(Les Arènes, 464 pages, 2018)
Granny Luger definitely has some skeletons hidden in her closet. At 7:00 in the morning, in the Auvergne region of France, Berthe’s neighbor has been shot, the police have her cottage surrounded, someone has seemingly stolen her old Renault 4L, and her chamomile tea has gone cold. Brandishing her .22 rifle, the 102-year-old-woman launches verbal assaults at the cops until they break down her door, and take her in for questioning.
By 8:00, Berthe is in custody, her shotgun confiscated, and her car still missing. This morning proves the most mind-boggling experience of Inspector Ventura’s career. Never has he had to interrogate a smart-mouthed, squirrely, witty grandmother. Through a lot of miscommunication (mainly because of Berthe’s failing hearing aids) and jokes at his expense, Ventura finally gets Bertha to confess to hiding two fugitives, Roy and Guillemette, but what she tells him isn’t quite what he expects.
When the police find Berthe’s Luger, a forbidden Nazi artifact, she must explain why it’s in her possession. Bluntly she asserts that she killed a Nazi, and he’s buried in her basement. Sent to retrieve the body, the police find several other bodies buried throughout Berthe’s basement. And so, with nothing else to lose, Berthe explains the bodies, and, in turn, relates to Inspector Ventura her life story.
The Luger-strapped grandma’s account of her life is nothing short of explosive. If the law isn’t on her side, morality and circumstance would almost make her innocent, for her story intersects that of the twentieth century, and the struggles women endured to own their bodies and their rights. Benoît Philippon gives us, in Granny Luger, a formidable exchange exploring feminism, racism, and morality. Above all, he gives us a violently funny, charming, and strong old woman. She makes you laugh, but makes you cry as well, of emotion and admiration, for the incredibly free granny speaks volumes to our own contemporary history.
Born in 1976, Benoît Philippon grew up in the Antilles, then moved between France and Canada. He became a screenwriter and film director. After Cabossé, published as part of the Série Noire (Gallimard), Granny Luger is his second noir novel.