Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pierce’s Picks: “Alex”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

Alex, by Pierre Lemaitre (MacLehose Press):
There’s a big to-do being made of the fact that Alex comes from the same British publishing house that brought the English-speaking world Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, but really, this novel should stand on its own--and it most certainly can. Best-selling French author Lemaitre already won an International Dagger award from the British Crime Writers’ Association for this book, and I would guess that it will grab American readers in the same way.

The tale begins with a “truly stunning” young woman named Alex Prévost being kidnapped from a Parisian street by a stranger who then beats her, has her strip naked, and suspends her in a crate from the ceiling of a chilly warehouse, all without explanation. Her rough-made cage is too small for Alex to stand or do much of anything else in, other than fend off the increasingly hungry rats who can’t decide whether she’s a threat ... or a soon-to-die source of sustenance. Meanwhile, Commandant Camille Verhoeven, a 4-foot-11 police detective with more smarts than the majority of his colleagues and a pugnacious side that brooks no bullshit even from his superiors, is charged with finding the missing woman. But he’s still tormented by his own wife’s abduction and slaying. Furthermore, he’s hampered by the fact that he doesn’t know who the young woman is, who her attacker was, or whether a crime was even committed. The only witness to Alex’s snatching has no eye or ear for detail, and there have been no reports of a missing person matching her description. Shortly after Alex realizes who her abductor is, Verhoeven discovers that this victim he’s trying to rescue may not be as innocent as he’s presumed.

Lemaitre’s character development, his carefully crafted and suspenseful pacing, his infusion of humor to balance out tension, and the backdrop of the French capital all contribute to this novel’s appeal. It’s not The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; it’s a thriller with literary aspirations and surprises enough to win an enthusiastic following of its own. Which is important, because the publisher says Alex is only the first installment in a “Commandant Camille Verhoeven trilogy.”

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