Review: Pierre LeMaitre – Camille

9780857052773One of the most anticipated books this year, I was delighted when a review copy of Camille by Pierre LeMaitre dropped through my letterbox. It completes the trilogy featuring diminutive detective Commandant Camille Verhoeven. The series has been translated from the French out of order so we began with the second book, Alex, before starting the tragedy of Camille’s personal life with Irene. This is an excellent series. Any of the books can be read as standalones but with Camille, we do get a sense of the detective’s story coming full circle.

It is a series of seemingly random events that leads Anne Forestier to be shot three times in a bungled raid on a jewellers. She is taken to hospital but an attempt is soon made on her life there. For Commandant Verhoeven, it is an echo of a past tragedy when his wife, Irene, was murdered by a killer exacting revenge on Camille. He is determined to protect Anne at all costs but is hampered by the fact that he fails to tell his superiors of his relationship with the victim.

Camille is a dark tale with the detective once more at its heart. It’s the personality of Camille who, as with earlier books, dominates the narrative. It’s a clever ploy to make him physically small because he is a lion at heart and life’s vicissitudes appear to have only made him more determined. It is a difficult book to review because it invites comparisons to the wonderful Alex. I don’t think the story is was ingenious as the previous book but I did prefer it to Irene. I think this was partly the plot. It’s tightly contained and barely gives the reader a chance to consider what is happening.

Fans of the two earlier books will want to read Camille to complete Verhoeven’s tale. I think it’s a greater book than that as it shows how love, mistrust and acceptance aren’t mutually exclusive. And LeMaitre is a beautiful writer. The excellent translation was by Frank Wynne.

Review: Pierre Lemaitre – Irene

Alex by Peirre Lemaitre is a salutary lesson as to why you shouldn’t put down a book just because you find a passage unpalatable. I started reading it last year and found the violence done to the central character, the eponymous Alex, disturbing and too graphic for my taste. So I stopped reading the book, which proved to be big mistake. I say this, not only because it had rave reviews from a wide range of readers but also because I have now subsequently rest the book, prompted by the publication of its prequel, Irene.

Irene-400x617Irene is is the story of Commander Verhoeven of the Paris Police Nationale. A murderer has killed two women in a bloodbath that shocks even the most hardened of police detectives. The murder appears to have been planned down to the last detail with meticulous care to ensure that police are unable to find any forensic evidence. However, a fake fingerprint found at the scene links the crime to an earlier murder which had the press whipped into a frenzy of speculation. A journalist, Buisson, irritated by Verhoeven’s brusque manner publishes a series of articles taunting police incompetency in the latest case. But Verhoeven has more pressing concerns: a crime fiction academic has noticed a similarity between the murders and James Ellroy’s book, The Black Dahlia. While initially dismissed as coincidence, when more murders are identified, showing disturbing similarities to other crime novels, the team realise they are dealing with a devious mind whose primary aim is to provoke and ensnare Verhoeven.

Where to start with this book? First of all the title, Irene. It’s the name of Verhoeven’s wife and it’s clearly deliberate that the reader knows, from the start, that she’ll be a key figure in the novel. It makes the tension almost unbearable but also completely compelling. But her character is only part of it; the police investigation team are a fascinating mix of personalities, from the wealthy Louis to the chronically stingy Armand. How the team interacts with each other is key to how this novel is elevated above other police narratives.

I’m generally not a fan of books that reference other novels. However, I’m prepared to make an exception for Irene, not least as some of my favourite crime novels are mentioned. One murder is discovered to have echoes of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna, another of William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw. It’s a book to delight crime fiction aficionados and I thought it truly wonderful. It’s easily shaping up to be my book of the year. One caveat: it is a brutal and grim read. I don’t like the excessive portrayal of violence against women. You get it here. But, all I can say, is that the brutality seems appropriate to the narrative.

The quality of Irene prompted me to take another look at Alex. In doing so, it meant I read the books in order that they’d untitledbeen written. I don’t intend to write a review of the book here. It rightly won the CWA International Dagger last year and other reviewers have summed up the book as well as I could. Have a look at The Independent, Words Beyond Borders, Eurocrime and Crime Scraps. Suffice to say, I agree with them all. It’s a book to be read and savoured. However, once again you need to be able to stomach the violence.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copies. The book was translated by Frank Wynne.