Friday, August 30, 2013

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

How happy am I that Quercus has begun releasing titles in the States? Pretty freaking happy!

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre is part of Quercus's Maclehose Press imprint - translated lit and crime fiction - and is one of their first titles to hit shelves here. Though it's actually the second book in the Verhoeven trilogy, Alex is the first of Lemaitre's works to be translated into English and it earned Lemaitre the CWA International Dagger award this year.

A witness reports a kidnapping and Commandant Camille Verhoeven is assigned the case. Verhoeven is a last resort - everyone knows that he won't take kidnappings since the tragic fate of his own wife - but the Divisionnaire has made it clear that there is no one else. The witness saw a man with a white, unmarked van punch and kick a young woman before taking off with her in the vehicle. Unfortunately the woman's description doesn't match anyone who's been reported missing so the only hope is identifying the man with the van. With such a common vehicle, Verhoeven and his team have their work cut out for them and time is running out for the victim.  

This is one of those books that starts as one thing and ends up something completely different. It's thriller through and through but by part two Lemaitre has turned the whole thing on its head! The twist, something I do not want to give away in the least bit, elevates Alex well beyond my wildest expectations.

The narrative alternates between Alex and Verhoeven, both of whom are interesting characters in their own very different ways. Verhoeven, as the lead investigator, is 4'11'' and a widower whose own wife was kidnapped and killed while eight months pregnant. He's been avoiding his team and - as mentioned above - certain cases ever since, basically surviving but not really living. Alex's kidnapping forces him no only to take on a kidnapping but to once again reunite with his old team as well. And Alex, well, let's just say that the reader learns as much about her as the police do as the story plays out.

Alex did start off a bit clunky in my opinion. Rest assured, the narrative begins to smooth out a bit around the fifty page mark and really hit its stride (for me) just before breaking into part two. The story moves along quickly - this was another insomnia read for me and I'd zipped through that much of the book in a relatively short time.

While Alex seems to be drawing comparison to Stieg Larsson's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I'd actually go with Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series instead. Verhoeven is a bit like Morck in terms of temperament, never mind the fact that both Alex and The Keeper of Lost Causes both deal with kidnapping cases. Like Keeper (and even Girl), I should warn you that Alex is quite graphic and dark. If you're more of a cozy kind of reader this will not be your cup of tea. If, however, you include both Larsson and Adler-Olsen in your best of thriller authors list, then I'd highly suggest adding Alex to your must-read list!

Alex is translated from French by Frank Wynne who was short-listed for the French-American Foundations 2012 Translation Prize. Wynne is apparently working on another Quercus/Maclehose title as well, Loser's Corner by Antonin Varenne.

Alex is out now in the UK and hits shelves here on September 3.


Georgette Spelvin said...

Terrific review! I've had this book on my TBR list, and now I've gotta move it up.

Kelly said...

I really want to read this one. It definitely seems like it is going to be great for a cold fall evening.