A Brilliant Piece of Crime Writing (Book Review of Alex by Pierre Lemaitre)

He is following her. She now realises that he must be. Her first thought is “Why me?” , as though she could understand why a man might follow any other girl, but not her…Alex is chronically insecure, crippled by self-doubt. She has been since she was a child. Until her teens she had a terrible stammer. Even now she stammers when she’s nervous.

Thus, begins a thrilling story of Alex, the girl who remains a mystery till the end of the book. Since the advent of The Millennium Trilogy, the scene of the crime fiction has been dominated by the Noir writers. The true genius of Steig Larrson lies in creating Lisbeth Salander, the girl who is abused, dominated, brutalized, but refuses to die and comes back to haunt those who try to put her down. Although it is inconceivable to create another Salander, Alex at some point of time in the book comes very close to her.

True to the form of a revenge cum crime thriller, Alex takes the reader for a topsy-turvy ride and when it seems that there is no more twist left in the book, the author takes a complete 360 degree turn and leaves the reader astounded.

Ingenious and unpredictable, Alex is as good as the crime thriller gets. Alex is a story of Alex Prévost who was ‘a scrawny, rather ugly little girl’ but became ‘a devastating young woman’ who ‘prefers wigs that make a statement’ who is chronically insecure and whose love life ‘is a disaster area’. Kidnapped and savagely beaten by her abductor whose only desire is watch her die. The case falls on the desk of Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven, who ‘…wants nothing to do with it. He’s made his position clear: there aren’t many cases he won’t handle, but kidnapping is top of the list.’ With almost nothing to proceed except a ‘…sole witness statement’ which doesn’t amount to anything, Camille has not much time to find Alex.

Alternating between the police investigation and the story of Alex, the novel begins with a random kidnapping and the details provided in the narrative seems like random detailing until everything starts making perfect sense. Building on the traditional crime thriller narrative, the author takes it forward boldly and turns it into the revenge cum sadomasochistic thriller that jolts the reader at every turn and in a sense, points towards the rampant violence against women prevalent in the society.

Stripped naked, trapped in a cage, Alex ‘…realises as she sees the snout of a large rat appear over the side of the basket. Above her, on the lid of the cage, she can just make out two dark shapes scuttling, and she can hear the rustle of claws she heard earlier. The two shapes stop and poke their heads between the slats just above her head. Two rats with black, glittering eyes, both bigger than the first one…He is not going to kill her. The rats are.’ Enigmatic and puzzling, Alex’s identity continues to mystify and bewilder the team of detectives and her motives keep everyone guessing till the grim, disconcerting and ominous end of the book. Hypnotic and spell binding, Alex continues to challenge every officer on the force; is she is the victim or the perpetrator? What is the truth? ‘“Oh, the truth, the truth…Who’s to say what’s true and what isn’t, commandment?

Ingenious, exhilarating and unique, Alex captures the readers’ imagination at once and maneuvres it with a bemusing and sophisticated plot filled with layers of intrigue and mystery that keeps the readers on the edge of their seats and befuddles them at every turn.

Stark, shocking and dangerous, the book takes the readers into the dark, disquieting and malevolent recesses of the mind.

Nothing, nothing prepares the readers for the end and this is what makes Alex a brilliant piece of crime writing.

Title: Alex

Author: Pierre Lemaitre

Publisher: Maclehose Press (Hachette India)

Pages: 354 pages

Genre: Crime Fiction

Rating: 5/5

Buy it from: Amazon Flipkart

About the Author

Pierre Lemaitre was born in Paris in 1956. He worked for many years as a teacher of literature before becoming a novelist. He was awarded the 2013 Crime Writers Association International Dagger, with Fred Vargas, for Alex. In 2013 his novel Au-revoir la haut won the Prix Goncourt, France’s leading literary award.

To quote Pierre Lemaitre

“Young girls and mass murders are tender hearted creatures”

“The one piece of nostalgia he has allowed himself is the gleaming cast-iron wood-burning stove in the center of the room, which replaced his mother’s that was stolen during the years the studio lay derelict.”

“She had three seconds in which to decide whether to be rich or spend the rest of her life as a housemaid.
She only needed one.”

“He is obviously proud of his shock of curly gray hair; it is the symbol of his aging masculinity. This is not a hairstyle; it is a world view.”

“An aging beau. He has probably tried to screw half his staff and doubtless attributes to his charm the few successes that are simply statistical anomalies.”

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