The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe (An Anne Marie Laveaud Novel)

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9781616956226: The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe (An Anne Marie Laveaud Novel)
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April 1990: French-Algerian judge Anne Marie Laveaud has been living and working in the French Caribbean département of Guadeloupe for more than a decade, but her days are still full of surprises. She is only just starting to investigate the suspicious suicide of a high-profile environmental activist and media personality when she is pulled off the case. Is it because she was getting too close to the truth?

But the new case she’s been assigned takes precedence. The naked body of a white woman has been discovered on a beach. The victim’s remains offer no clues about her final hours—she was found without any of her belongings, and it seems she had been dead at least three days before anyone spotted her corpse. What turned this woman’s vacation in paradise into a final nightmare?

As always, the story of a murdered white woman attracts international media attention. The pressure is on Anne Marie to solve the murder quickly, before bad publicity destroys the island’s all-important tourist industry.
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About the Author:

CWA award-winning author Timothy Williams has written six crime novels set in Italy featuring Commissario Piero Trotti, as two novels set in the French Caribbean, Another Sun and The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe. In 2011, The Observer placed him among the ten best modern European crime novelists. Born in London and educated at St. Andrews, Williams has taught at the universities of Poitiers in France, Bari and Pavia in Italy, and at Jassy in Romania. He taught for thirty in the French West Indies but now spends his time between Europe and Africa. For more information, visit his website: https://www.facebook.com/thdw.co.uk.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
Madame Dugain
Wednesday, May 16, 1990

 
“You’re looking for me?” The woman was attractive, but her face appeared tired, the eyelids dark. There were wrinkles about her soft brown eyes. She placed a pile of exercise books on the table beside her handbag.
         “Madame Dugain?”
        “Yes, I am Madame Dugain. I teach French and Latin. Your child is in which class?”
        Anne Marie moved towards the table. “It’s about your husband.”
        For a moment the expression went blank, devoid ­of emotion, while the eyes searched Anne Marie’s face. “I have already made a statement to the police judiciaire.” Madame Dugain drew a chair—a school chair with a steel frame and a plywood seat—towards her. “Several statements.” She leaned wearily against the backrest.
        Anne Marie sat down on the other side of the table. On the formica top there were a couple of tin lids that had been used as ashtrays.
        The far wall was covered with pinned-up notices concerning the different teaching unions. Beneath the drawing pins, the paper rustled relentlessly; the doors to the staff room were wide open and a mid-morning breeze kept the air cool. Through the shutters, Anne Marie could see a flame tree that had started to blossom.
        “My husband is dead—isn’t that enough?”
        Anne Marie nodded sympathetically. “He died under strange circumstances.”
        “He was hounded to death.”
        “I don’t think anyone hounded your husband.”
        Madame Dugain shook her head. “I’d rather not talk about these things.”
        “I understand.”
        The eyes flared with brief anger. “You understand?”
        The two women were alone in the silent staff room of the Collège Carnot.
        (Somewhere children were singing. In another building a class burst into muffled laughter.)
        “I know how painful it is to lose someone you love.” Anne Marie held out her hand. “I’m Madame Laveaud. I’m the juge d’instruction.”
        Madame Dugain took the proffered hand coolly, keeping her distance. “I really have nothing to say to an investigative magistrate or indeed to anybody else.”
        “I asked the head mistress for permission to speak to you.”
        Madame Dugain folded her arms against her chest. She was wearing a dress that went well with the brown, liquid eyes. A necklace, matching gold earrings. Black hair that had been pulled back into a tight bun. Her lipstick was a matte red.
        “On Saturday, April twenty-first, three officers of the police judiciaire visited your husband in his offices in the Sécid Tower. They had a search warrant and they were seeking information concerning accusations made against your husband—”
        “Everybody accused Rodolphe.”
        “Accusations that as director of the Centre Environnement, he had been misappropriating funds.”
        “My husband’s not a criminal.”
        “Your husband received money from the government—from the Ministry of Employment—in order to recruit and train young people under the Youth Training Scheme. There were six young people working for him at the institute. Their salaries, funded entirely with government money, were paid into the Institute’s account.”
        “I know very little about my husband’s financial affairs.”
        “Your husband’s accused of employing two of the young people in his small business in Abymes and paying them with the government allowances.”
        “I’ve given the police as much information as . . .” She bit her lip. “My husband would never have taken money that wasn’t his.”
        Anne Marie touched Madame Dugain’s arm. “Given the circumstances, I don’t think any good can be achieved by continuing with the enquiry.”
        The corners of her mouth twitched. “My husband and I were happy. We’d been married for seventeen years. You don’t think my children and I have suffered enough?”
        Somewhere an electric buzzer sounded, followed almost immediately by the sound of scraping chairs and the scuffling of feet as the pupils left their desks at the end of their lesson.
        “Just supposing that your husband was guilty of these accusations . . .” Anne Marie shrugged. “A fine—twenty thousand, thirty thousand francs. Not a lot of money—not for your husband.”
        Madame Dugain flinched.
        “He could’ve paid that sort of money,” Anne Marie said.
        “Rodolphe was innocent.”
        “It’s not for thirty thousand francs that an influential and well-respected member of the community decides to do away with himself.”
2
Fait Divers

