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éros et thalasso

30 may 2018

Chantal Pelletier likes multilingual puns. This is evident from the cover and early chapters of her first Krimi, Éros et Thalasso (1998). The title is a play on "Eros and Thanatos," love and death, the eternal pairing. But "Thalasso" means not "death" but "spa": not the most solemn of places to meet your Maker. Our hero is named Maurice Laice. In a calembour that the author and characters keep repeating, his name, pronounced with an English accent, becomes "More is Less." Is more is less is more is less. The third entry in Pelletier's crime series is even titled More is Less.

Maurice Laice, police inspector in Granville, on Normandy's Cotentin peninsula, is faced with two gruesome murders in quite different modes – but being a good fictional detective, he can't help wondering if they're connected. Death strikes silently via barbiturates in a seaweed bath at an upscale spa, but also on the rocky coastline, with plenty of savage knife-wounds.

We follow "Momo's" investigation from one side, and in alternating chapters we follow the private efforts of the spa victim's sister Agnes. There's a lot about her family she'd never been aware of till her sister perished in the lap of luxury. At first Agnes is furious at Momo Laice's torpid sleuthing, but eventually becomes oddly attracted to him, and later on kicks herself for not joining their lines of inquiry sooner.

Laice himself finds Agnes attractive. It's not professional scruples that keep him from courting her, but a deep-seated sense that he's not good for anybody else, and thus that nobody could ever be attracted to him. Both are depressed, and though this makes for some vivid and psychologically-accurate descriptions of mental states, it does not lead to much romance.

Nor is there a lot of action, though there's some brief gunplay and a satisfying if familiar final showdown. Éros et Thalasso gets its energy from Pelletier's salty, slangy language. She describes everything archly and with hip allusions. Another intriguing theme is that of color. Maurice Laice is colorblind, a feature that at first irks and then charms Agnes. Pelletier parallels this trait by giving each of her brief chapters a color scheme. She runs through green, white, black, blue and red so quickly that you wonder what could be left for the second half of the book, but she follows up with motifs of caramel, turquoise, cream, and goose-shit.

Pelletier, Chantal. Éros et Thalasso. 1998. Paris: Gallimard, 2000.