Book review: Alex

195kg46t59vd0jpgThis Halloween if you are looking for something frightful to read, look no further than ‘Alex’ by French author Pierre Lemaitre. This detective thriller will keep your fingers flipping and eyes glued to the pages while chilling you down to the bones.

Alex is the first book of Lemaitre, winner of multiple crime-writing awards, which is translated into English language. As an avid fan of detective stories, I thought I have seen all different types of story plots such that it would be relatively difficult to surprise me any more, but I was wrong. I was AWESTRUCK by this brilliant piece of work and let me explain myself.

At the heart of this novel is gory sex, the basic selling point found in many thrillers, especially in Scandinavian crime novels that I adore, repackaged to exude such calm and sophistication to give it the cold-blooded murder qualities. A young beautiful woman was kidnapped from the streets of Paris after dinner and taken to a warehouse as captive where her kidnapper told her, “I’m going to watch you die.” The details of her confinement are plainly horrifying and gruesome to read:

“All around the rats are watching, not knowing whether to attack her. Then she pulls her hand back, and they fight over the fresh blood, gnawing into the rope for a taste of it; they can’t get enough. But now they’ve had a taste of blood, now that she’s given them her own blood to taste, nothing will stop them.”

Pierre Lemaitre

With neither reliable witnesses nor concrete clues, Commandant Camille Verhoeven, a man of authority in spite of his short stature, is tasked to resolve this kidnapping incident, only to find himself caught up with his own personal history. A major plus point for me was the character of Verhoeven with his deadpan humor that jazzes up the story considerably, and I found myself sometimes grinning ear to ear at what he says.

“Can I go now?” the driver says in a whisper as though he’s afraid of being overheard.

“Huh? No, you’re staying with me.”

Camille looks at the guy, with that face like a wet weekend. He gives the driver a smile.

“You’ve been promoted. You’re the personal chauffeur of a police commandant. This country offers great opportunities for social mobility, or didn’t you know?

Unlike conventional crime novels where victims die, detectives then investigate and lastly murderer gets arrested, Alex changed this tried-and-tested sequence to catch me by surprise. Moreover, when I thought the plot dropped pace, it switches direction to introduce a new unexpected twist. Twist after twist, be prepared for the story to become even more emotionally exhausting than the last.

This book has its fair share of stomach churning graphic details but with such flair and charm, it goes right up my alley. Alex will be my list of the best books of 2013.

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