The Awkward Squad
Writer: Sophie Hénaff
Publisher: MacLehose Press
Genre: Mysteries, Police Procedural
Review by Brooke Ali
The Awkward Squad is the first book of the series of the same name and so far the only one to be translated into English; the second book came out in France in 2016. It’s a typical police procedural with an atypical cast. Instead of the lone-wolf hard-boiled detective or the crack team of police, the squad in question, “the innocents” as they call themselves, is made up of the unwanted members of various police divisions of Paris. Unable to legally fire them, the police commissioner decides to stick them together in a squad of misfits to wait out the clock until retirement. But the squad’s leader, fierce and capable Anne Capestan, isn’t so ready to write her squad off. Going through the boxes of cold cases they’ve been given, Capestan and her squad use their unique skills and their ability to stay under the radar to make some serious breaks. Maybe there’s a hidden reason the commissioner put them together, after all.
For a debut novel, The Awkward Squad, is pretty solid. It keeps to the familiar format of the procedural while playing with the characters to distinguish itself among the genre. Capestan, the squad’s captain, is just bordering on “hard boiled”: fresh off a suspension for having a quick-trigger finger, battling to control her temper, usually set off by abuse or injustice, and she’s even divorced, a veritable mainstay of the hard boiled character. Of course, it’s not at all common to see these traits in a female character, and that’s part of what makes this book so unique. There’s also a former Internal Affairs officer (the one who investigated the events that lead to Capestan’s suspension, no less) whose request for bereavement leave after the death of his common law husband lead to his banishment among the unwanted. There’s an officer who has had so many partners meet up with misfortune on the job that other police officers call him “Malchance” and cross themselves in his presence. And in a fun twist on police procedural texts as an entertainment medium, there’s an officer-turned-TV writer whose police procedural show has rubbed some of her co-workers the wrong way. Add in a drunk, compulsive gambler, former boxer and a gear head, and you’ve got the most unlikely bunch of detectives to ever solve a cold case, let alone three!
I liked the book. It could have easily veered off into a kind of lazy “look at all these misfits tripping over each other trying to work together” farce, but I’m happy to say it avoided that pitfall, for the most part anyway. The last two detectives to answer the summons to the squad did fall a bit into goofy territory, but I guess when you’ve got a group of misfits thrown together they can’t all be diamonds in the rough. Overall, Hénaff takes her characters and their capabilities seriously and treats them with respect. However, with so many characters in the squad, eight by the end of the book, I feel like I didn’t get enough time to really get to know them. Thankfully, this is just the first in the series, with at least one more book to help us continue to connect with these detectives.
Verdict: Read it.
The Awkward Squad is a solid police procedural with an interesting, interwoven plot and a satisfying ending. If you like this genre of mystery novel and want something that’s a little different, this is a good series to get in on the ground floor with.