Polar – Chang Kuo-Li, crime made in Taiwan

Tut starts from a real fact: the failed assassination of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian in 2004. A bullet grazes his abdomen, the presidential election falters… In the novel, we are seven days away from the election, when the president, renamed Hsü Huo-sheng, becomes a human target. The countdown before the vote begins, the investigation too. The shooter, hiding in the Hotel du Bonheur, was not elite, given the result, and the ballistics indicate that the ammunition does not correspond to the weapon which was fired. “scraped the fat from the belly” Of the president. His rival, Hu, who tops him in the polls, has he mounted the blow? Unless the outgoing president himself engineered his attack to attract the sympathy of voters? We explore the possibilities, and this island of Taiwan, whose current events point to the perilous situation. But we also savor the pen of Chang Kuo-Li, a big name for him, who signs thrillers (the second in this series) which cross – as if we were hybridizing Andrea Camilleri and Jussi Adler-Olsen – gluttony and lively humor.

The Sniper, the President and the Triad, by Chang Kuo-Li. Translated from Mandarin (Taiwan) by Alexis Brossolet (Série noire Gallimard, 448 p., €19.95).

The extract that kills:

The President was shot at 9:17 sharp. He folded in on himself like a giant shrimp, his right hand clutching his abdomen. In a vain attempt to keep his balance as he swung to the right, he grabbed hold of the metal rail in front of him with that same hand, leaving a beautiful scarlet palm print there. Drops of blood fell to the floor of the Jeep and quickly congealed there in a bright red puddle, red like one of those “sky-pointing peppers” that make your throat itch just looking at them.

President Hsü Huo-sheng’s convoy reached Huayin Street at 9:11 a.m., the home stretch of his election campaign. Hsü was a notorious workaholic. Lawyer or President of the Republic, he always got up at 6 a.m. sharp, got on his treadmill for half an hour of jogging indoors, took his breakfast while consulting the files in progress on major domestic or international affairs prepared by its secretariat. During this sequence, no one dared to disturb him, not even his very dear wife, Madam President.

The residence butler had retired six months earlier. Five months later his Memoirs had appeared, describing Hsü’s breakfast: a beef broth in the style of Tainan, just to show that he had not forgotten his roots; then two American-style fried eggs and eight spring onion-stuffed ravioli delivered daily by the specialty restaurant “Au Vieux Shantung”, to prove its high degree of cultural tolerance.

The book stated that the President considered breakfast to be an important source of energy for the day and considered it essential to eat your fill there. He attached less importance to the midday meal, which was limited – excluding receptions – to a few meat-stuffed sticky rice wrappers and a bowl of “four spirit soup”, while at dinner he enjoyed a good steak. A steak cut into thin slices, dipped in soy sauce with a touch of wasabi, garnished with thin strips of fried garlic and served with white rice.

When he got out of bed, before breakfast, the President was in a foul mood. The media had revealed that one day, when his butler brought him a tie that was not to his liking, Hsü Huo-sheng sharply scolded him: “Do I have to ask someone else to take care of my ties? Of course, the spokesman for the Presidency had denied the story a dozen times, but it was nonetheless true that no one dared speak to the President early in the morning. He didn’t begin to smile until he left the residence on foot. His smile fell into the category of occupational diseases. It was extremely rare that he address it to his advisers, or to the head of the Executive Yuan*, while in contact with his constituents he wore a big smile that came from the bottom of his heart.

Politicians’ degree of love for ballot papers far exceeds even that of the populace for the paper money distributed during election campaigns.

His campaign headquarters scheduled Hsü’s schedule in quarter-hour increments. Every morning, at 7:30 a.m. exactly, he held a meeting with his entire team, at 8 a.m. the meeting continued with only the confidants, at 8:45 a.m. he got into his Jeep and went to hunt for votes.

The time was precisely chosen to avoid the worst of the morning crowds. By 9:00 a.m., the Jeep was crawling along the slowest lane, and the President was waving at the voters crowded into the office buildings to his right.

