Written by Curtis Bausse —
One Green Bottle is Curtis Bausse’s debut novel and came out last year. He is a British born writer who has lived in France for most of his life but now lives in Mayotte, a French dependency in the Indian Ocean. The book introduces Bausse’s novice detective Magali Rousseau, who is due to appear in a sequel later this year.
Set in Provence, the book opens with the brutal murder of Albert Roncet in his isolated home. The old man is suspicious of his young visitor and knows he’s taking a great risk in allowing him in, but before he’s able to defend himself, it’s too late. Fast forward several months and we meet Magali Rousseau. Stunned by her cosmetic surgeon husband’s sudden decision to leave her, she’s charting new territory. Her son, Luc, is grown up and married to Sophie, an artist who tries to help her mother-in-law find her feet as she rebuilds her life. Thanks to Sophie’s encouragement, Magali has two new career options to explore, in the shape of two bronze plaques that Sophie gives her. One says ‘psychotherapist’, the other ‘private detective’.
Magali’s not trained in either profession, and French law requires her to pass a course before she can legally offer her services as a private detective. However, within days of her newly acquired plaques being given pride of place on her driveway, she gets her first two clients. Paul Daveney is a deeply troubled man in his mid-40s in need of skilled therapist. Charlotte Perle is the mother of a young man whose brutal murder is perplexing the officer in charge of the case, Captain Vincent Darlier.
From the moment Magali is introduced, it’s clear she’s a determined character, even though her friend Antoine tries to talk her out of pursuing her investigations. She enrols on a course in order to get her licence and finds allies in Darlier and his friend Commander Yves Balland. The latter allows her not only to visit a crime scene with him and invites her to share her thoughts about the crime and its perpetrator. Neither man seems concerned by the fact that she isn’t officially qualified because they find her an invaluable new resource. She proves to be analytical, and comes up with a workable hypothesis that may lead to a conviction.
Magali is methodical and for someone untrained in psychology, she has an ability to pick through seemingly unrelated notions to find a link between several killings dotted around the region. However, when her theory isn’t immediately accepted by the professionals, she remains resolute in her belief that the police are hunting a serial killer.
The book is split into three section. The first follows Magali’s story and leaves us with something of a cliffhanger, while the second takes up the killer’s timeline from the very beginning and takes us through each of the murders. Returning to the present in the final section, everything is neatly tied up with a satisfying conclusion.
It’s the second part of One Green Bottle that lets it down a little. At times you may lose track of who you’re actually following. It just doesn’t flow in the same way the first and third sections do, though this might have been done on purpose to emphasise the unstable nature of the killer’s mind. It is Magali herself that makes this book such an enjoyable read. She’s resilient, funny, intelligent determined and doesn’t give up easily – the kind of character you can’t help rooting for and shouting at when you think she might be wavering and on the point of giving up.
As debut novels go, this may well gather a strong fanbase among French crime fiction lovers and those who love quirky female detectives. There are elements of humour throughout and when the book ends, you’ll want to know what’s going to happen to Magali next.
One Green Bottle may remind you of PD James‘ An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. It has a protagonist drawn into the world of private investigation by her circumstances who pursues a case while those around her tell her to leave it well alone. It’s a book that will also appeal to fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars