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.

Fred Vargas – Dog Will Have His Day

w489405-2Readers of this blog will know that Fred Vargas is one of my favourite writers and I always look forward to new translations of her books. Her latest to be published in the UK doesn’t feature Vargas’s wonderful detective, Adamsberg, but rather one the ‘three evangelists’ who appeared in an earlier novel of the same title.

The principal narrator in Dog Will Have His Day is Marc, or St Mark as he is referred to by his housemates. He is helping a former special investigator, Louis Kehlweiler, put his records in order. When Louis discovers the fragment of a bone in a local park, he persuades Marc to help him keep watch on regular dog walkers in the area. Convinced that a murder has taken place, Louis and then Marc decamp to Port-Nicolas in Brittany and shake up the local population in their hunt for the killer.

All of Vargas’s books are characterised by her sly humour and slanted view of the world. Dog Will Have His Day is no exception and the highlight of the book is a typewriter in Port-Nicolas that churns out ‘advice’ to those who ask it questions. There is also the ever watchful presence of Louis’s pet toad and a cast of colourful characters including Marthe, the former prostitute who knows everything about men.

The murder plot itself is quite slight. We’ve become used to getting lengthy books from Vargas and this one seemed less substantial than her earlier novels. Originally written in 1996, the absence of modern technology also slightly dates the book although, to be fair, there is a timelessness about Vargas’s writing anyway.

The novel reminded me how much I enjoyed The Three Evangelists and it is always good to read a Vargas book. While not her best, it was still enjoyable although it would have been nice to see more of the other two ‘evangelists’ in the narrative.

Thanks to Harvill Secker for my review copy. The translation was by Sian Reynolds.