Though this isn't the first of Lemaitre's books to be translated into English—that would be Alex (2013)—this was the first he wrote, and it introduces his unique and unforgettable police investigator, Commandant Camille Verhœven.
Verhœven, the diminutive (4 foot 11 inch) head of the Paris homicide squad, has a terrible crime on his hands: Two women were found gruesomely murdered, one of their heads nailed to a wall, their fingers severed and arranged, their bodies gutted and splattered with blood and feces, the words “I AM BACK” written in blood. Verhœven and his team—which includes his friend and sidekick, the wealthy and aristocratic Louis—are stymied by the case. Although the dead women were found in an apartment in an otherwise abandoned industrial district, the man who rented out the apartment, Cottet, says that his tenant, Jean Haynal, disappeared after he took the place, and he remembers little, if anything, about the man. After the two women are identified as prostitutes Évelyne and Josiane and their investigation reaches a dead end, the team discovers a link to another disturbing killing, this time in Tremblay. In that case, the young woman's death reminds Verhœven of something he’s read, and soon he’s putting the evidence into a context that is disturbing in its unpredictability. Making Verhœven’s job even more difficult is that information keeps leaking to the press, infuriating his superiors at a time when he can least afford to be distracted: He's about to become a first-time father with his beloved wife, Irène, who is more than ready to have her baby. Lemaitre’s measured, intelligent approach to a police investigation rings of authenticity, and he manages to make even the mundane activities interesting. But the real genius of this novel are the twists Lemaitre incorporates into the storyline, lifting it above the genre and into a different category entirely.
A book that no matter how fast the reader connects the dots still produces a bombshell that’s both brilliant and diabolical.