Children in Crime: A Cheating Entry

 

The Tuesday Night Bloggers  are an informal group of crime fiction fans and bloggers who choose a topic each month to discuss in posts on Tuesdays.
Our theme for September is:


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CHILDREN IN CRIME


Thanks to Bev, as ever, for the excellent logo. Kate at Cross-Examining Crime has kindly offered to collect the links for the various pieces.



If anyone wants to join in, just send a link to one of us or post it in the comments below.


We tend to write about traditional crime fiction, often from the Golden Age – in previous weeks I chose The Bad Seed by William March (1954) and The Third Eye by Ethel Lina White (1937). This week I was short of time, but rather than post no entry, I will write about a recent French thriller – one that revolves round lost babies. So a compromise…

After the Crash by Michel Bussi

published in English in 2015, translated from the French by Sam Taylor


 
After The Crash


September 1998

Were they lovers, or brother and sister?

The question has been nagging at Mariam for almost a month… At this hour of the morning the bar was still mostly empty and Mariam took advantage of the quiet to clean tabletops and arrange chairs.
The couple were sitting, as they usually did, near the window, at a tiny table for tow, holding hands and looking deep into each other’s blue eyes.
Lovers?
Friends?
Siblings?
Mariam sighed. The lack of certainty bothered her. She generally had a keen instinct when it came to her students’ love lives. She snapped out of it: she still had to wipe down the tables and sweep the floor; in a few minutes thousands of stressed students would rush from the metro station…

IN terms of money, Emilie’s standard of living appeared to be the very opposite of Marc’s. Mariam had a knack for evaluating, in an instant, the quality and cost of the clothing worn by her students, from H&M and Zara to Yves Saint Laurent.

Emilie did not wear Yves Saint Laurent, but she wasn’t far off. What she was wearing today – a simple, elegant orange silk blouse and a black asymmetrical skirt – had undoubtedly cost a fortune. Emilie and Marc might be from the same place, but they did not belong to the same world.

And yet they were inseparable.
 
 
commentary: A passage from near the beginning of this book, which is a French thriller with bestseller status wherever it is published. It has a great setup: it begins with a plane crashing into a mountain in 1980. Everyone on board is killed, except for a baby found near the wreckage. But there is nothing to indicate who she is, and there were two girls of the right age on the plane - she could be either. Both sets of grandparents step forward to claim the child, each set convinced they are the rightful ancestors – each has already lost son and daughter-in-law in the crash. One family is very rich, one is very poor. An agonizing court case follows. At the time there was no easy way to identify the correct family.

The main part of the book starts 18 years later, when the young woman (Emilie above) and Marc – who might be her brother or might not – get some information. A private eye has been pursuing the case all this time, paid by the rich family, still trying to collect evidence which will establish her birth.

She and Marc have their own worries, and what on earth has happened to the investigator? Extracts from his notebook tracing the events over the years are interspersed with events in 1998.

The years and timing of the book have been chosen, you would say, for one particular reason: in 1980 there was no possibility of DNA testing to establish who were the grandparents. Bussi (and his private eye) then give good careful reasons why the DNA test did not immediately resolve the situation when it did come over the horizon. 

Everything comes to a climax as Emilie approaches her 18th birthday, and the story swirls round France then and now, with much action and several deaths.

My friend Christine Poulson wrote about this book on her blog recently – that’s what prompted me to take it down off the shelf in fact – and said she guessed early on what was going on. I didn’t – though I did have a plot turn idea that I frankly think was better than the author’s. I found the first half very compelling, the second half rather less so but kept reading because I did want to know the explanation for various items, and exactly who Emilie was. It’s certainly a rattling good yarn, and excellent holiday reading. (Unless you are in an aeroplane anywhere near a mountain of course… ) I think afterwards you start thinking of rather obvious questions and objections, but that’s fair play for a page-turning thriller.

I enjoyed reading the book mostly because it was so very French, in a way I find it hard to define. The private eye was like a character from 50 years ago, and his florid writing style in his journal wouldn’t do at all in the UK, but seemed to fit him. In fact he is very like the private eye in Sebastian Japrisot’s Very Long Engagement, which is set in the 1920s – this was my picture for him in the blogpost:

 
After the Crash 2

- and he seems in a line going back to Inspector Javert from Les Miserables – the portentous air, the declaiming, the conviction of rightness and high moral tone.

Everyone’s attitudes seem endlessly French – I cannot explain it better than that. I loved Robert Harris’s French-set book on the Dreyfus affair, Officer and Spy, but it was always the work of an Englishman, you could never confuse him with a French writer.

Café pic is from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Sali Sasaki.



























Comments

  1. That does sound like a really interesting premise for a story, Moira. And I do like that past/resent connection in stories. I like the setting, too. About it being French? Yes, I know what you mean.

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    1. It does it all good to read fiction from other countries Margot - something I know you do a lot: I admire that.

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  2. I love your term "endlessly French". I know exactly what you're talking about and it's not just endless smoking of cigarettes. So many of the books I read translated from French still manage to retain that intangible, "endlessly French" quality that usually is found nowhere else in literature. That's a real talent to be credited to the translator's skill in understanding tone and culture as well as the original writer's text.

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    1. Yes, I wish I could define it better. The assumptions are different of course - different with other nationalities - but also there's also a kind of majestic note to the French, a kind of formality...

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  3. Moira, like Margot, I found the premise interesting too, right from the time of the crash and the two families claiming the baby as their own. Why is there so often a rich and a poor family? I once read American author Henry Denker's "A Gift of Life," 1989, which is about a heart surgeon who must decide whether to give a donor heart to an ordinary wage-earning man with family or a rich politician, a senator I think. Not an easy choice.

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    1. Yes indeed, the philosophical questions are very interesting. And that sounds like a very interesting book indeed - those decisions are the great moral questions.

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  4. The story sounds very good, I will be on the lookout for it at a reasonable price. But I usually do avoid best sellers, just because.

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    1. I know what you mean - this one I received as a present, and I was glad to read it, it was enjoyable.

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  5. Replies
    1. Not as far off your beat as you might think.

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