Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre

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Translated by Frank Wynne

Reviewed by Annabel

In the UK, Lemaitre has been best-known for his ‘Brigade Criminelle’ trilogy of novels featuring the detective Camille Verhoeven. Irène, Alex, Camille: read them in that order, despite Alex being published first in the UK (and winning the CWA International Crime Dagger). They are gripping and gory thrillers; the reader needs a strong stomach, but they are unputdownable.

Lately, Lemaitre has turned his attention to WWI with the first in a planned series of novels, The Great Swindle (reviewed here) for which he won the Prix Goncourt. He has also written the screenplay for the film of it, coming out in France in 2017 as Au revoir là-haut.

However, to fill the gap, and keep Frank Wynne busy, Lemaitre’s second novel, published in France as Robe de marié in 2009, is now available in translation for us. This time, it’s a standalone psychological thriller with echoes of Hitchcock’s Psycho.

This morning, like so many others, she woke with tears streaking her face and a hard lump in her throat though she had no particular reason to be upset. Tears are an everyday occurrence in her life: she has wept every night since she went mad. … Since when? Since Vincent’s accident? Since his death? Since the first death, so long ago?

Sophie Duguet is gradually losing her grip on reality. She lost her husband to suicide after a car accident crippled him. She has awful visions and memory lapses and had to leave her job.

Now, she’s a day-nanny to Léo who is devoted to her. One night she stays over as Mme Gervais is back so late. The next morning, Mme Gervais has gone to work by the time Sophie wakes. She goes to wake Léo, only to find him dead in bed, hog-tied and strangled!

Around his throat, a shoelace is pulled so tightly that it has left a deep groove in the flesh.

To her horror, she recognises the shoelace – it’s from her boots! She panics and runs, and her life becomes a living hell. Then it happens again – she wakes with blood on her hands, but no memory of committing a murder. By now completely paranoid, she flees again. She needs to make some enough money to live, change identity.

By now Sophie has got a nose for finding unlicensed studios, unauthorised sublets, cash-in-hand jobs, in short, all the little tricks she needs to settle into a new town. …
Sophie is working out a timeline. Meet, marry, move abroad, work, divorce.

She meets a soldier, Frantz, “So tedious. So Trite.” But, he’d do… Frantz now takes up the story, told this time in his diary entries, before the final section titled Frantz and Sophie.

There’s little more that I can say without giving any spoilers, and this novel will be best read totally unspoiled. If you’ve read any of his other books, you’ll know Lemaitre does gory psychological games very well, and there will be twists and turns all the way through. He’s also very good at writing credible female characters, and he captures the horror of Sophie’s ‘madness’ too, getting inside her head in a way that few crime writers can.

Lemaitre and Wynne are a winning combination. Lemaitre doesn’t use unnecessary words, conversation is mostly without he said, she saids. Sometimes sentences rattle off in bursts, each a few words long, each a single thought or action, keeping the pace and suspense going. At other times, given time to think, his characters’ thoughts get darker and darker.

Lemaitre is one of the most exciting French authors around. Blood Wedding is a superb portrait of madness, evil and suspense. Steel yourself and give him a go…

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Annabel is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.

Pierre Lemaitre, Blood Wedding, trans. Frank Wynne, (Maclehose, 2016) ISBN: 9780857053312, hardback, 320 pages.

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