Paris is suppose to be the city of light and romance but it has become a mixture of bad memories and strange politics for Christopher Kruse. Hired as a security agent by the mayor, Kruse wallows in regret and sadness for the murder of his wife and young daughter. And the situation only worsens as a grenade attack in the Jewish quarter injuries the mayor and kills another politician. Yes, Todd Babiak has sent out Kruse in another myriad of thrilling adventures in Son of France.
Rue des Rosiers, Paris
The winter after his daughter died, Christopher Kruse slept poorly. He would awaken out of a dream at four in the morning, forget all but its mood, and jog through the park thinking of her. At this time of day, only the most haunted were about the city. They walked slowly, smoking cigarettes while he ran, but none of them were going anywhere. He would do sit-ups and push-ups on the wet and cool grass and shadowbox by the light of an old lantern near a monument to the dead. No one watched him, or even noticed he was there. A mist would rise up off the Seine or fall from the sky, and the phantom legs of the tower would return him to the feeling of his forgotten dream. In the fog, anything was possible. He spoke to his dead daughter. he worried he was going crazy and then he stopped worrying.
There was enough time after his workout to shower and put on a suit, to be the first customer at the bakery. He grew up with the church and came to adore ritual if not faith. On his way from the apartment on Avenue Bosquet to the bakery, through the dark of January and the wind of February, the rains of March, through hot yeast and diesel exhaust, too much perfume, and the occasional flash of dog shit, he passed a travel agency. It was small and shabbily furnished. The woman at the desk in Voyages du Septième was always alone at this hour. She wore a crashing wave of teased-up white-blonde hair and shoulder pads in her bright polyester dresses. In the absence of customers or even a book to read stared out the window, her chin in her hand. Over time the woman began to recognize him, to seek him. It would not be French for her to smile or to wave, but now that spring had begun and there was enough light in the mornings, she would hold eye contact and exhale, faintly nod. They were together the loneliest people in Paris. All he had to do was open the heavy blue door, enter the fluorescent room decorated with tropical posters. Just buy a ticket, pack a bag and go home you coward, where you belong. There was nothing to pack but an urn, filled with his daughter’s ashes, Lily’s ashes, and seven suits. What remained of Evelyn was already in Toronto, buried in the Park Lawn Cemetery. He could follow here tomorrow. Today. This afternoon. Who needs the suits? There were plenty in the closet of the house on Foxbar Road. It would be dusty and quiet in there, quieter than quiet: no daughter, no wife, the hum of the refrigerator when he plugged it in and maybe, just maybe, the smell of them in the walls, on the bed and in the linens, in the cushions of the chesterfield where he had rocked his baby to sleep.
Babiak has continued his great story line from Come Barbarians (Link to my review) His prose here (like all his novels) is expressive and emotional. As we read along, we can clearly see every scar added to Kruse’s face along with every scar added to his soul when he is forced to take a life. It is a pleasure to read a thriller with more than just action to it.
Through the closet door he could hear the woman praying. He envied her. He could feel Tzvi watching him as he left the room. In the corridor he tested his trap again and crouched into position. He looked back toward the doorway at Tzvi, who winked and put his night goggles back on.
Kruse heard the clumsy, tentative footsteps on the stairs. His hands were cold, as always before a fight, and his face was hot. He willed his heart to slow. If he were to die, he was pleased he had visited Anouk one last time. He had held Annette’s hand for a moment, in her apartment. It was something.
The men were at the top of the stairwell now, quietly arguing with one another in the dark about who might go first, a communal beast of anxiety. Arabic was the fourth language Tzvi had forced him to learn, in his teens and early twenties, and it was by far the hardest to trick his mouth into speaking. But it was his favourite. One of the young men opened the door and squinted in the darkness, his chest heaving. He sprinted immediately down the hall, toward apartment 322 and Tzvi. There were no window, so apart from some streetlight seeping under the doors it was altogether dark. The man didn’t make it. Blindly he ran straight into the taut metal cord Kruse had stretched across the hall, at neck height, and the back of his head hit the concrete floor with a hollow thock Kruse had heard too many times. The young man twitched one and lay still. Kruse gently moved him to one side of the hall.
The men whisper-shouted into each other’s faces, spun like little boys at the lake mustering the courage to jump into the cold water. They called out for him Ahmed! Ahmed! One punched another in the shoulder and ordered him to go. This one ran too, though he was still conscious when he hit the floor. He called out for help before Kruse could silence him. What Tzvi wanted him to do now was to finish each of them The idea was nauseating. More shouting and calling out from the end of the hall. Ahmed! Naseer?
It took two years, when he was a teenager, to teach calm to his body. Before a fight or during a a fight, when a larger man was mauling him, when every fibre in his brain was given to panic, he learned to breath himself into stillness. Somehow the process had a smell, of the bamboo mat in the entrance of the Krav Maga studio off St. Clair Avenue in Toronto. It was nearly always wet, from melting snow in the winter and rain in the other three seasons and fragrant. The third most courageous of the young men jogged into the rope and stumbled, hooted and swung at imaginary foes. Kruse took him down and covered him with a blood choke. The man hummed and squired and scratched at Kruse, tried to bite him until he went limp.
Babiak has well-researched the settings in this book. His descriptions of people and places are vivid. Every word feels like it burns into the mind’s eye to give a clear sense to the reader what is being felt, heard or seen.
They drove back into Sigüenza and completed the plan of al-Faruqi’s compound. It was a sleepy day, warm and cloudy. They visited the cathedral and the castle, spoke in near whispers, outlined their strategy. The El Doncel restaurant was mostly deserted, as the tourist season had not yet begun and, as the hotel manager had confirmed with a hint of anguish in her voice, Sigüenza was a detour for the Don Quixote enthusiasts and few others. Baroque music played quietly. They sat by the window as the sun set over the tidy little city. Tzvi had grown tired of complaining and mocking the ham in every dish, and decided to order the house specialty no matter what was in it. Across the street, on the corner, black-haired lovers ducked into a doorway and kissed. In their walk through Sigüenza they had discovered that the calm and wise page of Queen Isabella, Martín Vázquez de Arce, had been killed in Grenada. With the rest of the Spanish army, he had been trying to wipe out the Moors. In the Gothic cathedral there was a statue of Vázquez de Arce, El Doncel, the Queen’s page, reading a book.
Son of France by Todd Babiak is a great continuation of the Christopher Kruse story. Babiak has kept the story going with vivid descriptions and a soul-searching protagonist. Another brilliant thriller.