Synopses & Reviews
As the First World War rages on, the daily life of a small town near the front is hardly disturbed by the report of artillery fire and the parade of wounded in its streets. But within the space of a year, this illusion of ordinary days is shattered by the deaths of three innocents a charming schoolmistress from the north, who captured every male heart only to take her own life without apparent reason; an angelic eight-year-old girl, who is strangled, her body abandoned by the canal; and the cherished wife of the local policeman, who dies in labor while her husband is hunting the little girl's murderer.
Twenty years on, the policeman still struggles to make sense of these mysteries that both torment and sustain him. In the pages of his notebooks he continually desperately, obsessively summons up the past and its ghosts. But excavating the town's secret history will bring neither peace to him nor justice to the wicked. And as his solitary detective work continues on these long-closed cases, we come to see that his efforts can lead only to an unimaginable widening of the tragedy.
In the policeman's simple, plangent voice full of unflinching scrutiny and the compassion of weary experience Philippe Claudel gives us a tale of galvanizing suspense and an indelible meditation on morality.
"Nimbly translated, French former screenwriter Claudel's little gem of a debut novel is, in essence, a whodunit. On a frigid morning in December 1917, the body of a 10-year-old girl is discovered, strangled, on the banks of the 'slow' river that slices through a small, unnamed French village. The townsfolk are stunned by the murder, though they're curiously oblivious to the seemingly endless slaughter taking place on the nearby Western front. Told by Dadais, a former policeman with a sharp memory and (it gradually becomes apparent) a shadowy history of his own, the story is a re-creation of his dogged pursuit of the killer. Was it the town's haughty prosecutor, Pierre-Ange Destinat? Was it the Breton deserter who confesses under duress? Could it possibly have been Dadais himself? The answer, like everything else in the story, is far from tidy aside from its construction, that is. Psychologically complex, elegantly written and tightly plotted, this is far from your average policier. (June 15)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Overwhelmingly compelling....As riveting as the story line is, the setting, ambience, and lovely language...partner to flavor this novel with punch and spice." Booklist
"[T]ales of murder, torture, and suicide unfold gradually, like the petals of a poisonous flower, delivering staggering plot twists up to the final page." Library Journal
"Achingly beautiful...[with an] air of universal fable: baleful and tragic yet curiously enlivening." Richard Eder, New York Times
"A bloodless, nihilistic, open-ended whodunit." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] mystery with literary ambitions....[I]ts pace is as languid and calm as the river of its title....[F]illed with a gloomy beauty..." San Francisco Chronicle
"Evokes, with Poe-like mastery, the fog of apprehension that seeps into a small town after the murder of a young girl." Megan O'Grady, Vogue
In this indelible meditation on morality, the daily life of a small French town is shattered by the deaths of three innocents during the First World War.
About the Author
Philippe Claudel was born in 1962. Before becoming a novelist, he was a teacher and a screenwriter. He lives in France.