One problem I have – and it perhaps says more about me than anything else! – is that I tend to rely on familiar authors so in crime I have been reliant on Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler series, Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels and a few others: Anthony Horowitz, Jessica Fellowes, Graeme Macrae Burnet. I came across Lemaitre’s name on a list of great literary crime writers from The Independent in a slightly old (and slightly comfortably superior) article.
And what did I get from Blood Wedding – published in French in 2009 named Robe de marié or Wedding Dress but translated into English in 2016? Well, initially a very gripping opening paragraph!
This morning, like so many others, she woke with tears streaking her face and a hard lump in her throat though she had no particular reason to be upset. Tears are an everyday occurrence in her life: she has wept every night since she went mad. Were it not for the fact that her cheeks are damp every morning, she might think that her nights were spent in deep and peaceful sleep. But waking to find her face bathed in tears and a tightness in her throat is a simple fact of life.
The “she” in question is Sophie Duguet, a nanny for Mme Gervais’ son Léo and our protagonist. And within a matter of pages we discover that Léo is dead, “naked, huddled, his wrists tied to his ankles, his head between his knees. In profile, his face is a disturbing colour. His pyjamas have been used to bind him. Around his throat, a shoelace is pulled so tightly that it has left a deep groove in the flesh.”
And Sophie, perhaps a little improbably, goes on the run.
Even more improbably, she goes on the run (almost) completely successfully, evading all efforts of the French police and media to find her.
Lemaitre seems to love pulling the rug out from the reader, apparently only to reveal another rug beneath that – another rug due to be pulled out a few chapters later. Initially, we are led to believe that Sophie was innocent and I was expecting a cat-and-mouse flight from the police prompted by a misunderstanding of her flight from the Gervais home. But a multitude of death and murder surround Sophie both in her present and in the past and, by the time we came to the end of the first section, I was convinced that Sophie was in fact a serial killer – unstable, delusional and dangerous and her efforts to escape being Sophie the psycho by marrying a soldier under a false name and hoping that he would be posted abroad were likely to result in another murder.
And then another rug was pulled and we enter a different narrative structure: Frantz’ narrative takes us back several years to May 3rd 2000 in a diary form. And we are forced to completely re-evaluate our assessment of Sophie and of the events in her life.
This is one of those novels where I am trying to not reveal too much because the joy lies in letting Lemaitre pull those rugs out. He does it so much better than I can!
The result is that this is one of those books where my heart was in my mouth throughout the second half: I felt for Sophie and grieved with her far more than is probably healthy! As the final section of the story emerges and we see her taking control and fighting back, the novel maintains its wonderfully unsettling, insecure foundations.
There is something deliciously Hitchcockian in the novel: a small and vividly depicted cast of characters, a bait-and-twist mastery on a level with Vertigo, an engaging sympathetic protagonist and am extraordinary level of suspense akin to Rear Window.
I will certainly be looking to pick up more of Lemaitre in the near future, probably his breakthrough 2011 book Alex, introducing to the English market the Camille Verhœven series, albeit the second in the series.
Plot / Pace: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Publisher: MacLehose Press
Date: 7 July 2016