Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review of Bed of Nails by Antonin Varenne (MacLehose, 2012, French 2009)

Shunned by his colleagues for investigating a fellow police officer who seemingly committed suicide, Lieutenant Guérin has somewhat ironically been reassigned to deal with suicides in Paris.  His sidekick is the naive and jumpy, Lambert, who slides in and out of daydreams.  The socially awkward and intelligent Guérin was on the fast track before it took a sharp turn into a dead-end.  Now he lives in his dead mother’s apartment, accompanied by her aging parrot who heckles him, and quietly continues to investigate his colleague’s death, convinced he was murdered.  In fact, his over-active brain is constantly searching for connections and patterns in the city’s suicides, convinced that there is more going on.  One of those cases is Alan Musgrave, an American ex-soldier who suffers from post-traumatic stress and expresses his conflicted emotions through drugs and his fakir show (piercing himself with needles and hooks).  Like Guérin, Musgrave’s reclusive friend and former therapist, John Nichols, thinks that there might have been foul play and starts to investigate, aware that the US authorities would prefer if he did nothing.  Guérin and Nichols start to work the case from different ends, both seeing it as part of a larger but different conspiracy.

Bed of Nails is somewhat of a curious book - a police procedural that doesn’t easily fit the genre, with a misfit, and at times almost cartoonish, lead character.  The plot is quite complex, weaving together different strands, which veers towards being opaque on occasion; it not always clear quite how Guérin is fitting his clues together or what exactly is going on.  As a result, the first half of the book was interesting, but was not compelling.  In the second half, the narrative becomes more engaging, and in the last quarter shifted gear into a different register which recast the whole story.  The closing pages in particular were an emotional rollercoaster as Varenne provides a thoroughly noir ending to the story; one that opened up a number of questions about morality and just rewards.  Overall, a dark, quirky tale that progressively became more gripping, noirish and philosophical. 

No comments: