Written by Pierre Lemaitre, translated by Frank Wynne — After taking the tropes of serial killers and kidnappings and turning them on their heads, in his latest book, Camille, bestselling French crime author Pierre Lemaitre takes on the heist story and subverts our expectations completely. This is our third encounter with Commandant Camille Verhoeven, and it completes the trilogy focusing on the character.
The diminutive, troubled police inspector has had more than his share of bad luck. Here he seems to be on his way to recovery following the death of his wife and the twisted kidnapping case he had to handle in Lemaitre’s previous novels Irene and Alex. He has even opened up his heart to the possibility of love with the elegant Anne Forestier. But then, one morning while he is attending the funeral of a close friend and colleague, Anne happens to get in the way of a gang of armed robbers and is brutally beaten and left for dead.
Nobody knows about the relationship between Anne and Camille, but his number comes up first on her phone so he is called to the hospital where she lies in critical condition. There are links to an earlier series of brutal armed robberies on jewellery stores, but nothing that would really require the collaboration of the homicide division. Nevertheless, Camille manages to inveigle himself into the investigation in order to protect Anne, although he keeps their relationship secret from his superiors and even his trusted assistant Louis. It soon becomes clear that someone is trying to finish off the job they started, attempting to kill Anne in hospital. What did she see that makes her such a target for the robbers? And for how long can Camille keep her safe?
Lemaitre is a consummate storyteller, so of course the plot is much more complex than this brief summary can express. He is a master at playing with our expectations, creating unexpected twists and manipulating our beliefs. You may think Camille’s insistence on lying to his colleagues about Anne is infuriating. You may consider the scenes from the point of view of the killer a little too slick and arrogant. You will almost certainly find the ending sad and possibly unfair. But you will be swept along by this story of love, trust, suspicion and betrayal. The opening scenes describing the attack on Anne are nearly perfect examples of cinematic storytelling – impossible to look away, albeit rather harrowing to read. The intricate web of the plot does strain credulity at certain moments, but the author is at his usual deft best untangling it, although perhaps the end is a little too quick and neat.
It’s hard to write a satisfactory conclusion to a trilogy after two such strong previous novels, but I think Lemaitre just about manages to do that. The many references to Camille’s height do start to jar after a while but, all in all, he is such a well-rounded, quirky and yet very relatable character. I for one would be really sorry if I believed this is indeed the very last we shall see of him.
You can read our interview with Pierre Lemaitre here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars