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le sang du bourreau

29 may 2019

Danielle Thiéry was one of the first women to become a police commissaire in France, and for the past 25 years has been publishing mystery novels based in part on her experiences. Le sang du bourreau (1996) seems to be the first in her Edwige Marion series, and is apparently going strong: my paperback copy was just printed in the fall of 2018.

Le sang du bourreau ("The Executioner's Blood," a title whose significance dawns as the story progresses) starts with a crime scene and the gradual introduction of an eccentric team of investigators, under the direction of a mercurial inspector who's not great at interpersonal stuff. In other words, like most crime novels of the past 25 or even 125 years. A hideously murdered woman, and more to follow. Inscrutable clues. Our detectives: the playboy, the maladroit antique collector, the forensics nerd, the recovering drunk. Our commissaire Edwige Marion (only her mysterious, frequently AWOL boyfriend Benjamin calls her Edwige).

Our killer, too, since we see his side of things: "Ben," whose murderous rampages correspond uneasily with Benjamin's checkings-out. Our squad even connects Benjamin to a couple of the murder victims; but how to tell the patronne that her squeeze may be a slasher?

Experienced polar readers will put this story together quicker than the flics do. It can't be as easy as it seems, and you resist nailing the solution only because the only possible solution is so contrived. Why did I like Le sang du bourreau, then? One reason is its very conventionality. There are no weird areas here (well, compared to the typical serial-killer novel). There are no postmodern rifts, no philosophical excurses. It's a melodramatic procedural, and Thiéry delivers the goods reliably.

I also like her characters. Marion is a relentless, committed investigator: more Kurt Wallander than Columbo, but I like Wallander as much as I like Columbo. Lavot, the playboy, seems to have a mean streak, but he reveals depths that more than excuse his superficial flaws. Cabut, the antiquer, is likeably sensitive; Talon, the criminalist, is less fully-drawn, but any CSI fan will like his skills. Joual, the alcoholic, is very sympathetic. It's a group you'd like to see in future volumes, though (slight spoiler here) only three of them survive this one.

Thiéry, Danielle. Le sang du bourreau. 1996. Paris: J'ai Lu, 2018.