Hsü Huo-sheng loved election periods. A columnist from some media had summed up his first presidential term under this title:

If the presidential election were held every year, Hsü Huo-sheng’s life would be perfectly fulfilled.

In the previous campaign, more than three years earlier, he had recovered from an initial seventeen-point handicap until he was only three points behind in the polls, finally winning with a lead of 38,808. newsletters.

The Butler’s Memoirs said that when Hsü Huo-sheng first entered his residence, he skipped around it three times. The butler thought he was showing his appreciation for the magnificent home, but was quickly disillusioned. Hsü had abruptly stopped jumping, pointed to the wall of the dining and reception room: “Transfer me this painting to the library.” Here we will post a photo of the last count of the votes by the electoral commission. The butler understood that it was not simply a question of showing the figures of the votes in favor of Hsü Huo-sheng, but those of all the other candidates, lined up under those of Hsü Huo-sheng.

Without adversaries, there is no real victory. Hsü wanted all the VIPs who would ever enter the residence to know how much he loved winning, and who he crushed to get there.

Hsü often told journalists that he suffered from hereditary asthma as a child; when a crisis broke out, Maman Hsü took him to the clinic in the neighboring town for his infusion. He remained lying down for a few hours, regained normal breathing, and felt a sensation of floating, of lightness, of flight, of emptiness in his chest: he thought he was already dead.

The feeling of final triumph after the election was the same feeling of flight, as if he had been overdosed on steroids.

This year, the electoral context was even more tense. Initially, Hsü was confident in his chances of being reappointed, but against all expectations the presidents of the two opposition parties had overcome their differences and presented themselves united, as candidates for the posts of president and vice-president. It was unheard of. In last weekend’s polls, Hsü Huo-sheng trailed by eleven points.

Other candidates in this situation would have already packed up, but not him, who on the contrary found material to redouble his relentlessness. The 23 million Taiwanese had understood that his character prevented him from giving up; some found it admirable, others considered it perfectly ridiculous and covered it with ridicule. The video of a fiery speech by the president-candidate to his campaign team had leaked on the Internet. You could see him yelling, his features contorted: “We mustn’t be afraid of being behind, that encourages us to provide more effort!” Also the program of his last week of campaign was so full that a mosquito would not have found a fault. He had ordered: “In our electoral strongholds, we must consolidate our positions! But even more, we must go and fight where we are weak! »

Everyone remembered the maxim he adopted when he conquered the mayor of Taipei: “A vote snatched from the adversary is worth two.” Tell me where the opponent gets the most votes, that’s where I’ll go. »

Just before arriving on Huayin Street, Hsü Huo-sheng heard trumpet blasts of encouragement – ​​the same ones used during baseball games. Fans were waiting for him. Pedestrians on the sidewalks could admire him, standing in the back of his Jeep, his back straight and his chest bulging, just as if he were the poll favorite ready to stand for another four-year term.

From the campaign headquarters on Zhongshan Avenue North, the election convoy had traveled along Nanjing Avenue West, along Chengde Avenue and entered Huayin Street to join Taiyuan Avenue. One of the last few traditional old quarters in Taipei; Once the structure of the local electorate had tended to favor Hsü, but the tide had turned and his opponents had poured money into a vast propaganda effort designed to portray him as a politician obsessed with profit and oblivious to Justice.

“I, Huo-sheng, come to greet my compatriots!” I grew up in a village and will never forget my working parents who saved penny after penny to send their children to school! I tell you, Huo-sheng is not afraid of gossip! In front of you, I promise that from now on the government will help you all to pay the school fees of your children!

The convoy was preceded by the sound of its horns. The President clutched the stainless steel bar behind the driver’s seat with one hand and waved endlessly with the other, like a mechanical cat at the entrance to a Japanese department store. He waved his arm relentlessly, with bandages on both elbows under his shirt and, on his back, two rows of round marks left by the suction cups. It was a very important day for him, the start of the final sprint. There was only a week left until the election.

* The Executive Yuan is the name of the governing body of the Republic of China in Taiwan, its head is the equivalent of the Prime Minister. (All notes are by the translator.)

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