Cops and Writers

Laurent Guillaume is a multiple-award-winning French writer and former police officer. In law enforcement, he worked anti-gang, narcotics, financial crimes, and served in Mali as an advisor to the local police. His first novel to be translated into English is a hard-boiled PI story set in West Africa: White Leopard. Here he tells us about how his life as a cop mixes with his life as a writer.

Does being a cop help to write a mystery novel?
It is both an asset and toxic. My novels necessarily borrow from reality, so being a cop is an advantage. But I also think it is a trap. In a mystery, the writer's main preoccupation has to be the plot.

>>>Be drawn in before you can spot what lies ahead<<<

In your novels, politicians are never very clean.
I think the quest for power has a negative impact on everyone who goes after it. Politics has the power to corrupt on many levels because it lives off of everything that is toxic in our society: money, dissimulation, and lies. One has to overcome so many obstacles to attain power that it becomes a kind of Grail, and overcomes its original raison d’être: public good. But there are politicians who are driven by a real sense of democracy, by honest political conviction and humanism. I like to believe that even the worst people can at certain times and under certain circumstances prove to have some purity. The opposite is true as well. It is just a matter of proportion.

You seem to leave the reader to judge. Is this done on purpose?
I don't like the idea of telling a reader how to think or what to like or not like about my novels. I don't judge, I tell a story. Moral judgments are for philosophers. All of my characters are made of shadow and light, like in life. You are free to love them or hate them for what they are. But I don't want them to leave you indifferent. Indifference is the harshest criticism.

Tell us a little something about the genre you chose for this book.
White Leopard
is what I would call a “hard-boiled African” thriller. I went back to the codes of the 1930s-1940s hard-boiled detective novel (tough, alcoholic PI; the femme fatale who brings him a complicated, perilous case; etc.) and then I transposed them to contemporary Africa. And it worked.

>>>If you long for Philip Marlowe's return, this one is just for you<<<

What inspired you to write this book? Is it based on real events or your own experience?
When I worked at the French Embassy in Mali, I was in charge of police cooperation, particularly with regards to drug trafficking and organized crime. At the time, I worked on a case called “Air Cocaine” as a consultant for the Malian authorities. It didn’t take long to find some material for a good mystery in there. For that matter, a better part of the novel is based on real events.

Big Thrill Interviews Laurent Guillaume

A while back, Big Thrill Magazine ran a really interesting interview with Laurent Guillaume by thriller writer Steven P. Vincent. Here are some highlights. Please do visit Big Thrill to read the full interview.

  • Can you tell our readers a bit more about WHITE LEOPARD?

 In 2009, a Boeing 747 unloaded some mysterious cargo in northern Mali and got stuck in the sand trying to take off again. The plane had just delivered several tons of cocaine that was headed to Europe and the Middle East. Investigating this case, we uncovered an extremely well organized network of Colombian and Spanish drug traffickers that settled scores with dollars or a chainsaw, depending on how much opposition they got. I had wanted to write a novel about the drug trade in Africa for a long time... 

  • What struck me about WHITE LEOPARD was your vivid description of Mali. Can you tell us about writing in a place you’re familiar with, but not actually from?

... It takes time to see what lies beneath the postcard, to see the stark reality of the people who live there. I hope that I managed to do this, although I’m sure I missed things. More than a mystery,  WHITE LEOPARD pays homage to the people of Bamako, a mixed crowd in overpopulated streets, who never stop smiling and feeling happy, despite the harsh conditions of their daily life.

  • You’ve written about things you’re familiar with–Mali and police work. Was there anything in WHITE LEOPARD that challenged you a little more?

The hardest part for me was to project myself into the mind of a protagonist of mixed racial background. In addition, I wrote in the first person, which was something new for me. This type of writing created a kind of intimacy with Solo, to an extent that I had not imagined possible...

  • Our readers are always interested in the writing process. You write full time, so what does your average day look like? How do you approach writing a novel?

...I get up at seven in the morning, eat a hearty breakfast and work out for a good hour. Back at home, I sit down in front of my computer and answer my email. Then I do some research, and when I feel ready, I open up Word and start writing. I generally write until four in the afternoon, when I read to relax and find a change of pace...

  • I’m curious about the process of working with a translator. Is it a smooth process or does it require some hard work to make it work and, ultimately, ensure a better book?

... As far as my understanding of English allows, Sophie did an excellent job. I’m not surprised, because throughout the process, she showed great rigor and a real interest in the topic of the novel: West Africa. I’m very happy with the result.

Le French Book in Mystery Scene Magazine

Check out the current issue of Mystery Scene Magazine, and you'll find:

Mystery Scene Magazine
  • Page 33 - Back in Bamako, and article by Laurent Guillaume, author of White Leopard.
  • Page 39 - A half-page about Le French Book, by our favorite designer Jeroen ten Berge.
  • Page 60 - A review of Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen's The Winemaker Detective: An Omnibus by Robin Agnew
  • Page 63 - A review of Laurent Guillaume's White Leopard by Kevin Burton Smith.

Laurent Guillaume Interview on the Writer's Forensic Blog

My good friend Doug Lyle's fantastic Writer's Forensic Blog ran an interesting interview of Laurent Guillaume, who talks about being a cop and being a writer. He answers the following questions.

