The Man Booker Prize finalist (for His Bloody Project, 2015) spins another tale within a tale in this “Historical Thriller by Raymond Brunet, Translated and Introduced by Graeme Macrae Burnet.”
Saint-Louis advocate Bertrand Barthelme, on his way home from his weekly dinner with his law partner, Gustave Corbeil, and two other old friends, skids off the A35 and is thrown through his windshield. It’s clearly an accident, but since that’s not at all clear to Lucette Barthelme, the victim’s much younger widow, police chief Georges Gorski agrees to make inquiries. Not a single person he talks to accepts his right to ask nosy questions about a car crash, but apart from their resistance, the only evidence he unearths is the discovery that Barthelme’s Tuesday evening dinners were fictitious; all three of his alleged companions maintain that they never met for dinner. In all probability the advocate was spending the time with a mistress, but after all, this is France. While Gorski, whose own wife has recently left him, presumably because he’s unambitious and a little boring, attempts to link Barthelme’s death to the strangling a few hours earlier of Veronique Marchal in Strasbourg, the next city along the A35, the dead man’s 17-year-old son, Raymond Barthelme, takes enough time out from reading Sartre to open his own investigation along quite different lines, beginning by asking why his father was interested enough in 13 Rue Saint-Fiacre, Mulhouse, to write the address on a scrap of paper Raymond has found at the bottom of a drawer. Both sleuths end up making important discoveries quite at odds with either their expectations or the leading conventions of the genre before an afterword written in Burnet’s editorial voice adds several metatextual hints more playful than compelling.
With or without the metafictional frame, an engaging tale of domestic intrigue in backwater France with two appealing detective figures.