Magazine article The Spectator

A Choice of Crime Novels

Magazine article The Spectator

A Choice of Crime Novels

Article excerpt

Pascal Garnier's novella Too Close to the Edge (Gallic, £7.99, translated by Emily Boyce) deals with the boredom of middle age and how passion and violence can take on the guise of salvation. Éliette has moved to the French countryside following her husband's death. She seeks an 'atom of madness to stop herself sliding into reason', and finds it in the form of Étienne, a man who helps her when her car breaks down. She invites him into her lonely home, and her life. When her neighbour's son is killed in a road accident, it becomes obvious that her new lover is linked to this tragedy in some way, and yet Éliette reacts strangely: she welcomes the criminal behaviour, and in fact becomes criminalised herself.

Éliette isn't exactly a likeable protagonist, yet it's easy to be fascinated by her. She will do anything to preserve her newfound amour, even turn a blind eye to incest, and to murder. As the consequences of her actions spin out of control and the bodies pile up, the book loses its earlier power. It becomes almost comic in a grand guignol manner. Still, this is a short, sharp shocker, laced with keen philosophical insight amid the blood and guts.

Seicho Matsumoto's A Quiet Place (Bitter Lemon, £8.99, translated by Louise Heal Kawai) also gives us an ordinary person who turns nasty. Tsuneo Asai is a government official who hides a fierce ambition behind his bowing and scraping. When his wife dies of a heart attack in one of the 'Love Hotel' districts of Tokyo, he becomes obsessed first of all with discovering the reasons for her being there, and later on with uncovering the actual events surrounding her death. He fixates on one particular man as her supposed lover, and pursues him, and kills him in a fit of passion.It's probably the most passionate moment of his life.

In her final years, Tsuneo's wife became an accomplished writer of haikus, and there's an element of that exquisite poetic form in the book, in the details that turn the story in new directions, and the tiniest mistakes that lead to tragic and unforeseen outcomes. It's an enjoyable read until the final pages, which fizzle out somewhat. If only we could have followed our anti-hero a little further, into his final struggles. It's easy to imagine the madness that would be revealed as his carefully constructed world caves in completely. The missing final line of the haiku tantalises.

It was a delight to read the first sentence of James Sallis's Willnot (No Exit, £7. …

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