For Commandant Verhœven life is beautiful: he is happily married, expecting his first child with the lovely Irène. But his blissful existence is punctured by a murder of unprecedented savagery. Worse still, the press seem to have it in for him – his every move is headline news. When he discovers that the killer has killed before – that each murder is a homage to a classic crime novel – the fourth estate are quick to coin a nickname . . . The Novelist . . . With both men in the public eye, the case develops into a personal duel, each hell-bent on outsmarting the other. There can only be one winner – whoever has the least to lose . . .
After the phenomenal success of Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex on its release last year, it was with some relish that I embarked on Irene. I think it’s probably a fairly moot point that I am adding my still, small voice to the general acclaim that Irene has garnered since its release but here are my thoughts.
Quite simply this book is terrific, in the first instance with the superb characterisation of the central detective protagonist, Commandant Camille Verhoeven, the diminutive but dogged police officer on the trail of an insidious serial killer, dubbed The Novelist. Verhoeven is a man composed of a plethora of insecurities, not only by his small stature, but also with the imminent arrival of his first child, and the no small matter of guiding his police through a knotty and increasingly difficult investigation. As we are immersed deeper into his private and public persona, there are few police protagonists that become so indelibly fixed in your imagination, and more importantly raise your empathy so effectively. As the investigation escalates and equally Verhoeven’s fears surrounding the support he is offering to his beloved wife Irene, near the end of her pregnancy, your engagement with him is as palpable as the attendant tension of the central murder plot. I loved the balance that Lemaitre achieves between the stalwart doggedness of this character, the natural sarcasm and humour that arises from his character, and the utter fear that overtakes him as all that he holds most dear is threatened by this barbaric killer.
Lemaitre is an incredibly clever writer and what I was most overawed by is his humility and reverential treatment towards other seminal works of fiction within the crime genre. It is quickly revealed that the killer- The Novelist- is recreating scenes from cult crime novels (be warned- some are exceptionally violent), and throughout the course of the book, Lemaitre also pays homage to some of the finest crime novels produced, with a reverential tone and an altruistic attitude to writers that is rarely encountered. Likewise, there is an enhanced reading experience, as this book has led me to re-reading a couple of the titles mentioned whilst also introducing new authors to me. Crime connoisseurs will be delighted…
The twist in the book, which I will desist from revealing what it is or where it occurs, was brilliant in its execution. With the benefit of hindsight there are small hints and teasers for the more eagle-eyed amongst us, only one of which I latched on to, but just wait for the grand reveal- in no way a twist that I have ever encountered before…
I think that I can safely echo my fellow reviewers in thanking Pierre Lemaitre for producing two such exemplary crime novels, both with Alex and Irene. His control of the narrative, plotting and characterisation is beautiful in its execution, and with his more literary writing style, produces a reading experience that truly engages the reader and immerses you fully in the trials and tribulations of his protagonists. Quite simply- perfect.
Follow this link for Extract-Irene-Pierre Lemaitre
See more reviews of Irene:
Pierre Lemaitre was born in Paris in 1956. He worked for many years as a teacher of literature and now devotes his time to writing novels and screenplays. Frank Wynne is a translator from French and Spanish. His translations include works by Michel Houellebecq, Marcelo Figueras’s IFFP-shortlisted Kamchatka and Alex by Pierre Lemaitre.
(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)