The Awkward Squad by Sophie Hénaff

Delightful. It’s a bit as if Mick Herron’s superlative Slow Horses were instead a group of washout French cops, though with a far less bleak outlook on life. Commissaire Anne Capestan is in charge. She’s a highly competent, seemingly level-headed professional who has, unfortunately, a tendency to go homicidal when faced with criminal cruelty. Returning from a six-month suspension, she’s gifted with leadership of a squad of misfits and trouble-makers that the police force can’t fire but would rather like to quit. Unlike their British spy counterparts, the Awkward Squad is actually given a purpose: to go through stacks and stacks of cold cases in an attempt to finally close them all. It’s thankless, inglorious work, until the squad members discover two seemingly unrelated murders hidden in the files and find themselves hot on the trail of corruption high in the police ranks.

The Awkward Squad is an immensely charming tale of modern French culture, policing and bonhomie. The solving of the murders is given its due gravity — when you finally find out why, your heart breaks a little for everyone involved — but the proceedings otherwise are treated with flair, as Capestan positions everyone to work to their strengths, turning seeming personality flaws into squad advantages. It’s a droll, heartfelt tale of (mostly) good policing against the odds, with plenty of insight into modern France. I’m so excited to be able to read the sequel next!

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