Paris by noir – review: Clementina by Simon Cann

Paris by noir - Clementina by Simon Cann, a A Leathan Wilkey novel - review by Charles Harris @simoncannauthor

Last week I wrote about honesty in writing – how it is the difference that makes the difference. No amount of clever plotting or literary fireworks will make up for a lack of truth.

Today I review a novel that proves the point with cool aplomb. A noir thriller that manages to be original without putting on airs.


Simon Cann is a writer with a long track-record. He learned his trade the professional way, by putting in the hours. Largely on a number of soundly crafted books on, well, the craft of sound.

Creating readable prose out of synthesiser presets or building a rock music business is by no means a bad education for a writer. And Cann went on to bring out two crime thriller series before introducing a new hero, Leathan Wilkey, to the world. And in particular, the world of Paris.

And it’s this setting that’s the first of many nice things about Clementina – number one in a series of noirish Leathan Wilkey crime thrillers that currently runs to three and a half (the half being the novella Bag Man, published between numbers two and three.)

Paris by noir

Paris is not the most unusual setting for a novel, but it seems to have been surprisingly underexploited by English-speaking noir writers.

Surprising, because it offers much for the crime novelist: the night-life, the divide between rich and poor and all kinds of social mischief. (It certainly makes a welcome change from the grime of the conventional British procedural).

It is here, then, that Wilkey has landed. Out on a limb, like the best noir heroes, he’s trying to make a new start in life. And avoid a few rather nasty people who would prefer to haul him back to the old one.

His old job involved helping journalists doing things that were too shady even for them. (Which must be very shady indeed!) This itself is a nice variation on the old cop/gumshoe/journo formula.

Now he’s been hired by a dubious high-flying financier to chaperone his overindulged, over-financed seventeen-year-old daughter and ensure she doesn’t get into the gossip columns and ruin a vital deal. Easier said than done, given her love of posting every minute of her life on social media.

It gets even harder when Wilkey finds her having sex with a teenage boy who proceeds to steal a laptop filled with dangerous secrets and then turn up dead.

Thrills and skills

Cann writes with a cool style that befits his cool protagonist. Wilkey is no action-man superhero, nor is he a decrepit down-and-out. Instead he feels remarkably normal – yet he has skills. These skills, learned while working for sleazy hacks, will become very necessary as the plot heats up.

For despite its sleek Parisian surface, the story of Clementina speeds on at an admirable pace. The book has all we want from a good story. Danger (tick). Credible heavies (tick). Wit (tick). Expensive shopping trips (tick)!

All too often, crime thrillers fail to get the balance right between character and plot, and between protagonist and supporting roles. But here the balance feels perfect. Wilkey finds himself drawn into more and more trouble while surrounded by a cast of subtly rounded victims and villains.

Knows his oysters

And at the heart of the story is Clementina herself: a bolshie, entitled teenager who Cann nevertheless draws with unusual sympathy and without cliché.

If the book has any faults (and what novel doesn’t?) there are a few repeated ideas. These could and should have been flagged up by its editor.

And – while Cann is generally adept at sliding in his knowledge of Paris as smoothly as the best cooked huîtres mignonettes – his research does sometimes stick out a little obviously.

But these are minor cavils in a noir thriller that surprises, entertains and never over-reaches for its effects.

Read more

Clementina – by Simon Cann

Clementina: Chapter One

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