The Godmother is about Patience Portefeux, a French 50-year-old woman who is fed up and disenchanted with her small life, which is nothing like how she expected it to be. She paints a portrait of her lavish childhood, with a certain lifestyle she has very much become accustomed to and attempts to continue into adulthood by choosing a husband who is also able to afford her the luxuries in life, as long as she doesn’t ask questions as to how he attains it.
Patience is contented in her spoilt existence until she suddenly finds herself sitting in a hotel restaurant across from her husband who is face down dead in his salad. With two daughters, an unwell elderly mother and the costs of living in Paris – Patience quickly loses everything she valued and becomes a poor widow working endless hours to make ends meet. She works tirelessly for 25 years as a French-Arabic interpreter for the legal system and then on phone taps translating drug traffickers’ cryptic codes and kebab orders.
With a questionable moral compass, Patience becomes attached to one of the drug trafficking families she translates for and starts to cover up details of how large their shipments are, until one day she steps in and prevents them from being arrested with a giant truck of hash.
Patience decides to throw herself into the underbelly world of drug trafficking, using her 25 years of insider knowledge from listening to drug dealers through their phone taps. She gives herself the alias ‘The Godmother’ and quickly begins to wheel and deal just as her father and husband had, becoming the ultimate femme mafioso.
Patience is a clever name for this strong female lead, as she is at a turning point in her life where she has clearly run out of it. She has become disenchanted with her place as the ‘good citizen’ in society, and is quite politically minded throughout the story. She has seen injustice in the court room as an interpreter, in her mother’s Alzheimer’s and dwindling faculties and in her own husband’s untimely death.
It’s a pleasure to read such a complex, strong female character, at this stage of life. She sucks you in and makes you question your own moral compass given the right (or wrong) circumstances life throws at you. While not a long book, The Godmother packs a lot of story into its 197 pages, and is driven by some snappy dialogue. Patience is one character that will linger with you long after the final page. This is an unusual crime novel, perfect to curl up with over the weekend.
The Godmother is the winner of the European Crime Fiction Prize and the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere. Author Hannelore Cayre, a criminal lawyer who clearly knows her subject matter, also wrote and directed the film, starring Isabelle Hupport. Translated by Stephanie Smee, The Godmother is pure entertainment, both on the screen and on the page.
About the author
Hannelore Cayre is an award-winning French novelist, screenwriter and director, and a practising criminal lawyer. Her works include Legal Aid, Masterpieces and Like It Is in the Movies. She has directed several short films and the adaptation of Commis d’office (Legal Aid) is her first feature-length film. She lives in Paris.