Don’t Turn Out the Lights by Bernard Minier

Translated by Alison Anderson

Reviewed by Annabel

dont-turn-out-the-lightsI’m a huge fan of French crime novels – Pierre Lemaitre, Pascal Garnier and Fred Vargas for starters. Now I shall add Bernard Minier to the list and track down his previous novels to read, as this is the third of his Commandant Martin Servaz books and I enjoyed it a lot. It is, however, book-ended by material relating to the Toulouse cop’s arch nemesis whom we meet in his first outing, The Frozen Dead. Not having read the other two, these sections meant little, however, ignoring them and occasional other references in the main text, Don’t Turn Out the Lights can be read on its own as a gory thriller, very much in the mold of Pierre Lemaitre’s most recent book to appear in English, Blood Wedding, which I reviewed for Shiny here).

The action starts on Christmas Eve – entitled ‘Curtain Raiser’.

I am writing these words. The last ones. And as I write them, I know it’s over: this time there won’t be any going back.

You’ll be angry with me for doing this to you on Christmas Eve. I know it is the worst possible insult to your bloody sense of propriety. You and your fucking manners. To think I believed your lies and your promises. The more words there are, the less truth there is: that’s the way of the world nowadays.

I really am going to do it, you know. That at least is not hot air. Is your hand trembling a little now? Have you broken out in a sweat? …

… I don’t care: you can die. In the meantime, I will.

Have a happy Christmas all the same.

Christine, a successful radio presenter, is about to leave for dinner at her prospective in-laws. She finds a letter in her mailbox which includes the quote above, suggesting to her that someone is going to commit suicide. Naturally she is spooked, and she persuades her fiancé Gérald that they must check with all their building’s occupants and later go to the police.

To cut a long story short, this is the first sally in a determined and creepy campaign against Christine which will soon cost her her job, her fiancé and her sanity, turning her nice life totally upside down, transforming her into a paranoid and hunted woman.

Meanwhile Commandant Servaz is currently on enforced leave from the Toulouse police, recovering from depression at a police rest-home, presumably after his previous encounters with his arch-enemy. He is not ready to return to the fray, but someone else thinks he is. He is sent a package containing a hotel room passkey. It’s to the room in one of Toulouse’s best hotels in which a woman committed suicide some months ago. Someone wants him to re-examine the case, and naturally Servaz can’t resist investigating on the quiet. Soon he is finding out that the background to the suicide doesn’t add up.

The two threads of Christine and Servaz will eventually come together after many twists and turns leading to an end-game in which even more fiendish events occur. Every time you think you are getting somewhere, Minier pulls back to reveal another puppeteer pulling everyone’s strings from another angle – it’s very clever.

Additionally, the entire novel is written with references to opera. It is staged in three acts, and each chapter bears an operatic term or aria as its heading. Operas, especially Puccini’s, and Madame Butterfly in particular, play a role in the action.

Servaz, who can’t do any official investigating, doesn’t let that stop him – and his colleagues from the previous novels will help him however they can. He is a likeable cop, educated, literate and thorough, but you must question whether he, too, is being manipulated by whomever is sending him things. Although I enjoyed this novel, I would have preferred to start at the beginning of the series to see how Martin Servaz got to where we see him here.

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Annabel is one of the editors of Shiny New Books

Bernard Minier, Don’t Turn Out the Lights, trans Alison Anderson (Mulholland, 2016). 978-1473611450, , 400 pp., hardback.

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