The Godmother: Hannelore Cayre

“I’m not ashamed to admit I was a difficult mother, not at all the nurturing type.”

Hannelore Cayre’s novel The Godmother features Patience Portefeux, a 53 year-old Paris-based Arabic translator. Patience, mother of two, and a widow whose husband died years earlier, has utilized her Arabic, becoming a court reporter. Patience doesn’t glam herself up, or try to defy her age; her hair is long, and white, she’s overweight and while she’s “well-groomed” she only wears “monochrome suites–grey, black, or anthracite.” I read somewhere that the middle-aged woman is the most invisible person in society, and that definitely seems to be true of Patience. Yes she’s middle-aged, overweight, probably nothing that noticeable if you work with her…. but take away those labels and underneath her bland disguise, beats the heart of a transgressive personality who submerges into criminalism when presented with an opportunity. 

The godmother

Patience’s criminal expertise didn’t materialize from thin air. It’s in her blood. She tells her life story–how she grew up in the biz, with immigrant parents and countless bodies buried on their land. 

My parents were crooks, with a visceral love of money. For them it wasn’t an inert substance stashed away in a suitcase or held in some account. No, they loved it as a living, intelligent being that can create and destroy, that possesses the gift of reproduction. Something mighty that forges destinies, that separates beauty from ugliness, winners from losers. Money is Everything; the distillation of all that can be bought in a world where everything is for sale. It is the answer to every question. 

Early marriage to a man who also had shady business deals ended with Patience a young widow left with two daughters. They were soon stripped of everything, and this led to a sojourn in a loony bin. Patience clawed her way back and landed the interpreter gig, but Patience realizing that “the interpreter was simply a tool to accelerate the act of repression,” begins translating “phone taps for the drug and organized crime squads.”  

Despite my disillusion, I made dazzling progress on the career front. My colleagues will say I must have slept with a lot of people. The cruder version that made it back to me : There must have been kilometers of cops’ dicks involved, etc., etc. 

One thing leads to another and before you know it, Patience, dealing with her aged mother who is kicked out of a care home, is deep in the drug industry, and she’s working both ends–moving massive amounts of drugs, sleeping with her cop boyfriend and monitoring phone taps of her rivals. 

Prudence is a wonderful, fascinating peppery character: all the labels attached to her by society are just that: underneath simmers her true nature, and the novel excels in showing how we judge people by these labels. I could have done with less wire tap conversations and more about Prudence as she negotiates society. 

Damn, you’re quite the paradox, aren’t you. You always lower our eyes whenever anybody speaks to you, like you’re shy, but at the same time you’re giving off this feeling of kick-ass confidence–like the very worst scum bags in fact.

Stories, true or fiction, often portray straight-arrow people becoming corrupted when opportunity presents itself, but The Godmother plays with the tantalizing idea that corruption occurs, yes when opportunity presents itself, but also as a laying-in-wait and ambushing the ‘system’ variety.

Translated by Stephanie Smee.

A contribution for the cancelled Quai de Polar 2020. Now I want to read a book about Griselda Blanco. 


Filed under Cayre Hannelore, Fiction

6 responses to “The Godmother: Hannelore Cayre

  1. I’m glad you liked it and thanks for your contribution to our virtual Quais du Polar.

  2. So glad you read it. Prudence is a great character, and I loved Cayre’s anger at the hypocrisy of society being so righteous about drug runners whose clients are the wealthy and the families of the judges who sentence them. She’s a lawyer herself so she knows this world.

  3. Sounds great. You probably know this already, but just in case…there’s a film in the works with Isabelle Huppert in the lead role. How cool a prospect is that!

  4. Pat

    Hey it’s been translated! I certainly enjoyed it and by the way, talking about films, I saw the film of her first book ‘Commis d’office’ (Duty counsel) back in 2009, a real eye opener as to the state of the judicial procedure in France (You can forget Spiral!). I loved the way she tells us of the French home office breaking employment laws with the translators used for crime investigation and pointing out that this could make them vulnerable, this true part of the story actually made the press here a few years before the book was published.

  5. What an interesting concept, and Patience sounds like a fascinating character to spend some time with. We make so many assumptions about people based on things like age, gender, weight and so on, and I like the idea of a character who really overturns those expectations—or maybe uses them to her advantage. What better attribute for a big-time drug dealer than invisibility?

  6. I really enjoyed this. Patience is fascinating as Andrew says, and the anger at hypocrisy is definitely there as Gert says. It’s also short, zips along and is a lot of fun to read.

    I can’t forget Spiral Pat, it’s too good a series. I mean, I’m not surprised to hear it’s nonsense but it is still very good nonsense.

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