“Alice, he said, looking at what anyone else would have called a young girl”.
THIS first in a trilogy translated from the French is as brilliant as it is grotesque. Crime writing splits between those trying to do outdo each other exploring the extremes of evil or what one might call trophy crimes and those content to unravel a mystery. Lemaitre manages to do both in what he calls his homage to the genre. I am unconvinced that there is any less dramatic possibility in the old lady who laces the vicar’s tea with arsenic as there is with the maniac with chainsaw. Except, perhaps, threat, which here is inherent.
Lemaitre strays deeply into the territory of what we might call vornography, be advised. But equally he is alert to what he is trying to do, so one of his characters slyly declares that “crime fiction was the limit of his intellectual capabilities“.
We start in conventional crimo style: a victim, we meet our detective Camille who has a defining characteristic, in his case being only 4’11” tall, the structure is diary-like day to day, the setting is Paris, there is a phone call: ‘it is nothing like I have ever seen before…’
Each of Camille’s team is precisely drawn. The elegant Louis with that “unruly tuft genetically bestowed upon children of the privileged”. The chain smoking, gambler Maleval who “had a charm he abused in every way” and his opposite number poor Armand a “shameful skinflint…indigence incarnate”. Each is a pot boiler in their own right. They confront a series of spectacular murders. I don’t want to spoil the literary element here, just mention that Lemaitre is very well read in the genre. Were it not for the vornography I might have had this in my books of the year. Needlessly gruesome for me, but quick witted and intelligent at the same time. Yet for all the painstaking detective work afoot, the final unravelling is a bit random, for those of us schooled by Morse and co.