Benjamin Malaussäne’s official job title is Quality Controller, but since nobody could possibly control the quality of all the goods in his Parisian department store, his real vocation is to serve as a scapegoat who can absorb outraged customers’ abuse in a manner so pathetically affecting that the customers withdraw their complaints. It looks as if Ben’s met his match, though, in the latest round of outrages at the store: a series of bombings that claim the lives of a garage mechanic, a pair of smooching senior citizens, a rabid pro-life lecturer, a sanitary-equipment representative. Not only is Ben unable to mollify the shoppers who survived the blasts; he’s become the number-one police suspect. After all, he was on the scene of every explosion (except for one witnessed by his half-sister ThÇräse on his day off); his half-brother Jeremy sets fire to his school with a similar explosive; even his dog seems mysteriously implicated. In a more straightforward telling, Ben’s new lover, the ravishing shoplifter he insists on calling Aunt Julia, would help him unravel the mystery and clear himself. But that’s not exactly what Pennac (Better Than Life, 1994) has in mind. The first of Ben’s four adventures to be published in the US is very French and more than a little precious, with clownish Ben, like Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot, a charmingly jittery guide to the mercantile postmodern.