The King of Fools, by Frédéric Dard

Jean-Marie Valaise should have listened to another king at the outset of Frédéric Dard’s The King of Fools (translated by Louise Lalaurie). One year before this book was published in 1962 as La Pelouse, Elvis sang that “Wise men say only fools rush in.” Valaise certainly rushes in. His holiday on the Côte d’Azur turns, in a matter of days, into a nightmare of murder and accusations that might send him to the hangman’s noose. And it’s all because Valaise fell in love at first sight.

Valaise was having a mediocre stay in Juan-les-Pins, without his girlfriend, when he spots a woman sitting in his car. The woman, who turns out to be an Englishwoman named Marjorie Faulks, is embarrassed by her mistake, which she later compounds by leaving her bag in Valaise’s car. Their relationship carries more than a dash of awkwardness. Valaise tries to be suave, but frequently overreaches. Marjorie is married and very uncomfortable about everything. Valaise finds this endearing and he quickly adopts a protective role.

Marjorie has to leave the day after they meet, but they agree to exchange letters—though Marjorie insists on using a general post office address rather than her real one. A wiser man would start hearing alarm bells at this point. Valaise is not that wiser man. After one impassioned letter from Marjorie, he packs up and follows her to Edinburgh. The Scottish turns out to be the perfect gloomy setting for a journey that becomes more like film noir with every hour. Valaise gets rapidly in over his head, the dope, as he chases Marjorie around the city and tries to figure out what on earth is going on with her husband.

To say more at this point would ruin the rest of the book, so I will close this review by saying that The King of Fools is a perfect example of a page-turner. It’s so short and tense that I read it in one sitting. It’s is a perfect beach read—especially if one is lucky enough to be traveling to a French beach and have some Elvis on an iPod.

I received a free copy of this book from Edelweiss for review consideration. It will be released 5 September 2017.


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