Don’t Let Go – Michel Bussi (translated by Sam Taylor)

I’ve got pretty simple tastes in tv most of the time*. I can take or leave reality shows, talent shows or real-life medical stuff. I’ll watch some sport and soaps (but if I miss them I’m not that bothered) but will almost always enjoy stuff on science, history and gardening. And then there are the programmes I really enjoy and will happily watch over and over again – Big Bang Theory and really cheesy detective shows. Not intellectual police dramas – I’ve watched things like Wallender but I’d rather read the books – but pure escapist cheese. The kind of series where you have one eye on the plot and the other on the lovely countryside – Midsomer Murders (known as ‘Murder Most reassuring’ in our house) or Death in Paradise (or ‘Murder Most Tropical’, inevitably). Bliss. Obviously with books I like a bit more variety (and, in my head, I can have whatever landscape I like) but sometimes these two areas overlap a touch.

9781474601788Michel Bussi’s previous two books (in English translation) have been set in Paris (and the snow-capped Jura mountains) and Giverny but this one ranges further afield to the island of Réunion. Still part of France but also very exotic to those used to the mainland – and certainly not immune to the ravages of drugs, revenge and murder. This was certainly less pre-watershed friendly than Death in Paradise and the darker side of life on a tropical paradise (built on slavery and colonialism…) is brought vividly to life. A couple and their young daughter are, it seems, enjoying their stay on Réunion until the wife, Liane Bellion, disappears from their hotel room. At first it seems to be a classic ‘locked-room’ mystery but soon evidence seems to point to Liane’s husband Martial – he goes on the run with his young daughter: the actions, it would seem, of a guilty man.

Of course, nothing is quite that simple – Martial has a secret to hide but we gradually come to realise that murder is probably not in his repertoire. It is quite refreshing not to be working through the usual psychological thriller routine of an unreliable narrator – we see the story from the point of view of Martial, Liane and their daughter but also from that of two police officers involved in the case. These varied voices show us the truth about not only Liane’s disappearance and Martial’s past but also about life of the island – the relationships between the varied ethnic groups and the undercurrents of racism, poverty and violence which tourists rarely see.

If you enjoy crime fiction with a side order of exotic scenery, a convoluted plot and interesting characters then give this (and Bussi’s other books) a try. Any urge to drink rum while reading is your own problem…..

Jane

*I’m also, possibly, the last person left who watches about 95% of their tv in real time. If I’m not home to watch it I probably never will – I’ve too many books to read to be doing with catch-up….

Advertisements

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair – Joel Dicker (trans. Sam Taylor)

9780857053091I have decided that the only way to describe this book is ‘twistier than a bucket-full of greased eels’. And that is a good thing, I think. Apart from having to review it without giving too much away, of course…

Harry Quebert is a famous and acclaimed writer living in Somerset, New Hampshire – a coastal village which, given the events of the story, reminded me more than a little of Cabot Cove in Murder, She Wrote – getting by quite nicely until a body is found in the garden of his home. Things start to go really badly for him when it is revealed that the body is that of a 15 year old girl, Nola Kellergan, who went missing over 30 years previously and with whom he was having a relationship at the time of her disappearance. Harry’s protegé, the new wunderkind of American literature, Marcus Goldman sets about investigating Nola’s death in an effort to clear Harry’s name.

On one level this is a crime novel – interestingly one which doesn’t rely on gore or sex but reads more like a 1930’s mystery – but it is also about the relationship between the two authors, the process of writing and true love. There is a large cast of characters, most of whom seem to become suspects at some point or another, who are on the whole well drawn. My only issue is with Goldman’s mother who only seems to exist as a one-dimensional and stereotypical Jewish mother – although she may explain why Marcus has such problems forming relationships…..

I really don’t want to give away too much of the plot since a large part of the enjoyment of the novel is trying to work out what the next twist is going to be. Lets just say that the Harry Quebert Affair will not disappoint if you are looking for a well-written and carefully plotted mystery. It has humour and pathos and, in Nola, a complex and endearing heroine.

Jane