A waitress’s disappearance pits a dogged detective against a man
trapped by his own falsehoods.
Manfred Baumann is an unusually regular regular at the Restaurant de la Cloche in Saint-Louis, a nondescript town at the far edge of Alsace. He always eats at the same table, drinks a carafe of wine one glass at a time even though he ends up paying twice as much, and has a secret crush on Adèle Bedeau, the sullen young waitress. Years ago, Manfred’s grandfather bought the restaurant for his parents, but it slipped through their hands, and Manfred remains an awkward patron on the fringe of life. By day he’s a bank manager; once a week he joins in a poker game at the restaurant; and he has a regular appointment at a brothel in a ritual that never changes. But Adèle interests him, and one night he hides in some bushes to watch her meet her boyfriend and ride off with him on a motor scooter. When she doesn’t show up for work the next day, Manfred is so embarrassed about spying on her that he lies to Inspector Georges Gorski—then continues lying, even about things like having changed his normal lunch order the day Adèle disappeared. Despite his aversion to hunches, Gorski has a strong intuition that Manfred is covering up something. Gorski often recalls, and even revisits, the scene of an old murder, a case that the once-junior detective hoped would advance him into a better position in a bigger city. Instead, he’s still stuck in a provincial town and a loveless marriage, but his dedication to his work drives him to push Manfred harder. Gorski’s persistence only increases Manfred’s innate paranoia, and a door to the past leads to unintended consequences for both the hunter and the hunted. Burnet (His Bloody Project, 2016) sets up the book as an old French mystery that he’s newly translated, attaching a “translator’s afterword” to the back, but the metafictional elements add little to the novel.
Dreary but worth reading for its insight into its sad, flawed, and sometimes-repellent characters.