages into it I was actually starting to think that at last I had found my brilliant female writer.  And not just one--but two.  Upon finishing Chapter 1 and 2 I turned the page to Chapter 3 with that familiar feeling that comes with reading certain brilliantly entertaining books. The story was intriguing, the setting was fascinating, the story-telling was comfortable and non-self-conscious. It had me submerged in a foreign land and a distant past. I was hooked. So as I turned the page to chapter 3 I was already settled in and prepared to be thoroughly tantilized some more. But that didn’t happen. Instead of galloping along at the engaging clip that the book had been trotting at, there was an abrupt about face. All the sudden instead of unfolding a fascianting mystery, there seemed to be an agenda behind the book, it became bogged down in scholarly gobbley-gook, it took on judgmental tone, politicized and stiff. As a reader you know you are in trouble when you read “In this chapter, we begin the…” For Christ’s sake! Is there any single prepositional phrase in the written language that is more frickin’ boring than that?  That was my first red flag as that content happy feeling of being at the beginning of a good read was replaced by that gut-wrenching, sinking feeling that comes with the disappointment of having high hopes dashed.

I turned to the back cover of the book again to get another look at the two female writers.  Upon close inspection, I felt certain that this disappointing chapter 3 must had been written by the woman on the right, Annette Finley-Croswhite (even the name sounds like it has an agenda). Finley-Croswhite’s biases immediately start littering the paragraphs of Chapter 3 and by paragraph two she is blathering on about the term “bourgeois” as it is used by historians. By paragraph three she is on about “male journalistic anxieties about the newly asserted young women of the interwar period” and male journalists whose “speculations increasingly reflected their fears of modern sexual mores, their erotic fanasies”. Again, are you frickin kidding me??? Three paragraphs into the chapter and this “historian” is claiming to know the inner-mental workings of long dead French journalists who I imagine she’s never met??? These over-generalizations combined with the disappointment of having a savory reading experience suddenly ripped away from me was too much. I decided that I had to contact these writers, if for no other reason that to find out which one wrote this chapter and which one wrote chapter one and two...

...Less than two weeks later I return home from work, open my email and find a response to my critical review of Murder In the Metro by none other than Annette Finley-Croswhite, the co-author who I was ripping on. She was very polite about explaining some of the criticism of her book. Here is what she had to say:

Both authors are equal co-authors in every sense of the word. Chapter 2 or 3 that you take issue with was written in a side-by-side manner and edited thoroughly by both authors. "Murder in the Métro" was meant to be a cross-over book, academic, but one general readers could enjoy. The book was written by two university professors, who also love to write. That said, it was published by a University Press, Louisiana State University Press. As a result, it was also written for scholars. Academic presses make certain requirements and use outside readers to review books to accept or reject for publication. Compromises occur between writer(s) and reviewers. In this case, both one outside reviewer and one editor at LSU required a discussion of the word "bourgeois." It was NOT our choice to make that inclusion, but one that was deemed necessary by two different authorities. It was part of the "negotiation" process that went on before a final contract for publication was issued. Writing a "cross-over" book isn't easy. This one went through many versions to smooth out the language. We tried to make it fun, but that is clear in some places more than others. Hopefully, you enjoyed the later chapters that are written more like chapter one. The point is that as a "cross-over" work it contains elements of both an academic text and a more popular book. Just like a piece of music in a "cross-over" situation, a variety of motifs are used. The "hook" is "popular," but the substance is, afterall, academic and based on twelve years of very hard work, much of it spent in archives digging in old documents. And "Murder" wasn't published by a popular trade press, but an academic one.

As for my name, I'm sorry you take issue. It was an accident of birth, reconfigured at marriage to please my father, who very much wanted me to take my husband's name. As a name it is cumbersome, I'll give you that, but the choice was made at a more innocent time of my life when I felt it was important to appease a father I dearly loved with a bow to his old-time values. I'm sure, secretly, my choice pleased my husband as well. Additionally, I enjoy a linguistic connection with the name my sons carry, their father's surname while retaining the link to my birth name and heredity.

With regard to my co-author, Dr. Brunelle is a very elegant woman, and perhaps, the smartest person I have ever met. She also has a great sense of humor. But alas, neither one nor the other author is solely responsible for any chapter of the book.

I hope I've answered your questions. We are working now on a biography of Eugène Deloncle, the founder of the Cagoule, that we hope to market to a trade press in a popular style--without much of that academic verbiage you disdain. We also continue to produce academic scholarship as university professionals.

posted by AnnetteFinley at 6:49 am (EST) on Jul 18, 2010

First of all, I was impressed by the fact that Annette Finley took the time to respond to me. And her good humour seems to indicate that she has thick enough skin to take my two cents worth for what it is. She also educated me on the process of writing her book and how that process was partially responsible for the criticisms I had of it. Still though, I had to stand by my review. I really can't stomach all of that scholarly hoity-toity crap and I would have liked to have seen the two authors blend the scholarly stuff into the narrative of Murder in the Metro in such away that it wasnt such jarring change of pace. I think if it were my book and I had put so much into it and some outside "authorities" insisted that I had to include something, I would have told these "authorities" exactly where they could go shove it. In my opinion, the suggestions of the "authorities" nearly ruined a potentially great read--and that is just a sin!

Murder in the Metro gets 2 Wagemann Heads.



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