“There did not appear to be anything remarkable about the accident on the A35”
THE pleasing aspect of Graham Macrae Burnet’s writing is that he is an old school story teller. From the first you know you are going to be spun a yarn. He is a Ronnie Corbett of fiction. And as with His Bloody Project he sets himself slightly aside. In Project it inferred that it was family story. Here he declares himself the translator rather than the author of a long overlooked manuscript by an obscure French novelist.
It is something of a relief to find something in the tradition of Simenon rather than today’s usual compulsive obsessions with serial psychopathy.
He paints his characters carefully, the head, the hair, the clothes, a defining feature. His detective Gorski is a fundamentalist, somewhat in awe of his late predecessor Ribery who hovers like a ghost over the investigation. For Gorski “procedures…had to be followed without prejudice”. His debt to the community.
And he drinks. Quite a lot. A pichet of red at lunch, a sherry at his first interview, a beer at the bar, a whisky at his next appointment and it is not six o’clock as yet. Then another glass of wine. A return to the bar. When he gets home he opens a half bottle of wine. And for a nightcap he has another beer. This is a town where the barber slips out or a drink between customers.
As in Project, St Louis is a real place, north of Basel on the French side, an obscure backwater, a town of strict social codes. When the precocious, young, Sartre-reading Raymond heads north to Mulhouse, he is intoxicated with the anonymity of the city. Everyone is on the cusp, in their own way. Raymond with his adolescence, Gorski with his marriage. Things are about to change. The sub theme is coming of ages, different ages. He makes St Louis feel like a Peyton Place. His characters are ready to walk into your living room. Or rather you might like to walk into their dull but well-restauranted town.
The tale is sandwiched between another literary fiction surrounding its publication which also lets Burnet review himself. “Agreeably old fashioned” is his version.
Where to read this ideally? On a train to Basel perhaps with the prospect a glass of cold, sweet Riesling at the other end.