French author Antonin Varenne’s first book, Bed of Nails, is the first in a new crime series set in the underworld of Paris society. The book is translated by Siân Reynolds.
This Parisian mystery was a surprise for me. It is an intelligent thriller with substance. It has an atypical detective in Lieutenant Richard Guérin who works in Suicides at the Criminal Investigation Department in Paris. For two years he’s worked there, mining the archives that date back to the imperial revolution (of which are now used only for research). Suicides is a dead end job and Guérin was handed the keys and told: “From now on, you’re Suicides and Suicides is you.” The only way out is to retire, resign or “[end] it all with a service resolver in the mouth.”
Guérin is a pariah in the police department. It has to do with accusations/rumors linked to the suicide of another police officer. Guérin’s assistant, Francis Lambert, tries to half-heartedly fit in with the rest of the detectives. In the opening of the story he allows three homicide detectives to view the video of one of their suicide files where a guy is running naked through Paris traffic.
There are two parallel investigations in the story. One involves Lieutenant Guérin as he realizes that some of his case files look suspiciously like murder. Another investigation involves the US Embassy in Paris where American psychologist, John Nicols, is asked to identify the body of his friend, Alan Musgrave. He was an ex-Gulf war veteran who died on stage at a cabaret club.
The plot is somewhat complex and unfolds at a decent pace. The suicide looks-like murder trope is used here, too. The background of the story is quite colorful in that we get to explore some of the perversions of the Parisian bourgeois. The plot also involves drug dealers, blackmail, post-war trauma and leftist hippies. There’s also some underground cult-like activity.
The characters drive the story and its momentum. The tone is bleak. Mood is often dreary. I thought the setting was descriptive and atmospheric in a straight forward way. There’s some splashes of humor to lighten things up some. The characters stood out the most for me as some were very well drawn. The plot of the story to me felt credible, too. This was an engrossing read that was also very moving and sometimes disturbing.
I thought Bed of Nails to be an exceptional crime novel because it didn’t need to create mindless killers to riddle the pages with blood and gore to entertain or inform us. What this story does is give you a glimpse at the dark side of humanity, of a culture and the perversions of such which may turn your stomach or it may illicit curiosity or both. This is a cerebral story about the underworld of Paris that I won’t soon forget. My grade, A.
Notes: There is very little I could find about the author without having to use Google translate (and we all know how excellent that tools works). I hope to read more by this writer and I think he would be a great addition to the genre Source: I bought the ebook