The Madonna of Notre Dame

An egre­gious mur­der in a beloved church ini­ti­ates a com­pelling who­dunit in this en­er­getic and orig­i­nal crime novel.

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction / Adult Nonfiction - MONICA CARTER

Alexis Ragougneau Kather­ine Gre­gor, trans­la­tor New Ves­sel Press Soft­cover $15.95 (183pp) 978-1-939931-39-9

How do you catch a killer in one of the world’s most cel­e­brated churches, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the Feast of the As­sump­tion? In play­wright Alex Ragougneau’s The Madonna of Notre Dame, an egre­gious mur­der leads to a com­pelling who­dunit.

The morn­ing af­ter the Feast of the As­sump­tion mass, an Amer­i­can tourist dis­cov­ers that the beau­ti­ful woman kneel­ing be­side her is not pray­ing; in fact, she is dead. The de­ceased is a mix­ture of beauty and chastity, a provoca­tive Mary-es­que pack­age. The church is shut down and the po­lice are called.

Ragougneau has a keen sense for char­ac­ter and wastes no time in­tro­duc­ing the lo­cals—an ec­cen­tric older woman who comes daily to the cathe­dral, a wiz­ened po­lice de­tec­tive, a dam­aged worka­holic, and a sickly pri­est all fig­ure in. Over the course of seven days, aus­tere prose is used to delve deeper and deeper into the mys­tery, as well as the trou­bles of the char­ac­ters in­volved.

Kather­ine Gre­gor’s trans­la­tion makes for a smooth read. The novel be­gins at a slower pace, ex­am­in­ing each de­tail and pos­si­ble mo­tive. The first half of the novel is spent on a tor­tured young man, the first sus­pect; once he is dis­posed of, the sec­ond half moves fast to reach its ver­dict. The abrupt change of pace sac­ri­fices ex­plo­rations of char­ac­ters’ mo­ti­va­tions, though, and re­sults in plot con­ve­niences. Still, Ragougneau’s use of at­mo­spheric de­tail and facts about Chris­tian­ity, along with a healthy in­fu­sion of Parisian grit, make this be­liev­able work.

The ex­ploita­tion of men’s fas­ci­na­tion with vir­gins and pros­ti­tutes, par­tic­u­larly in the Notre Dame Cathe­dral, is a bril­liant move within the mur­der mys­tery. Yet the win­ner here is not just Ragougneau, but all read­ers in search of en­er­getic, orig­i­nal crime nov­els. The Madonna of Notre Dame main­tains the no­tion that good still con­quers evil.

The morn­ing af­ter the Feast of the As­sump­tion mass, an Amer­i­can tourist dis­cov­ers that the beau­ti­ful woman kneel­ing be­side her is not pray­ing; in fact, she is dead. The de­ceased is a mix­ture of beauty and chastity, a provoca­tive Mary-es­que pack­age. The church is shut down and the po­lice are called.

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