Fresh Meat: Crossing the Line by Frederique Molay

Crossing the Line by Frederique Molay is the second mystery in the Paris Homicide Series about a message discovered in the tooth of a murder victim (available September 23, 2014).

I fell in love with Chief Nico Sirsky when I met him the first time in The 7th Woman. I’m happy to delve more into his life with Crossing the Line, the sequel and the second book in the Paris Homicide Mystery. He is an intriguing character, and I found myself not only enjoying getting to know him better but really liking his family, friends, and coworkers.

It’s just before Christmas, and the weather is cold and bracing. Nico has returned to work at La Crim or the Criminal Investigation Division, after being off for three months after getting shot during his last big case.

I like Nico because he’s a tough, pit-bull of a detective, but he is very romantic in his thoughts of the lovely Caroline, the woman he loves. The beauty is that Molay conveys the detective’s romantic soul with little tidbits like this one, “Caroline closed the door behind her, and Nico breathed in her lingering scent, as if to capture it forever.”

There’s also the drama that accompanies family. He has custody of his teenage son, with his angst and issues with his mother. The boy’s mother, and Nico’s ex-wife is missing, and her distraught parents want Nico to find her. All that is humming in the background as Nico goes back to his day-to-day tasks of solving crimes.

La Crim’s latest case begins with a tiny discovery—a note hidden in the filling of a molar. The cryptic message on it: “I was murdered.” What makes the discovery of the note more intense is that it happens in an anatomy class. A dental student working with the head of a donated corpse spots something awry in the tooth.

Is it a silly prank or is there more to the suicide of Bruno Guedj, the man who donated his body, than what was first believed? As Nico and his staff begin to look for answers, all they find is more questions and objections from the higher ups.

Forty-five years old, Nicole Monthalet had short blond hair and dark brown eyes. She was wearing a gray pantsuit and gold earrings with black-diamond settings. Her only other jewelry was a simple wedding ring. She had natural class.

“Sit down, Chief. You know that Paris Descartes University is one of Frances’s flagship medical schools, right? It’s also an important research institution, and the school’s president is a friend of the interior minister. I’ve attended functions with them. Well, the president of the university has contacted the interior minister about a very strange case. It must be handled with care. I don’t want him coming down on us. You’ve been handpicked to deal with it.”

Nico noted the half smile on his boss’s lips.

“It already looks like a case that could go down in the textbooks,” Monthalet continued. “It may be a bad joke, but be forewarned, it could also get a lot of unwanted attention. Very unwanted.”

Nico didn’t react. Monthalet would soon show her cards. She was drawing out the suspense, but perhaps not for the fun of it. She looked disconcerted. That surprised Nico.

“Dental students at the university were working on some heads, and one found a foreign object in a molar. At lunch, a tech drilled the tooth and pulled out a piece of plastic with a message on it.”

“What did it say?”

“I was murdered.”

Nico was silent. Now he understood.

Molay does a great job of building the tension in a smooth process that weaves it throughout the book. Following along with this band of investigators keeps you invested in the story and anxious for the outcome.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the busy streets Nico travels and the historic buildings he visits. I’m pretty sure I would recognize some of the places he goes if I get to visit Paris someday. Molay makes it easy to see each place. I can’t pronounce half the names of the streets, but I do enjoy her vibrant descriptions:

Running along the Seine between the Pont au Change and the Pont Neuf, it seemed to channel a north wind, and in the old days, it was called ‘the street of the dejected.’ Dejected was what Nico Pierre Vidal were feeling at the moment.

I did learn some things, like how valuable a notary public is in France. They’re viewed like attorneys in French culture. However, Nico sees them as parasites.

I think sometimes, though, Molay’s descriptions of police procedures overwhelm the story. In this one, she gets very involved with forensics and autopsies. There’s a lot of detail and history that is graphic, but I think Molay demonstrates her awareness with this sentence: “Autopsies were always an act of violence.”

What made this story a little easier to read was knowing one of the investigators felt the same way I do. His reluctance to face the darkest side of human nature is natural, but his willingness to keep going in spite of it makes him easier to understand:

Just going into a place like this made his hands clammy. David Kriven worked in a world full of horrors. He was constantly exposed to violence, tears, and blood. But this was unbearable, and the energy he needed to cover up his discomfort was taking almost everything he had…

The sight of women wearing turbans to cover their bald skulls, patients clinging to their rolling IV carts, gaunt figures, and empty eyes panicked him. So did the signs to the different wings of the hospital. They all pointed to death row, as far as he was concerned. In the midst of this jumble, people in white coats circulated with swift, determined steps. Nothing dared to impede their drive to heal. In general, Kriven kept his distance from people of that species. They brought bad luck.

I found it very interesting that a dedicated cop had such a struggle with the life-and-death issues faced every day in hospitals. Nothings brings characters into reality more than being able to identify with them. To see this kind of struggle in a man who has dedicated himself to solving homicides was comforting in a way.

As Nico and his people keep pursing leads with Guedj’s family and friends, the mystery just gets deeper. Though Guedj had always been a man who loved his family, his work, and his life in general, something changed in the weeks before his death. His wife doesn’t know what was bothering him, his coworkers noticed the difference but they had no clues, and his dentist was perhaps the most surprised when asked not only to fill a tooth, but to put something in it besides the dental material.

As the story progresses like a snowball rolling down a steep hill, it’s obvious the incident in the medical school is only the tip of a giant iceberg. I was completely shocked by how the book turned out. I truly didn’t expect what happened when the case was solved, and I don’t say that very often.

If you’re looking for a warm, fuzzy Christmas book, don’t pick up Crossing the Line. But if you’re looking for a chilling novel that will keep you guessing until the case is solved, this is the book for you.

It will definitely give you something to think about the next time the dentist is drilling on a tooth.

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Leigh Neely is a former journalist and editor who writes fiction with her writing partner, Jan Powell. The first book of “The Connelly Witches” miniseries from Harlequin E is available now. Witch’s Awakening by Neely Powell is available as an ebook and will soon be an audio book. Witch’s Haunting comes out in late fall, and you can also get True Nature at all book sites online. Leigh also writes for the popular blog, WomenofMystery.net.

Read all of Leigh Neely's posts for Criminal Element.

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