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Adel s'emmele by Salim Aissa - Book Review

Adel s'emmêle [Adel gets entangled] is Algerian novelist Salim Aissa’s second detective novel. It was published in 1988 by ENAL editions. His first was Mimouna, published the year before in 1987. I've found no information about who Salim Aissa is, and found no other books published by him after these two, and what a shame that is. Adel s'emmele is one of the best Algerian detective novels of the 80s I've read. By that I mean it is (finally) a detective story written for adults, it doesn't have the (excruciating) excess of wisecracks, no adjectival abusem its narrative is tight and flows (great editing for once). And crime is not glazed over.

Adel is a bullheaded police inspector who works in Algiers, a chaotic capital in which crime abounds. There, further injustice is created daily by a lethargic public system in which all involved are corrupted. In an environment that is becoming increasingly aggressive and violent, Adel and his colleagues, Chelli a woman inspector, and Dahmane the trainee, are doing their best to remain sane and focused, so as to solve crimes. Not for their personal glory or for promotion but out of a genuine concern for the victims.

After being scolded by tough but fair Superintendent Naamane, Adel is given a strange case. A young girl, Amal Ghanem, has been found dead in her studio. Her neighbour on the floor below had smelt a gas leak and the fire brigade was called. When they realised Amal's flat was the source, firemen smashed in the kitchen-windows and came in. They cut off the gas, enter the flat and find Amal, dead by asphyxia, lying on her bed completely dressed with her shoes on. When Adel and Chelli are called on the scene, they sense something's not quite right. They search the flat and find a tape on which Amal states she’s decided to commit suicide. They also find her diary in which she records her thoughts in cryptic form. It is the scribble "Villa, mariage, poor Dounia, P7, C3, HG" in this diary that catches Adel's attention, and makes him decide against submitting a suicide report. Instead he embarks on a murder investigation. 

Amal was born in France of Algerian parents, and decided to come and live in Algeria to work in the music industry. Since her arrival, she had settled well, and worked in a small music studio owned by Boudri, a very wealthy Algerian business man, a former hero of Algeria's war of independence, who now mostly lives in France.

Boudri's character troubles Adel who can't quite pinpoint why. Boudri's secretary, Faiza has worked for him for five years but her blatant aversion for the man makes Adel suspect he's onto something a lot darker than a mere single murder.  

In this crime novel, Salim Aissa pictures Algiers in the 80s. He speaks about a complex reality full of dynamite situations and their dire consequences such as the growth of poverty in the city during that period, prostitution rings and a sex trade that increasingly targetted young girls and trapped them into its net by entrapment and rape, Algeria's colonial past and all its fake war heroes, the transit-roads of hard-drugs via Algeria’s borders (during the former Paris-Dakar), forms of resistance in a system entirely gangrened and collapsing, sexual harassment against women, and a kind of street machismo becoming generalised and slowly changing from abnormal to normal and acceptable behaviour.

There are many women in Aissa's novel, and he portrays Algerian women, young and old, with a sensitive and compassionate pen, they are never weak. And fight back.

An altogether enjoyable detective novel.

If this novel were a movie, it would be a cousin to Omar Gatlato, Merzak Allouache’s awesome (and traumatising) film.


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