France Antilles, April 23, 1990
 
Mr. Rodolphe Dugain, better known to most television viewers as Monsieur Environnement, died on Saturday, April 21, of multiple internal injuries after throwing himself from the fourteenth story of Sécid Tower block in central Pointe-à-Pitre.
        If the rumor had been circulating for some time that the police judiciaire were making enquiries into the Centre Environnement, the sudden and untimely death of Monsieur Dugain, one of the major and most respected figures in the cultural Who’s Who of our département, seems to have taken Guadeloupe by surprise. The shock can be still felt in the University, where Monsieur Dugain held a lectureship in natural sciences, as well as in the corridors of the RFO television station, where he regularly broadcast his popular nature programs.
        On Saturday morning, three officers of the Service Régional de la Police Judiciaire presented themselves at the offices of the Centre Environnement. According to eyewitnesses, Monsieur Dugain appeared his normal, jovial self, not allowing his good humor to be affected in any way by the presentation of a search warrant. According to sources, he offered a drink to the three men. Then, while the officers were looking for documents and other information—the nature of which as yet has not been revealed by the parquet—Mr. Dugain managed to slip from the room. Once on the far side of the steel front door, he locked it, making prisoners of the police officers. Taking to the stairs, Mr. Dugain climbed from the third to the fourteenth floor of the tower block. On the top floor, he made his way to the observation window and from there jumped to his death, landing on a car parked on the sidewalk of the Boulevard Chanzy. Mr. Dugain died immediately on impact. The vehicle was badly damaged and several people were taken to the nearby Centre hospitalier, suffering from shock.
        A crowd of onlookers soon gathered around the macabre spectacle. Yet again in Guadeloupe, the lamentable behavior of rubbernecks and passersby hindered the fire and ambulance services in the execution of their duty.
        Mr. Dugain, who was a Freemason and an ex-secretary of the Rotary Club, was born in Martinique 57 years ago. He leaves a wife and their two children, as well as two children from an earlier marriage.
        There will be a memorial service at St. Pierre and St. Paul on Tuesday at ten o’clock. The inhumation will take place at the municipal cemetery at midday.

 
3
Public Trial

 
“My husband is dead.”
        “I need to know why he died.”
        Madame Dugain raised her eyes. “Is that important?”
        “You said he was hounded to death by the police.”
        “The police, the media, whoever else—it doesn’t matter. Not now.”
        “It matters.”
        A moment of hesitation. “You don’t believe my husband was innocent?”
        “Innocent or guilty, suicide is not a normal reaction.”
        “The SRPJ threw him from the fourteenth floor.”
        “Unlikely.”
        Madame Dugain allowed her shoulders to sag. Then she took her bag. “I must be going.” She stood away from the chair. She was in her late thirties, with a trim, girlish silhouette and attractive brown legs. She ran a hand through her hair.
        “Unlikely the police judiciaire should want to murder your husband.”
        “It’s been nice meeting you.”
        “When somebody’s pushed through a window, the victim hits the ground close to the building. The car on which your husband landed was nearly four meters from the entrance to the Tour Sécid.”
        Madame Dugain stared in silence at the clasp of her handbag.
        “Nothing else you can tell me?”
        “Else in what way, madame le juge?”
        “Anything worrying your husband?”
        A hard laugh. “His name in the papers? The accusation of embezzlement? The police coming to search his offices? Worrying my husband? What more do you want, for heaven’s sake? His probity, his reputation—his very life were being called into question. His dignity was being put on trial. No, not a trial. A public lynching without trial. The telephone never stopped ringing.”
        “With a good lawyer . . .”
        “Rodolphe was innocent.”
        “With a good lawyer, he could have—”
        “My husband did not need a lawyer. He needed to be left alone, he needed to not be dragged through the mud. The mud his enemies wanted. That the police wanted. And that’s what you’ve got now. You’re satisfied, aren’t you?”
       “Satisfied?”
       “Rodolphe’s dead.”
       Anne Marie caught her breath. “Who are these enemies that you talk about?”
       “I’ve nothing further to say.”
       “Why don’t you want to help me set your husband’s record straight?”
       “You couldn’t care less about my husband’s reputation.”
       “I care about the truth.”
       “Your truth.” Madame Dugain turned and walked out into the sunshine, the handbag held to her body. Her heels clicked on the stone paving of the courtyard as she passed beneath the flame trees.

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