Pierre Lemaitre (1951)
Translated from the French by Frank Wynne
The set-up and plot seem clear enough.
Barely a half-dozen pages into Pierre Lemaitre’s crime novel Alex, the title character finds herself kidnapped off the street as she walks home from a restaurant. Brutally beaten, bound and gagged, she lies dazed in the back of a van as it speeds off into the night. As she passes out, her only thought is that she wants to live.
A page or two later we meet the detective assigned to her case, Camille. He has only recently rejoined the Brigade criminelle in Paris, after having taken time off to recover from the shocking death of his wife, who had been kidnapped and murdered. As he races against time to track down the missing victim, he cannot avoid mixing his thoughts and speculations on this new case with the painful memories of his wife.
For a reader of crime novels, the case seems clear enough: who has kidnapped Alex, where is she, and how will the detective find her alive?
Pretty straightforward, right?
Not so much. Lemitre soon turns this conventional kidnapping plot on its head, as the detective discovers that the real questions boil down to why. Like a parent whose child asks “why’” in response to every answer, Camille finds that each time he thinks he has taken a step closer to solving the case, a deeper mystery presents itself. The victim, who Camille at first so conflates with the bitter and raw images of his own wife’s death that he struggles to separate the two women in his mind, begins to take on her own personality, her own existence. The facts he gradually uncovers of her life up to the point of the kidnapping force Camille to focus on her as an individual, distinct from his memories of his wife, however similar the two crimes may have at first appeared to be.
This novel is not for the faint of heart, as the spasms of violence are shocking and extreme. But for those who can stand the grisly bits, Lemaitre provides an artfully created and entertaining page-tuner that will hold your attention through to the end.
Have you read this book, others by this author, or even similar ones by other authors? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.
Other of my book reviews: FICTION Bookshelf and NON-FICTION Bookshelf