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Guest Review of After The Crash by Michel Bussi – Reviewed by Sheila Rawlings

AFTER THE CRASH by Michel Bussi

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

 

When I read the blurb on the cover of this book, I was definitely intrigued as to what kind of story it would prove to be. Having read the novel, I realised that, although it was an effective and engrossing mystery thriller, it is also so much more.

 

THE PLOT

 

Originally written in French and later translated into English, the novel starts with a plane crash in December 1980, when the Airbus 5403, flying from Istanbul to Paris, crashes into a mountain. Everyone on board is killed, except for a baby girl who, after being unstrapped by her mother while trying to comfort her, is flung from the plane on impact. However, her identity remains a mystery. As there were two baby girls travelling on the plane that day, nobody can be sure whether the infant is Lyse-Rose de Carville or Emilie Vitral.

 

During the weeks and months that follow, an investigation is launched to identify the miracle child. Each family is convinced the baby belongs with them, and both sets of grandparents fight tooth and nail to obtain custody. The media frenzy surrounding the case only serves to heighten the tension between the two sides. After the press demonise Léonce de Carville as the villain of the piece, further fuel is added to the fire when his lawyers turn the tables on the Vitrals. The case then becomes a national symbol, contrasting the opportunities of the wealthy and privileged with those of more modest means.

 

Finally, a young lawyer named Maître Leguerne, employed by the Vitrals, professes to have found fresh evidence that will prove the child is definitely Emilie Vitral. Despite the dubious manner in which this evidence was obtained, the judge finally awards custody of the baby to the Vitrals.

 

Unable to accept the verdict, Mathilde de Carville enlists the services of Crédule Grand-Duc – a private investigator – to prove the child is, without doubt, Lyse-Rose. She tells him he will receive 100,000 francs a year for 18 years to discover anything he can about the identity of the surviving baby, in order to prove the judge’s ruling was incorrect. The money is to be paid irrespective of the nature of any findings. Crédule naturally accepts, and his 18-year investigation begins.

 

However, nothing is as it seems.

 

MY REVIEW

 

Set in Paris and Dieppe, ‘After the Crash’ is a complicated and multi-layered mystery thriller that has so many twists and turns on the way, you almost feel the need to leave a bread trail to keep up. However, the quality of the writing and clever structure of the novel is such that the reader is skilfully guided towards the conclusion, when all the pieces finally fall into place.

 

Each chapter is dated as a diary entry and the events unfold minute by minute, giving a real-time feel to the catalogue of events. This style of presentation lends an element of excitement to the narrative, driving the reader towards the next anticipated event.

 

The backstory is gradually revealed by means of a notebook, in which Crédule Grand-Duc documents the details of his investigation over the years. This is an effective device for revealing all the relevant information needed to understand events leading to the current situation, while maintaining the pace of the action.

 

As the story progresses, several themes begin to emerge, most notably the difference between the social and personal standing of the two families. Whereas the de Carvilles are rich and powerful, the relationships within the family are strained and dysfunctional. However, although the Vitrals are an ordinary working family, they are loving and supportive towards each other, forming a close family bond. This is illustrated by their refusal to accept Léonce de Carville’s bribe of 500,000 Francs to surrender their claim on the baby. As they insist Emiliy is not for sale, it reminds us that even money does not buy everything.

 

When the Vitral’s young lawyer confronts Léonce de Carville with new evidence, it is obvious it has been acquired unlawfully… probably stolen by one of the de Carville servants and sold to the lawyer for profit. I was therefore surprised when the judge not only allowed it as permissible evidence in court, but ultimately based his judgement on it. I also found it strange that the de Carville’s lawyer did not object on the same grounds, merely dismissing it as irrelevant. However, that may simply reflect my lack of knowledge of the French judicial system.

 

While legal and increasingly vicious personal battles between the two families continue to dominate events, another element to the story runs parallel to the rest… that of a love story. The mystery child – now 18 years old and proclaimed a Vitral – and her newfound brother, Marc Vitral, have fallen in love. Naturally, this introduces an emotional tension to the story, making the discovery of her true identity all the more important, especially when Marc discovers the secret she has been keeping from him.

 

Spread across a period of four days, the story is fast paced, introducing a rich tapestry of characters along the way. Even the minor roles contribute to the storyline, maintaining the intrigue and suspense.

 

All the main characters are well rounded and believable. They are not all likeable, but the reader is nevertheless drawn into their worlds, intrigued by their motivations and reactions. However, the more you learn, the more you realise you have only just scratched the surface.

 

Given the emotive beginning of the novel, the main thread of the story deals with the destructive nature of grief and loss on family life and the individual ways in which people deal with it.

 

From start to finish, I was totally absorbed by this book, causing me to stay up late into the night. With all its red herrings and false trails, it keeps you guessing right until the end and I am sure you will not be disappointed by the drama of the final resolution. I can thoroughly recommend it.

 

THE AUTHOR

 

Michel Bussi is a French writer of detective novels, a political analyst and Professor of Geography at the University of Rouen, where he leads a Public Scientific and Technical Research Establishment in the French National Centre for Scientific Research as a specialist in electoral geography.

