In this intriguing novel set in 1990 on a collection of French islands in the Caribbean, the title phrase is used with considerable irony. Times are hard for the islanders (Indian, black, Creole, English, French), because to climb their way out of tin-roof-shack poverty they have to be either liars, thieves, or involved in the tourist trade.
When the body of a beautiful French tourist is found near a popular beach, everyone—especially government officials—goes into full cover-up mode. One of the only people interested in an honest solution to the crime is judge Anne Marie Laveaud. Under the French system of justice, the judge serves as an investigator, much like a US police detective, only with considerably more politics involved. Orders from on high cut short Laveaud’s previous investigation of politician Rudolphe Dugan’s presumed suicide, and now, facing obstacles from all quarters on both investigations, the judge must decide what is more important to her—her daughter, her career, or her pursuit of justice.
The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe is a fascinating book, partially because most of its characters are the opposite of honest. Even Laveaud, who was born in Algiers and raised in Paris, has secrets she must sometimes make compromises in order to keep.
The book serves as a nice respite from the US legal thriller genre by giving us a peek into the French legal system in the Caribbean. American readers unfamiliar with the Napoleonic Code will be intrigued by the serpentine pathways Laveaud must maneuver in order to achieve an honest verdict, a system that was set up by Napoleon himself to bring justice to the poor as well as the wealthy. That was the plan, anyway.
But, as rendered here, the Guadeloupe of 1990 is no egalitarian paradise. Although the islands that make up the French colonies may be lush and blessed with pristine beaches, they are a racial, cultural, and political quagmire only the brave and nimble-footed can successfully navigate. Fortunately for the hurting souls seeking her help, Anne Marie Laveaud is up to the task.