Jennifer Palmer has read crime fiction since her teenage years & enjoys reviewing within the many sub-genres that now exist; as a historian who lectures on real life historical mysteries she particularly appreciates historical cime fiction.
A man is murdered during the Eurostar's journey through the tunnel en route for Paris. However this becomes not so much a crime novel as a collision, or even a collusion, between detective and victim, despite the fact that detective and victim never actually met.
John Burny, London estate agent, is travelling First Class on the Eurostar to Paris for the weekend. The process of his journey to St Pancras and his decisions about boarding the train introduce us to his lifestyle. On arrival at the Gare du Nord his dead body is found and a farcical set of events unfolds as the ordinary Parisian police attempt to detain the two passengers who have alerted them to the body. Meanwhile Parisian police detective, Roland Desfeuilleres, is experiencing a troubled marriage. He tries to rekindle his relationship with Juliette, his wife, but it is a difficult process for a man of 40 who is losing his figure and feels he is ageing rapidly - his joie de vivre has disappeared.
The case is designated as a French one even though the exact time of death is not possible to ascertain - there had been a power cut during the journey under the Channel and the murder must have happened then. Indeed, when Roland travels to London he finds that the English police are totally disinterested in the case. He, however, finds the life of the victim increasingly fascinating. This is not the typical police procedural! Roland's wandering through London show sometimes bizarre elements of the city as he builds up a good picture of both the city and the victim. The life he has left in Paris is referenced at intervals by an author who has excellent knowledge of both cities. The culture clash between Paris and London becomes a major theme. Roland discovers things about himself and his life through his investigation. The crime almost becomes a back issue even for Roland!
I enjoyed this book which was unexpected in the direction it took and somewhat utopian in the finale it reaches. Whether it represents a very French approach to crime writing I don't know; certainly it is very nicely balanced in its story telling. Since the tale flowed well and used interesting imagery I would judge that the translation was a successful one.
Gilles Petel has written several other books so I wonder whether they also might be translated. I think I would happily read another one in the hopes that it would develop as unusually as this one does.
Translated by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken