Under the Channel
By Gilles Petel, Jane Aitken, and Emily Boyce
When the body of a Scotsman turns up on board a Channel Tunnel train at the Gare du Nord, Parisian detective Roland Desfeuilleres finds himself in charge of a murder investigation.Tweet
This is the story of two men, John Burny a gay London estate agent and a Parisian detective, Roland. The murder of John under the French side of the Channel is the excuse for the detective to leave his failing marriage and go to London to investigate. It becomes a journey of psychological change for Roland as he steps into the dead man's shoes.
The style of short sentences makes the book an easy read. The two men in their forties mirror each other in their uncertainties, questioning their life style and motivations.
Although I was interested in the plot I felt no sympathy or empathy with any of the characters whom I found superficial.
There is sex, divorce, beer, gay bars and an attempt at cultural differences.
I didn't like this book initially as I found John a very shallow character and couldn't empathise with him at all. All he seemed to live for was casual sex and even that didn't seem to fulfil him. But the detective Roland was a different kettle of fish. I liked the way his character was developed and it was an interesting twist having him take up John's lifestyle to the extent he started to revel in it. The murder and solving it became almost incidental to the plot and was something of a damp squib when it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. By the end I became fascinated with Roland and his new life.
This is a gentle, slow-paced book, with more than a touch of Noir Fiction about it.
The book is marketed as a crime novel. As a “whodunit” it is not a great success – there is no real plot, no suspense or tension and no build up to a final reveal of the master criminal behind all the dastardly deeds (well, there’s only one actually). It just isn’t that kind of book. If you read it expecting a decent crime novel you will be disappointed - I fell into this category of reader.
However, there is more to this book than just being a bad detective story. Its real strength lies in the voyage of self-discovery taken by the French policeman who happens to be working on a murder case at the time. The murder itself is almost incidental to the story but the situations that the policeman encounters while delving into the life of the victim and the characters that he meets along the way are instrumental in helping him to get to know himself and in giving him the courage to change his life as a result.
From the reader’s point of view the problem is that we are expecting a great crime novel. In order to evaluate the book fairly I really feel that I would need to read it again, starting with a completely different expectation/perspective. I may in fact do that at some point as the book is short and easy to read. However, this review was written without those benefits derived from hindsight and may therefore not be an accurate portrayal of the book’s value.
In terms of the writing style I thought there was an additional issue. My initial impression was that it was so simplistic in style and language that it almost felt like I was reading a children’s book. It is translated from the French so it is difficult to know whether this is a characteristic of the original or whether it was something introduced by the translators. I also felt that the language itself, in terms of sentence construction and punctuation, belied the inexperience of the translators (sorry translators - I know it’s a really tough job but it was sometimes difficult to read this book fluently as I had to read sentences two or three times in order to make sense of them).
In summary, this book is possibly a worthwhile and insightful read if approached from the point of view of it being a journey of self-discovery but great crime fiction it definitely is not.
I had this book from the agency for my book club B n b...It was a little slow at first. I did find it hard to engage with the main character.For me it lacked depth in characters and at times the plot. Middle of the book it did pick up. Plus why would a detective choose to live in the victims flat? bizarre...
Not my usual enjoyable crime book
I did not enjoy this book a very slow burner and was a little disjointed regarding the plot. A poor read