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Alex by Pierre Lemaitre – A Review by Critical Mick
Parisian Psycho: A Critical Mick “Unruly Review” of Alex, by Pierre LeMaitre
Alex sets down the wig. For no reason her hands are trembling. She’d being ridiculous. The guy fancies her; he’s following her, thinks he’s in with a chance- he’s hardly going to attack her in the street. Alex shakes her head as though trying to make up her mind and when she looks out at the street again, the man has disappeared. (page 4)
Acclaimed literary novelist Pierre LeMaitre’s debut into the cruel and brutal world of crime fiction, Alex, is notable for:
Une: The author’s keen observations. This is writing with flavors fresh and strong.
Deux: The setting. France has a different justice system for investigations, not the same old crimes and victims and suspects than commonly populate familiar UK, Irish and US fiction.
Trois: The manner where Lemaitre keeps forcing a re-evaluation of what the reader assumes they know. Who is the victim here? Who is the criminal? Is justice being served? Every chapter is a journey to places unexpected from which the view is altogether different.
Our guide for alternating chapters is LeMaitre’s detective, Commandant Camille Verhœven. Camille is a widowed midget son of a nationally-famous artist. At the news of a young woman’s kidnapping, Camille assembles a quirky team of experienced officers, fights with his bosses, makes clever deductions, wrestles with his own personal demons and sketches little pictures in a notebook as he is closing in on his quarry. Un peu trop artificiel, un peu trop d’un tosspot. I was never completely sold on him.
Far more interesting is the title character, Alex, brutally lifted off the streets à la Edward Gorey’s Millicent Frastley. How can a resilient, beautiful woman who no one will miss for quite some time survive the tortures this savage illiterate has in store? Can she keep herself together? Can she turn the tables? And which way were those tables actually turned, from the beginning?
While the man unscrews the slats, Alex tries to get her brain back into gear again. Run? Lash out? Try to grab the drill? What is he planning to do after he’s unscrewed the crate? Watch her die, he said, but what does he mean? How is he planning to kill her? She realizes that in a few short hours she has moved all the way from “I don’t want to die” to “Please make it quick.”… In that moment a decision mysteriously pops into her brain, like a bubble, and she starts running for the gap in the wall at the far end of the storeroom. In a manner of nanoseconds, she has vaulted the crate and is running, barefoot, as fast as she can. Surprised by this burst of speed, the man has no time to react. There is no cold, no fear now; every fibre of her being urges her to run, to get out of here. The floor is cold, hard, slippery from the damp; the concrete is rough and uneven, but she feels nothing- she is swept along in a wild dash… (page 39)
Je suis désolé, but no plot details here. I don’t wish to reveal a single act that Alex carries out. This is the toughest portrait of resistance since Arlene Hunt’s The Chosen. One spoiler, though: Mr. LeMaitre definitely features more rats. Big ones. Some with two legs.
In the manner of a true crime classic like The Usual Suspects, Alex takes on whole new levels when it is read twice. Yep, it is good enough to read again through. Pierre LeMaitre has written subsequent Camille Verhœven titles, at least one of which will be appearing in English in bookshops soon. Will he becomes as big a name on the world stage as he is in France?
Critical Mick says: Oi.