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(Verhœven Trilogy #1)
In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
By Pierre Lemaitre
Translated by Frank Wynne
Pages: HC, 464
Grand prix du roman noir
Buy the book:
= also available as ebook and audiobook
This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
I have a confession to make to you: I’m usually not into crime fiction. But Irène blew my mind!
It was the first novel by Pierre Lemaitre. For some reason, it was not translated in English at the time. Then came the 2nd volume, Alex, which got more attention because of a movie version. It was translated n English. Then it seems English readers thought it was really good and now they wanted also volume 1!
I was fortunate enough not to read Alex first, and I highly encourage you to read the books in the correct order, you will get so much more, and I promise you quite a ride!
Another thing: I encourage you to read the synopsis I include here below, not the official one: I truncated the last line of the official synopsis that reveals way too much! I had not looked at any synopsis before reading the book, trusting Pierre Lemaitre and the publisher who sent it to me.
Police Commandant Camille Verhœven is working on a case when his colleague Louis calls him about a crime scene that’s real carnage, or bloodbath. But there are intriguing details in the scene, and no one can figure out why the killer would have done such things. When they discover the same type of oddities in other crimes, Camille tries to figure out the connection. I wish the synopsis did not say what the connection is, but as it does, I’ll expand on that myself.
With his rich experience and great intuition, the idea comes actually to him in a nightmare: it sounds like the serial killer is trying to reproduce faithfully all the details included in famous crime novels. Of course no one believes him on his staff, and he has to consult a literature teacher and a bookseller specialized in that genre to trace these novels, that do exist for real. But, could a teacher or a bookseller be advanced killers?
Then one day, a newspaper article mentions Camille’s theory, and the suspense has an added layer as he wonders where the leak could be coming from.
Also, two policemen on Camille’s staff keep arguing about something, but they tell him it’s just personal and they refuse to tell him what it is about. So the reader wonders if this is connected with the crime.
If you are attentive to details, you may have an inkling both about what will eventually happen, with something briefly mentioned in a scene in a novel, and also you may notice that Camille makes a professional mistake at one point, by not doing a thorough check on someone.
Lemaitre wrote his first book as a homage to crime fiction, and he had the brilliant idea to have the serial killer imitate these famous crimes scenes, and write his own book from there.
This is the first book I read where the mere title left me on the edge of my seat for most of the book. Here is why: when the book opens, we know that Camille, 40, is married to Irène. Later, we learn she is pregnant. Nothing more for now, and we follow Camille on his job as he tracks the serial killer.
So all along, as I read about these various crimes and tried to figure out who the serial killer could be, I was wondering: why is the book entitled Irène? Is something bad going to happen to her? Will she lose her baby? Or worse? Of course I’m not going to tell you.
Note that the French title was not Irène at all, but Travail soigné (Meticulous work), so bravo to the English title, it works even better!
I think the whole idea of a killer imitating books is just brilliant. It may sound a bit flat as I say it, but I was awed as I progressively discovered it, and the book is so well built, with even a book within a book at the end. The chapters, following Camile all along April 2003, are short and nervy, then getting even shorter with the pace accelerating and increasing the suspense. From time to time, to help release a bit the tension, there are some details on Camille’s private life.
So let’s talk about the tension: even if Lemaitre himself did not invent the details of the crime scenes, as they come from famous novels, they are still just plain horrific. There’s no other way to say it, and the book can be disturbing if you are not used to crime fiction. It may be better not to read it by night. The details are extremely specific and gory.
I will spare you with any quotations of the crimes, but I would like to share this neat passage about the bookshop:
Rue du Cardinal-Lemoine. An old-fashioned bookshop utterly unlike the sterile, sprawling shops lit by fluorescent tubes. Everything here spoke of craftsmanship: the polished parquet floor, the wooden bookshelves, the brushed-aluminum ladders, the soft lighting. The atmosphere, at once calm and stately, prompted voices to drop to a whisper. It was a foretaste of eternity.
But if you can bear the horror of each crime, you will thoroughly enjoy this novel. There are also lots of details about how the French system works to find killers. The details about forensics, computer work, and psychological analysis were also fascinating facets.
And then you have the whole world of journalists, who always want to know everything about a case to publish it…
Time now for me to go and read Alex.
VERDICT: Irène is simply brilliant. Though filled with absolutely horrific details taken from classics of crime fiction, it presents a unique serial killer organizing everything meticulously to imitate these crimes scenes. The suspense is relentless and will not let you breathe until you identify him.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
“French literary sensation Lemaitre earned comparisons to Stieg Larsson (and a 2013 CWA International Dagger Award) with Alex, a gruesome and twisty mashup of police procedural, thriller, and psychological horror. Its newly translated predecessor might be even better . . . [Irene is] hardly predictable, as [Lemaitre] pushes the pulse-quickening plot toward an ingenious-and shocking-finale.”—Library Journal
“Lemaitre’s measured, intelligent approach to a police investigation rings of authenticity . . . But the real genius of this novel are the twists Lemaitre incorporates into the storyline, lifting it above the genre and into a different category entirely. A book that no matter how fast the reader connects the dots still produces a bombshell that’s both brilliant and diabolical… Verhoeven is a one-of-a-kind detective . . . Not for the faint of heart, this gritty thriller will appeal to fans of Chelsea Cain, for the grisly details, and Fred Vargas, for the French setting and iconoclastic sleuth.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Irene is compulsive reading… The narrative is fast-paced and the suspense unbearably taut.”—Thuy On, The Sidney Morning Herald
“Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex earned rave reviews last year, not least for the way Lemaitre reworked the tropes of the conventional serial-killer novel to create a clever police procedural that worked as a superb thriller even as it confounded readers’ expectations of the genre. The follow-up, Irene, is equally clever, as the diminutive Parisian detective Camille Verhoeven is initially confronted with a murder scene so horrific that it puts him in mind of Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son.”—Irish Times
“Last year I raved about Lemaitre’s first published crime novel Alex, but this second – which was, in fact, the first he wrote, as it introduces his detective, Commandant Verhoeven – is even better. Quirky, brutal and not for the faint-hearted, it is crime fiction of the highest class… Superbly constructed and executed, it puts Lemaitre very close to Ellroy’s class. If you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down.”—Geoffery Wansell, Daily Mail
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pierre Lemaitre worked for many years as a literature professor
before becoming a full-time writer.
He has won exceptional critical and public acclaim as a master of the crime novel
and has won the Prix du Premier Roman de Cognac,
the Prix du Meilleur Polar Francophone,
and the Prix du Polar Europeen du Point.
Alex was the co-recipient of the influential 2013 Crime Writers Association International Dagger Award.
Also in 2013, Lemaitre won the prestigious Prix Goncourt,
the highest literary honor in France,
for Au revoir là-haut (the link sends you to Words And Peace review in English),
a standalone novel about soldiers coping with the final days of World War I.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR:
Frank Wynne has translated works by Michel Houellebecq, Boualem Sansal, and many more.
He won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2005 for his translation of Frederic Beigbeder’s Windows on the World.
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE
CRIME FICTION AUTHOR?
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