What Stays in the Forest by Colin Niel

What Stays In The Forest by Colin Niel (2013) Original French title: Ce qui reste en forêt. Not available in English.

What Stays In The Forest is the second volume of the crime fiction series written by French author Colin Niel and featuring Capitaine Anato. Here’s my billet about the first book, Les hamacs de carton. This series is set in French Guiana and it’s a great part of its appeal.

When the book opens, the scientist Serge Feuerstein is found drowned near the research station he worked for. It is set in the heart of the Amazonian forest and it’s a very remote location, accessible via helicopters. Scientists have been settled there for a few years and they are now surrounded by illegal gold-washers. Indeed, this part of the Amazonian forest is full of gold and poor people from Brazil come illegally to French Guiana to work in ad-hoc and illegal gold mines. It’s a cat-and-mouse game with the French gendarmerie but they’d rather be caught on the French territory with its milder police methods than in Brazil.

Colin Niel creates an interesting set of characters among the scientists living in close quarters at the station. How was Serge Feuerstein killed? Did he disturb illegal gold-washers who decided to eliminate him? Does his death has anything to do with the strange discovery of a dead albatross in French Guiana, a place not frequented by these birds, and incidentally the ones Feuerstein chose as a topic for his PhD.

The crime investigation is well-crafted and Colin Niel describes life in Cayenne very well. It’s a strange mix of exoticism and familiarity with all the French organization of society (police,…) and the natural setting which is totally foreign for a French from mainland France.

Captain Anato is an interesting character. He’s from the Maroon community in Guiana but was raised in the suburbs of Paris. He has asked to be transferred to French Guiana after his parents die. He’s trying to get his footing at work while getting reacquainted with his family. He needs to understand his personal history. His parents were tight-lipped about their reasons for moving to Paris. He’s slowly meeting with his family and discovering where he comes from. We also learn more about the personal lives of his two colleagues Vacaresse and Girbal.

I enjoyed everything about this book: the setting, the murder investigation, the explanations about illegal gold-miners in Amazonia, the descriptions of Cayenne and Anato’s internal turmoil. What Stays In The Forest was our Book Club choice for April (I know, I’m late again) and we all loved it. We all enjoyed the style, the story, the fascinating discovery of a piece of France we know nothing about. Anato is an enjoyable character, full of nuances and personal hurts.

Call it literary serendipity but the issue of gold mining in the Amazonian forest has recently made the headlines in France. The governement wants to grant authorization to set up a giant gold mine in the heart of the forest, discarding ecological consequences or the ones for the indigenous people living off the forest on the Maroni river. See an article here.

Sorry for foreign readers, this is not available in English. For French readers, it’ll make a wonderful summer read.

  1. June 24, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    “A piece of France we know nothing about”. I’ve been googling. At least it’s a department and not a colony. Does this suit the Indigenous peoples do you know?

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    • June 24, 2018 at 6:37 pm

      We don’t hear much about Indigenous peoples here (from French Guiana or Nouvelle Calédonie for example), probably because they’re on the other side of the world. I had never heard of the Maroon people before reading Colin Niel. He’s doing a great job to make us discover their existence and their culture.

      So, unfortunately, I can’t answer your question accurately. I don’t know if they’re happy to be in a French department. It brings a lot of money there but violence and crime are a lot higher than in Mainland.

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  2. June 25, 2018 at 11:26 am

    I found it a fascinating piece of well-researched and evocative writing (without losing the excitement of the story). I thought you might know more about the region, but I guess you are right, it’s such a distant department. And perhaps not as many go to France as from Reunion, so it’s less visible.

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    • June 25, 2018 at 8:25 pm

      It’s exactly how it felt. He’s a promising writer, we’ll see if he can avoid falling into a routine pit.
      As far as overseas departments are concerned, let’s say that you’ll go first to Gouadeloupe & Martinique or La Réunion. I’ve never heard of anyone going to French Guiana for the holidays.

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  3. June 26, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    Well, I saw at the top that this wasn’t available in English, which is disappointing as it sounds very interesting indeed.

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    • June 28, 2018 at 1:23 pm

      I know, it’s such a pity that it’s not translated into anything.
      It’s an interesting setting and it’s educational and entertaining.

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      • June 28, 2018 at 2:30 pm

        I did wonder if the setting was perhaps a barrier to translation. To me it sounds great, but I can see some publishers might think that it was just too remote for a non-French readership.

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        • July 1, 2018 at 9:18 am

          You’re probably right, unfortunately.

          Like

  4. June 30, 2018 at 2:37 am

    Didn’t get this one for some reason. Good to see you read a crime novel you enjoyed. The setting sounds unusual.

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    • July 1, 2018 at 9:22 am

      I wonder why you didn’t get this one. Are other of my posts missing too? I’d like to see if there are problems on other billets as well. (The last ten ones are listed on the home page, it’s easy to check) Thanks!

      I enjoyed this one a lot. It’s the right balance between a good story, original and without useless sensionalism, great characters with the right amount of personal drama and informative descriptions about the setting. Truly great.

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  5. July 3, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    It sounds like a perfect choice for Paris in July (French themed reading). Alas, I would really have to brush up on my French!

    Like

    • July 3, 2018 at 10:22 pm

      It’s really a shame that it’s not translated.
      I don’t think I’ll have time to participate to Paris in July although it’s a great blogging event. I’ll follow your reviews.

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