Friday, January 5, 2018

The Accident on the A35, by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Contraband, 2017
256 pp


I'm sort of waffling about posting about this book here since technically it's not exactly a crime novel, but since the main character is a detective, this seems like the relevant place.

I have to give this book and its author serious applause.  If my 2018 reading year maintains this sort of quality, oh what a great year it will be.

Anyone who's read Burnet's The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau knows that the author set that story based on one single event from which everything else flowed.  That happens here as well, as Detective Georges Gorski is on scene to investigate a fatal accident on the A35, involving 59 year-old Bertrand Barthelme of 14 Rue des Bois, Saint-Louis.  Looking over the car, he finds nothing that might "communicate something to him," finishes his investigation, and leaves it to the Road Accident Investigation Unit to finish up. He goes to inform Barthelme's widow about the death; he also breaks the news to her teenage son Raymond.  When the two of them come in the next day to identify the body of the deceased, Mme. Barthelme reveals to Gorski that something's been troubling her: her husband had told her he was dining in town, so there would have been no reason at all for him to have been on the A35 where the accident occurred.  Gorski decides that it would "not be inappropriate to make some discreet enquiries" about what her husband had been doing before the accident, and starts looking into his whereabouts.  This won't be easy, since the deceased's colleagues and acquaintances seem rather reluctant to speak to him. At the same time, what little he finds out only makes Gorski more curious. And then there's Raymond, whose relationship with his father was strained at best, who rummages through his dad's desk -- what he finds there will set him on his own path of discovery.

Reading The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau convinced me that Burnet was channeling Simenon; while carrying on in that vein in Accident on the A35,  he now brings in some of the existentialist flavor of Sartre with a side of Camus.  The alienation, the desire for freedom, the internal darkness is all there, running throughout the entire novel.  Burnet has really done a great job with the character of Raymond, who exemplifies the existential angst of doing and feeling what he wants to as opposed to conforming to social expectations; the same is true in the case of Gorski with the added problems of a failing family/home life and career which is anything but satisfying.   Add into the mix that these dramas play out within the confines of the claustrophobic town of Saint-Louis, and what may have started as a detective story turns into much more of an examination deep into the realm of the human psyche. And it's not pretty, trust me. 

One more thing:  the metafictional nods in the introduction and epilogue work very nicely this time; I was less keen on them with the previous novel but this time they add an entirely new dimension to the reading of this book.  I can't and won't say why, but all becomes very clear.

Feel free to disagree, but this book tops The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau which I didn't think could be done because that one was so good.  Don't expect your average, run-of-the-mill detective story here -- this book is something that transcends the mundane and the ordinary.  It's so refreshing these days to find an author who rises well out of the mainstream and moves his work into literary territory, and that is precisely why I'm so drawn to his work. It's also why I'll  keep buying and reading Burnet's books as long as he continues to write them. 

highly, highly recommended


  1. This looks good. I read his prior book about murders a long time ago by a young, confused man. It was painful to read that one.

    This one is tempting me. I am trying to read a good, nonmystery, but somehow the lack of a dead body is wearing me out. I must feel compelled to read a book, I think. But I will tough it out. This one goes on my list, unless it's very gory and brutal.

  2. It's neither bloody nor brutal at all. You're safe!


I don't care what you write, but do be nice about it