Crime Fiction Critic is pleased to be on tour with Corylus Books for Little Rebel by Jérôme Leroy.
Divided along so many social fault lines, a city in the west of France is a tinderbox of anger and passion. As the tension grows, things go badly wrong as a cop is killed and a terror cell is scattered across the city. A school on the deprived side of the city is caught up in turmoil as students, their teacher and a visiting children’s author are locked down.
Making his first appearance in an English translation, Jérôme Leroy gives us a subtle and sardonic perspective on the shifts taking place in politics and society in this disturbing novella.
Little Rebel by Jérôme Leroy—A chilling tapestry of fact and fiction, and a deeply disturbing — albeit informed — look at the consequences of the caustic moral decline of Western society against the backdrop of the fallout from the war on terror.
Little Rebel by Jérôme Leroy is a tough book to describe. I assumed it to be a crime thriller, but as I started reading I became worried that it was going to be a more work illustrative of political and social didacticism, and that’s not writing I enjoy.
Thankfully, the story surrounding the death of a cop and a scattered Jihadist terror cell on the loose in a city in the west of France is very much grounded in human actions and interactions and moralistic pontificating doesn’t swallow the reader up. Yet the plot, actually, simply serves as a peg on which the author hangs the supposedly dirty laundry of his cast of primary characters—a French Directorate for Internal Security police inspector, an incompetent Municipal Police sergeant, a local schoolteacher, a visiting children’s author, and the “Little Rebel” character we eventually meet towards the end of the book.
Little Rebel is full of young drug addicts, radicalized psychopaths, benefit junkies, crooked and incompetent cops, pervs, and putzo politicians. That’s saying a lot since the book, a novella, weighs in at only 82 pages. There is plenty of alliteration, the flavor of contemporary French culture shaped by historical events, and by foreign and internal forces and groups, drugs, conspiracies, and death to keep the reader engaged. Leroy brings it all to the page with a unique voice and mashes it into a sardonic, hyper-violent, sleazy narrative about radicalized Muslims, overzealous cops and security forces, drugs, sex, and social turmoil.
There are many superb elements here, but Leroy’s voice is what makes Little Rebel engrossing and memorable. It’s gritty and snappy with a level of alliteration that romps between the brilliant and the excoriating.
Propelled by a mean, dark, and depressing world view with dank, sordid language, Little Rebel is most definitely not nice, though if you’re not offended by language salty enough to float on without ever hitting the sea, it is a gritty, absorbing novella you won’t easily put down. Just don’t let the person next to you on the bus or train glimpse what you’re reading, since it is undeniably not safe for work.
The book is a combination of urban realism and wry humor, but an unsympathetic depiction of the West and France in particular in the war on terror era, written in hard-nosed noir-style prose. Beyond the profanity and blatant descriptions of sexual acts, Little Rebel is replete with racist, sexist, and homophobic — albeit historically accurate — remarks that some might find offensive.
This was my first exposure to Jérôme Leroy’s work, understandable since Little Rebel is his first work translated into English and my French is pas très bien. He impressed, though I don’t know how representative this novella is of his usual voice and style. But at least regarding this work, the stunning explosion of language Leroy plastered on the page reminds me quite a lot of the style of American crime writer James Ellroy with its profane, scornfully mocking, and relentlessly pessimistic expression. I’m also sure I detected a little Dashiell Hammett influence in his Leroy’s style.
Little Rebel is a powerful novella, a chilling tapestry of fact and fiction, and a deeply disturbing — albeit informed — look at the consequences of the caustic moral decline of Western society against the backdrop of the fallout from the war on terror. It’s definitely worth a read.
I received an advance review copy of the book from the publisher used for this review, which represents my own unbiased opinion. Many thanks to Corylus Books for inviting me to join the tour.
Meet the Author
A prolific author of novels for both adults and young adults, essays and poetry, Jérôme Leroy is from Rouen. His work has appeared in a number of languages, but Little Rebel is his first work to be translated into English.
Meet the Translator
Originally from Liverpool, Graham H. Roberts has been living in the northern French city of Lille since 2003. When he’s not translating French crime fiction, Roberts teaches at a number of HE institutions in the Lille area and in Paris. In his spare time he enjoys writing and his first novel – also a work of crime fiction – is due for completion some time in 2021.