  • Does being a cop help to write a mystery novel?
  • In your novels, politicians are never very clean.
  • You seem to leave the reader to judge. Is this done on purpose?
  • Tell us a little something about the genre you chose for this book.
  • What inspired you to write this book? Is it based on real events or your own experience?

Read the full interview here.

Laurent Guillaume in Bamako, Mali.&nbsp;©Sutikno GINDROZ

Laurent Guillaume in Bamako, Mali. ©Sutikno GINDROZ

Why Exile Makes for a Good Protagonist

Top French writer Laurent Guillaume

Laurent Guillaume, author of White Leopard, was a cop and became a writer. He shares some thoughts about his protagonist and his book.

How did you come up with your protagonist?
For the character of Solo, I raised the question of mixed race. Blacks consider Solo white, and whites consider him black. I find this to be a particularly interesting issue for a novel because it carries narrative tension. Solo is exiled from a life in which he lost everything, and he is unconsciously looking for a second chance, a second self. He thinks he should die, that that would be best, but unconsciously he hangs onto life because deep down he is more of an optimist than he lets show.

What sets him apart?
Solo’s mixed background gives him a particular complexity. He is torn between two worlds (Africa and Europe), two cultures (French and Malian), and two religions (Christianity and Islam). His past as a “fallen” cop on the run, pursued by his former colleagues also sets him apart.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Stormy, loyal and sentimental.

Can you describe your protagonist, Solo, in five words?
Hot-tempered, ironic, alcoholic, nosy, depressive, vindictive, sentimental.

What actor do see playing him?
Denzel Washington

Do you see Solo coming back?
It is probable that Solo will become a recurring character. It is important for me that the character evolve and grow. I find it annoying when the protagonist is always the same fifteen years later. The scars on Solo’s soul are there, but they will begin to heal. I don’t want a hero that just keeps digging a deeper hole. I like to be more light hearted than that—sometimes. 

On Mali and Dreams

Hard-boiled noir set in West Africa

Laurent Guillaume, author of White Leopard, on Mali and dreams.

What is your best memory of Mali? The strongest image to stay with you?
That is a hard question to answer. I brought back many powerful memories from my four years there. But if I really had to choose one, it was when my son broke down crying the first time he set foot on African soil, and then that same kid with tears in his eyes when it came time to leave Mali four years later. We felt at home there. It changed my views on immigration.

What is it there that inspired you to write?
Mali is a country in which adventure is still possible. I had very powerful experiences with people there. One of my colleagues often said that in Mali nothing is certain, but everything is possible. That is pretty much the definition of what a novel is. When I was there, I had to renounce my Western certainties and adapt to another world. That is the world I wanted to recount.

Yet, the book does not describe a world that is easy to live in.
In this book, I tried to convey my love for Mali, without being soft on the county. I denounce two things that are eating away at all of West Africa: treason by the elite and corruption.

What lesson did you bring back with you from Bamako?
It's a piece of advice: live your dreams and don't put limits on yourself. Like in Mali, in life nothing is certain, but everything is possible.

Two October Book Giveaways

Don't miss this month's book giveaways.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Backstabbing in Beaujolais by Jean-Pierre Alaux

Backstabbing in Beaujolais

by Jean-Pierre Alaux

Giveaway ends November 05, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

White Leopard by Laurent Guillaume

White Leopard

by Laurent Guillaume

Giveaway ends November 05, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Meet an author: Laurent Guillaume

We are busy preparing for our fall release of White Leopard by Laurent Guillaume. This "hard-boiled African" detective story comes from a writer with a particularly interesting background. He's won multiple awards for his crime fiction and, as a former law enforcement officer, knows his stuff. He's a bit about who he is. 

Another award-winning French writer

Laurent Guillaume was no ordinary cop, just like he is no ordinary writer. At school, he read more than he studied, and after getting a Master’s degree in law, he served under France’s flag. Once he finished his military service, he went to the police academy and graduated a lieutenant. Driven by a need for action and adrenaline rushes, he signed up to work in the projects on the outskirts of Paris, where he headed up an urban crime unit. The unit’s logo was a bat and the men called Batmen. They worked nights, in direct contact with dealers and drug addicts, thieves and vandals, traffickers and the down-and-out. Quickly recognized, he was a clever cop, respected by his men, who did what he had to do to get the job done, staying within the confines of the law. But soon the night and its shark-infested waters invaded his personal space, leaving his private life in chaos.

After further training, his excellent physical and organizational skills led him abroad, on missions of international cooperation in Chad and North Africa. In France, he returned to his home region of Annecy for a calmer job. There, he discovered crime fiction and devoured the founding fathers—Hammet, Chandler and Himes—and the contemporary masters—Block, Connely and Lehane.

Hard-boiled African noir

Bored with his sleepy job, he returned to the streets with the drug squad, and after three years got antsy for something new. He signed up for a position in international police cooperation in Mali, a country that is key to France in West Africa. An advisor to Malian police, particularly on drug trafficking issues, that his where he started writing—a historical novel at first, until the crime fiction demon grabbed him by the collar—two novels, two literary prizes and TV rights sold right off the bat. Guillaume returned to France to work financial crimes in Annecy, where he hung on for a year and a half before leaving behind the red tape, judges and lawyers in 2013, when he started writing full time.