Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

I teased you yesterday telling you that I was going to talk about a thriller that almost made ‘Gone Girl’ look tame, but what could it be? The book in question is ‘Alex’ by Pierre Lemaitre which is one of those very, very few books that made me so hooked that I managed, with everything going on, to read it in two sittings straight. One of those rare books that inspires that old cliché ‘a book you literally can’t put down’. It is not a book for the faint of heart mind, but should you dare to delve into its pages and have a read it will make your head spin, in a good way.

MacLehose Press, 2013, paperback, 354 pages, translated by Frank Wynne, kindly sent by the publisher

When we first meet ‘Alex’ she is in a shop in Paris trying on wigs and silly glasses, she’s a woman who feels she goes unnoticed and wants to change her look. She is also, it seems, somewhat of a loner, as she is on the way to take herself out for a meal, she temps where she can get work, she moves about not seeming to befriend anyone and seems very distant from her family. In fact you start to think she might end up a crazy cat lady one day, that is until after her meal for one (in a fancy restaurant where she makes eyes at a stranger) when she gets kidnapped. That sudden. But that is only shock and twist number one that Lemaitre has up his sleeve for you.

Fortunately someone does see what happens, though not very clearly and so the police are called in. Step forward our Commandent, Camille Verhoeven, who is put on the case though he is far from happy about it as his wife was kidnapped and killed when pregnant several years ago. He has avoided cases like this for as long as he can, sods law then that the one he ends up heading is the most mysterious case they have had in some time, they have no clues at all. No one saw the kidnapper and what’s more no one seems to be able to find out anything about the woman who was kidnapped.

“They are getting nowhere. The magistrate, the weather, the investigation, nothing’s going right. Even Le Guen is in a state. And then there’s the girl, about whom they still know nothing. Camille has finished up his reports; he’s hanging around. He never really feels like going home. If it weren’t for Doudouche waiting for him…
They’re working ten hour days, they’ve taken dozens of witness statements, reread dozens of reports and charge sheets, correlated information, checked details, times, questioned people. And come up with nothing. It makes you wonder.”

I won’t give anything else away about the book as I wouldn’t want to spoil what lies ahead because it is just brilliant. Lemaitre manages to put you in the mindset of the Commandent and Alex whilst also throwing in twist after twist that you simply won’t expect, and I can vouch for that as I had guessed that the book was going to be twisty but was still saying ‘noooo!’ out loud rather a lot. Lemaitre also manages to weave both Alex and Camille’s back stories too drip feeding you with morsels that add to the overall effect of a book. He also knows exactly how to end every chapter on a real cliff hanger…

“That is what I smell like, she thinks; I smell of shit and piss and vomit. It smells carrion.
The rat rears up on his hind paws, sniffing.
Alex’s eyes move up along the rope.
Two other rats have just begun their descent towards the cage.”

How can you not read on wide eyed after that? If you don’t like rats by the way this book won’t make you like them any the more. This of course brings me, in a roundabout way and probably not the way your thinking from the above excerpt, to the fact that the book is quite gory. There is kidnap, torture and murder and Lemaitre doesn’t shy away from it, yet the book never makes you feel complicit in what is going on.

What Lemaitre actually does with ‘Alex’, which is far more interesting and potent is make you question, as the twists come, what you think is and isn’t morally right and soon this gripping thriller starts to ask so really serious questions of its reader and their ethics. A very clever move indeed, provide a book that makes you think hard about what you might do or what you find to be the ‘right’ thing for someone to do whilst also creating a read which is a complete page turner that has the readers jaw dropping as they go. That is what has made it my thriller of the year so far, it’s genius and I personally cannot wait for the next one in the Camille series. Who knows what Lemaitre will do next?

Note: I have used the paperback image, as I have the trade edition, because the cover is just stunning!

15 Comments

Filed under Books of 2013, Maclehose Publishing, Pierre Lemaitre, Review

15 responses to “Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

  1. Yep! That’s the book I thought you were referring to. I couldn’t wait, and started reading last night, which was a mistake with all that happens in part one! I’m halfway now and shall go back to it after lunch – it’s brilliant.
    It also makes me want to catch up with the French TV series ‘Spiral’ of which I only saw a few episodes of the first series.

  2. Sweet Fanny Adams

    A good review, Simon. I stayed up all night reading this book. I heard that Lemaitre has two previous books but they have not been translated into English. Don’t know if this is true or not. As for that fussy little Camille and his crew – fantastic, I love ’em all.

  3. This one sounds so tremendous i placed an order right away even though I very rarely read crime fiction. If it doesn’t live up to your recommendation I’ll come asking you for my money back! Just kidding of course

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  5. Jenny

    Well this sounds compelling. Going to give it a whirl. Thanks Simon.

  6. Just bought this today – now can’t wait to read it. (Might even take your advice from previous post and not save it for a rainy day!)

  7. Big D

    Finished this today – brilliant stuff, and ,as you touched on in your review, it does make you question what is right and wrong. Have already recommended this to two other readers. It made a change to read a police procedural from the point of view of the french justice system. Very different way of going about investigations.

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  9. Bet

    Yesterday I got word from my library that this book is on hold for me– picking it up soon! I can take gore and grit, but not sure how I’ll do with torture… anyway, the moral and psychological drama will probably be enough to keep me going in spite of!

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  13. Kate

    Simon, do you know when the final book in the series, Camille, is on UK release? I’m away in a few weeks and really hope I can buy it before then!

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