 

According to the Le Figaro/GfK list of bestsellers, he was one of ten bestselling French writers of 2013, selling around 480,000 books. He has won 15 literary awards, making him one of France’s most prestigious crime authors.

 

After the Crash has been translated into 26 languages around the world and is his first book to be published in the UK.

 

‘After the Crash’ is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (an imprint of Orion Publishing Group) and is available in eBook and paperback format. It can be purchased from Amazon and Waterstones.

 

Guest Review by Sheila Rawlings : The Girl In The Red Coat by Kate Hamer

Having been given this novel by a friend, I have to say it is not a book I actively chose for myself. Reading the title, and knowing there are so many books around with “The Girl’ in their titles, I could not help wondering whether it was going to be a poor imitation of the rest. However, when I began to read it, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the story had a unique quality of its own.

The novel deals with an emotive subject, that of child abduction – the most profound of human emotions for any parent. However, while creating a realistic, page-turning psychological thriller, it is a measure of Kate Hamer’s writing that she also manages to preserve sensitivity for the emotions felt by both the parent and the child.

Set in Norfolk, the main character in the book is an eight-year-old girl, named Carmel Wakeford. Carmel has always been different from other children of her age. Often in a world of her own, she has a propensity to occasionally wander off. Her parents, Beth and Paul, are divorced and Paul now lives with his girlfriend, Lucy, leaving Beth to bring up Carmel by herself.

After previously losing Carmel temporarily in a maze, Beth becomes obsessive about keeping a constant watch on her, much to her daughter’s annoyance. Therefore, when Carmel lets go of her mother’s hand at a storytelling festival, becoming separated from her in the crowd, Beth gives in to panic – especially when she discovers her worst nightmare has come true. This time Carmel has really gone.

Alternating between the thoughts of both Beth and Carmel, we follow Carmel’s journey as she is taken to America and dragged from one state to another by the man who has abducted her. A religious fanatic, he believes that Carmel is gifted with the power of healing and that God wanted him to save her from a heathen mother. He also sees her as a means of making his fortune.

Having stalked her for weeks, the man tells Carmel that her mother has been involved in a bad accident, and that he is her estranged grandfather, who has come to take care of her while the hospital tries to save her mother’s life. As Beth had fallen out with her parents before her daughter’s birth – over, what they considered, her inappropriate marriage – Carmel has never met them, and so believes his story. Warding off Carmel’s constant requests to see her mother by telling her the doctors need space to do everything they can to save Beth, he eventually breaks the sad news that her mother has died from her injuries. He also convinces Carmel that her father is unable to look after her, and wants him to take on the responsibility on his behalf.

Meanwhile, Carmel’s disappearance has a deep effect on both Beth and Paul’s already strained relationship. While her ex husband reacts with anger and disassociation, Beth becomes more resolute. Although the police are actively searching for Carmel, Beth still feels the need to spend every day scouring the streets, looking for her daughter’s distinctive red coat. As she does so, she gradually discovers, from talking to other people, that Carmel’s strangeness may actually have been due to something more profound. However, as time passes, Beth begins to realise her efforts are futile, and that, while still holding on to the firm belief she will one day see Carmel again, she also needs to find a way to get herself through life without her.

As the story progresses, the reader is carried along and absorbed by the harrowing mix of emotions – from Beth’s soul-destroying grief, as she struggles to cope with the loss of her child, to Carmel’s confused feelings, as she tries to make sense of not only her mother’s death, but also her new life in a foreign land, ruthlessly manipulated by a self-serving and delusional imposter who is utterly convinced of his own rightness. However, through Carmel’s turmoil and Beth’s unbearable suffering, also comes the discovery of inner strength and understanding for both of them.

The plot of the novel is well developed, and the characters are believable. As the story unfolds, it is easy to understand Carmel’s willingness to be guided by her ‘Gramps’. Alone and without her parents, he is now the closest thing she has to a family, and when he introduces her to his partner, Dorothy, and her two daughters, Silver and Melody, she is desperate to be accepted and loved. Despite sometimes being afraid of ‘Gramps’’ mood swings and upset by Dorothy’s wavering affections, she is keen to please both of them… in case she loses them too. However, as time passes, although she gradually begins to question their behaviour and the life they wish her to pursue, she is also aware of being totally reliant on them to survive.

This novel is a brilliant psychological thriller that illustrates how vulnerable young children are to the manipulation of adults, and the potential damage it can do to their lives. I found it totally engaging and difficult to put down.

The only criticism I have is the ending. Without wishing to give anything away, it left me feeling a little cheated, as it appeared to end quite abruptly, leaving me with some unanswered questions. However, that would not prevent me from recommending the novel to others.

Born in the West Country, Kate Hamer grew up in rural Wales, where she still lives. For over ten years she worked on documentaries for radio and television, and in 2011 won the Rhys Davies short story prize for  ‘One Summer’. This is her first novel, which has been shortlisted for the Debut Dagger award, the Costa First Novel prize and has been translated into over sixteen different languages.

 


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