Archive for June 11, 2013

51qyzRJRCNL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_One evening at a police station in suburban Tel Aviv, Hannah Sharabi reports her sixteen year old son Ofer is missing. Inspector Avraham Avraham [probably a tribute to Meyer Meyer in the 87th precinct books of Ed McBain] dismisses her with a stupid story that Israel doesn’t have crimes like those in books like Agatha Christie or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and that: Regular kids don’t just disappear. 

He almost immediately regrets his attitude, and the next morning when the mother returns, he organises a search for the young man. Avi Avraham is a 38 year old single cop who leads a very dull life outside work, dealing with his elderly parents, and thinking dream-like about his platonic relationship with Ilana, his female superior officer. He is an ordinary policeman in a country where any really serious crime might be referred to the Shin Bet, internal security service.

The story is told from Avi’s perspective, and also from the perspective of a neighbour Ze’ev Avni, who was a part time tutor to Ofer, and who wishes to insert himself into the search and investigation in an unsettling way. He is a teacher, a writer, a little crazy, with an enormous chip on both shoulders. He tells Avi about the school where he teaches.

At fourteen they are already movie directors. Little Spielbergs. Some are poets and writers; they form rock bands and work on albums. They derive their confidence not from themselves but from their environment, from their parents, from society, which tells them they can do anything and everything, that they excel at everything. I am not saying it’s a bad thing, although it may sound like it. I’m simply stating the facts. Ofer comes from a different place and was a different child. 

When he says he is simply stating the facts he is actually just giving his opinion. Ze’ev may be clinically crazy, but he is a far more interesting character than Avi.

The narrative is quite slow, and Avi Avraham does not seem to be a very bright detective, clashing with colleagues; young fireball Shrapstein, the more experienced Ma’alul, and even Ilana. He suggests that Ofer is lying on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, and I was not sure if he was serious.

‘How do I know he isn’t there. I don’t know anything.’

‘You can find out. You can check with Border Security if he has left the country. He didn’t get on a plane with a false passport. He’s not a Mossad agent , he’s a schoolboy.’

Avi likes to watch crime TV and point out the errors the detectives make, but does not seem to notice his own caused by indecision and self doubt. The author is a literary scholar specialising in the history of detective literature, so we get numerous references to Agatha Christie, and he produced a story to make the reader think twice about the truth, and the assumed truth.

During the search for Ofer, Avi Avraham takes a side trip as part of a police exchange scheme to Brussels. An amusing tribute to Hercule Poirot? But the police there are dealing with a murder of a young woman, Johanna Getz, a fictional case that copies exactly, almost incident for incident, suspect for suspect, the  murder in Bristol of Joanna Yeates. 

‘Who was it? Avraham asked, and Jean-Marc said, ‘A neighbour. A different neighbour-not the landlord. A psychopath who lives on the first floor.’ 

I thought this was entirely unneccessary and a bit unsettling. It was particularly bizarre when  a blurb on the cover from Henning Mankell mentions the author writing with “profound originality”.

I very much wanted to enjoy this Israeli novel and did up to a point. But I am just not sure the author managed to create a special enough lead character who I would want to follow through any more books.  

51Jx542D48L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_Alex, a beautiful but insecure young woman, is kidnapped off the streets of Paris and bundled into a white van. She is forced to strip and put into a wooden case, a cage, situated in an abandoned warehouse. Commandant Camille Verhoeven, a detective of Napoleonic stature 4’11’, is given the investigation. Camille has returned after a lengthy absence from duty, trying to recover from not surprising severe traumatic stress, after his pregnant wife Irene was kidnapped and found murdered; so this is a particularly difficult assignment for him. As the vital hours go by the desperate race to find Alex before she too is killed becomes frantic. Camille taking the situation very personally has no leads and wonders why has she been kidnapped and by whom?

It’s a hell of an odd team though, thinks Camille. On the one hand you’ve got a kid who’s a rich as Croesus, on the other a miser worthy of Scrooge McDuck. 

There is quite a lot of violence in this book, and a particularly unpleasant description of an unspeakable act, which is perhaps necessary to explain the plot.

But despite this it would be a worthy winner of the International Dagger, because the team of detectives are interesting characters. And more importantly the clever plotting means that nothing is quite as it seems. 

Even when you’re not altogether with it, seeing Louis and Armand standing next to each other is a trip. Louis in his grey Kiton suit, Stefano Ricci tie, Weston brogues; Armand dressed from a clearance sale at a charity shop. Good grief, Camille thinks, staring at him: he looks as though he buys his clothes a size too small to save that much more.

This novel with its multi dimensional plot takes you on an exciting switchback ride that ultimately produces a form of justice. I don’t want to say any more about the plot because the pleasure of reading this book is seeing the detectives  gradually uncover the facts, while you also accompany Alex on her difficult journey.

I can’t wait for Pierre Lemaitre’s next book featuring Camille Verhoeven to be published in the Spring of 2014.

Author Pierre Lemaitre is a teacher of literature and a multi award winning crime writer. Alex is his first book to be translated into English, and confirms my opinion that, while some Scandinavian crime fiction of average quality has been  published over the past few years, we may have missed some top level crime writers from other countries. Well done Quercus, for bringing us Pierre Lemaitre’s Camille Verhoeven.