Written by Bernard Besson, translated by Sophie Weiner — When a passenger jet inbound from Kuala Lumpur explodes on landing at Orly airport in Paris it initiates a chain of events that drags in freelance special agents John Spencer Lariviere, his karate-trained partner and wife Victoire, and computer genius sidekick Luc. They are pulled away from a family celebration – the christening of John and Victoire’s baby – and the story becomes a deadly game of international intrigue. With explosions.
Miraculously, passenger and former French President Pierre-Andre Noblecourt manages to survive the crash, but just hours later he is found hanged in his top floor flat. Murder is suspected as Noblecourt’s corpse is suspended many feet from the floor, with no ladder in sight and a shoe missing.
Head of French intelligence, Hubert de Mericourt, calls in John and his team to help investigate the mess. After an initial investigation under the watch of current President and close friend of the Noblecourt’s, Alain Jemestre, the agents go their separate ways.
Victoire looks into Nobelcourt’s death, teaming up with his 10-year-old granddaughter, who is wise beyond her years, Beatrice. In the process Victoire obtains Noblecourt’s mobile phone. Just prior to his death he’d received several mysterious photographs and a seeming connection to Emma Wong, a lawyer and activist based in Kuala Lumpur and also a passenger on the ill-fated jet.
John heads off to Kuala Lumpur to meet with Serge, Nobelcourt’s son-in-law while Luc evaluates a company involved in developing high precision atomic clocks. But how are these strands connected?
If you like a fast-paced thriller with a thick layer of scientific data where an equal amount of suspension of disbelief is required – like a literary version of a Michael Bay film, perhaps -you’ll love this book. There are thrills, spills and copious amounts of explosions that occur with little or no warning. They make The Rare Earth Exchange a real page turner.
The science beneath the story deals with rare metals used in tech products. These factors are clearly well-researched and give depth to the story. There’s also a decent degree of suspense lent by those mysterious digital photos, and a powerful international eco-thriller feel to the book, with well-developed characters.
Occasionally, there are some clunky sentences, which may have to do with the translation. Maybe it doesn’t flow quite as well it might have in the original French. Here and there, there is a tendency towards telling rather than showing and the characters ask lots of questions out loud, particularly at the end of chapters. The six or more explosions occur without signposting and can be jarring. Maybe it just depends on how much you enjoy fireworks.
The introduction of the activist lawyer, Emma Wong might just have you grinding your teeth. She’s referred to by her full name over and over and during the book four different characters explain who she is and what she was doing at the time of the Orly explosion. Why do we need to be told this so many times?
Tighter editing to remove repetition – both bigger examples as mentioned above, and smaller ones such as repetitive phrasing – would boost the potential of this novel a great deal. Still, all the action, sudden jolts and fast pace do make for an exciting read.
We’ve previously reviewed The Greenland Breach and interviewed the author Bernard Besson here. For another eco-thriller, try Gunnar Staalesen’s We Shall Inherit the Wind.
Le French Book
CFL Rating: 3 Stars