Monday, February 14, 2011

Morituri


Yasmina Khadra (real name: Mohammed Moulessehoul) is a former high ranking Algerian army officer who moved to France in 2000 after having witnessed some of the bloodiest and most brutal days in Algerian history (and that is saying a lot).  Moulessehoul went into exile because he dared write about the fact that there were few “good guys” in the Algeria’s religion-based civil war, other than perhaps the countless civilians who were slaughtered in the process.  The Algerian army was often as guilty of atrocity as the terrorists whom the military struggled to control.

That Khadra/Moulessehoul would leave Algeria with a jaded outlook on life is no surprise.  That he would adapt his experiences into a classically noirish detective series would be more difficult to imagine – but that is exactly what he did with Morituri and the other Superintendent Llob books.

Superintendent Llob and Lieutenant Lino have been around long enough to understand the politics of police work in a city as politically corrupt as Algiers.  They recognize the relationship between corrupt politicians, businessmen, and high ranking police officials.  But those simple days are over.  Now, policemen like Llob and Lino are being targeted for political assassination by groups trying to collapse Algeria’s governmental system.  In order to speed up the cultural breakdown, policemen and their families are being assassinated alongside writers, singers, journalists, entertainers, and others deemed to be a threat to the Muslim revolution.  Men like Llob and Lino take each day one at a time, thankful each time they make it to the office without incident.

In the midst of the turmoil, Superintendent Llob is assigned to search for the missing daughter of one of the more corrupt powerbrokers in Algiers.  The search will force Llob and Lieutenant Lino into the underworld of Algiers that few Westerners would dream exists.  Llob, ever the tough guy, uses his contacts to get himself inside some of the most decadent settings one can imagine, places where anything and everything can be had for the right price, including young women, little girls, and little boys.  Llob pursues the search for the missing rich girl, crashing and bullying his way from scene to scene, despite what he learns about her and her father.

Yasmina Khadra
The strength of Morituri is in how the novel so deftly captures the atmosphere of 1990s Algiers, a city in which paranoia and fear ruled the day.  When I left Algiers in late 1993 (early in the evolution of the war), it was already a city of curfews, unreliable roadblocks, massacres of entire villages, beheadings, kidnappings, bombs, and assassinations.  Drivers had to decide on a hunch whether a roadblock was being manned by real military personnel or by terrorists dressed to look the part.  There was a shoot-on-sight rule for anyone caught on the streets after ten p.m. Villages, down to the last man, woman and child, were slaughtered within the sight and hearing of army posts but military personnel did not always bother to notice.  Westerners were targets of choice for kidnappers and assassins. Army and police personnel seldom bothered to take prisoners in shootouts with terrorists they confronted in the middle of a long Algerian night.

The difference was I could walk away from Algiers, never to return.  Superintendent Llob and Lieutenant Lino had to stay and to do their best to protect the streets of the city, an impossible task.  Yasmina Khadra has written Morituri in a style that can be a bit difficult to read at times – characters come and go at a rapid pace and the plot veers from scene to scene like a runaway train – but he has done a magnificent job in recreating the atmosphere of a major world city that was eating itself alive in the nineties.

Rated at: 4.0

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