Godmother, The by Hannelore Cayre, translated by Stephanie Smee, ECW Press

The Godmother

Cayre, Hannelore

  • Inspiration for the major motion picture Mama Weed; translated from the international bestseller La Daronne, winner of the European Crime Fiction Prize and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious prize for crime fiction

    Meet Patience Portefeux, a fifty-three-year-old, underpaid Franco-Arab interpreter for the Ministry of Justice who specializes in phone tapping. Widowed after the sudden death of her husband, Patience is now wedged between university fees for her grown-up daughters and nursing home costs for her aging mother.

    Happening upon an especially revealing set of police wiretaps ahead of all other authorities, Patience makes a life-altering decision that sees her intervening in — and infiltrating — the machinations of a massive drug deal. She thus embarks on an entirely new career path: Patience becomes The Godmother.

    This is not the French idyll of postcards and stock photos. With a gallery of traffickers, dealers, police officers, and politicians, The Godmother casts its sharp and amusing gaze on everyday survival in contemporary France. With an unforgettable woman at its center, Hannelore Cayre’s bestselling novel reveals a European criminal underground that has rarely been seen.


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    Hannelore Cayre is an award-winning French novelist, screenwriter, and director, and a practicing criminal lawyer. Her works include Legal Aid, Masterpieces, and Like It Is in the Movies. She has directed several short films and the adaptation of Commis d’office (Legal Aid) is her first feature-length film. Cayre lives in Paris.

    After working as a lawyer in Sydney and London, Stephanie Smee made her literary translation debut with an English translation of the Countess de Ségur’s Fleurville Trilogy.


  • Published: September 2019

    ISBN: 9781770415430

    Dimensions: 5.25 x 8.25 in.

    Pages: 192


“Exuberant . . . Maybe crime doesn't pay, but the guile and guts — and humour — with which Patience approaches this extreme solution to her desperate situation, right under the noses of law enforcement, is admirable, as are her survival instincts. Readers will be anxious about the fate of the forthright, sympathetic Patience up to the final page. It's no surprise that this novel won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France's most prestigious award for crime fiction.” — Publishers Weekly STARRED review

“Cayre is droll and without illusions about human nature. That she describes the lives and crimes of the petty drug dealers without social-working them is bracing. And she plots so cunningly she might have written the entire French TV series Spiral, or a compact version of The Wire.” — The Monthly

The Godmother was sassy and fun and from the first page I was immediately smitten with our narrator, the Widow Portefeux . . . The pacing in The Godmother was excellent and the overall length of the novel was perfect, leaving me more than satisfied but wanting more. The translation by Smee was flawless and smooth. Cayre’s writing was wickedly funny and I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times.” — Crazy Book Lady Reviews blog

“Packed full of dark humor, keen observation, a suspenseful plot and a stand-out main character . . . I was instantly struck by the quality of the prose and the attendant storytelling . . . What a book!” — Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine

The Godmother is witty, pithy and distinctively French with an emphasis on character development rather than action although there’s no shortage of that, either . . . Cayre is a first-rate novelist and she doesn’t waste a word in this excellent short novel with dealers, traffickers, cops and quirky Frenchmen all getting their time on the page. Compliments are also due to translator Stephanie Smee who keeps the pace going and seems to get the rhythm of the language in the original.” — The Globe and Mail

“This book is exuberant and understated all at once; an almost stream-of-consciousness calamity of French darkness and humour, it follows a woman with more practicality than passion who sees the world in myriad fascinating ways. It’s thrilling to read a crime novel from the point of view of the Bad Guy (and without the usual prologues and asides of a predator’s grim thoughts) . . . Translated with spunk by Stephanie Smee, this is absolute champagne entertainment.” — Readings bookstore

“It’s a pleasure to read such a complex, strong female character, at this stage of life . . . While not a long book, The Godmother packs a lot of story into its 197 pages, and is driven by some snappy dialogue. Patience is one character that will linger with you long after the final page. This is an unusual crime novel, perfect to curl up with over the weekend.” — Better Reading

“Trust a French writer to come up with something blissfully different when it comes to crime fiction — a slim, entirely controlled novel narrated by an apparently unremarkable middle-aged woman with a serious case of exhaustion . . . Patience Portefeux is wonderfully unsentimental, with a cool, clever and often sardonically witty eye for relationships — not least her own — as well as for the somewhat bleak, and sometimes exploitable, nature of humans.” — London Free Press