Book reviews: Irene and Camille

Pierre LemaitreAfter an excruciating two-year wait for the Commandant Verhoeven trilogy, I was overjoyed to know that the two remaining books were finally translated from French. They truly did not disappoint and consistently kept me at the edge of my seat that I did not even realize that I had devoured them in one sitting.

When taken as a whole, this three-part series – “Irene, Alex and Camille” in running order – by author Pierre Lemaitre string together as a coherent read. (Read here for my review of the second book “Alex”) Individually, they function equally effective as standalone detective stories.

In “Irene,” the author laid down most of the groundwork to set up his central protagonist Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven. The first case Verhoeven had to deal with was a succession of gruesome murders where the victims were brutally hacked up and methodologically arranged in an almost illogical manner. The pressure ratcheted up when the cases received public attention after the media caught wind of the cases and sensationalized them.

Behind his professional image, Verhoeven was also portrayed as a deeply devoted man to his then heavily pregnant wife Irene. And because of the nature of his job, he felt a deep sense of guilt for not spending enough time with her.

Her face had changed, and Camille felt a pang of dread because suddenly the distance between them seemed unbridgeable. Even as she watched the passers-by, her hands clasped over her stomach, Irene had retreated into her own little world, into the mystery of the life frowning within her, and Camille felt excluded…

On its own, “Irene” is a gripping thriller that would terrorize your mind and tear your heart apart at the same time. But if I were to nitpick, the writing style in “Irene” differs from the later two books. It was written only from Verhoeven’s point of view unlike the others that switched narration, rotating it among the detective, the criminal and the victim. This made “Irene’s” plot relatively flatter without the detailed psychological dissection of each character’s motives and emotions that made the series stand out for me.

Author Pierre Lemaitre

As a befitting end to this series, the author brought back many old and familiar names into Camille that almost screams of déjà vu. But the woman in Verhoeven’s life has changed and more importantly, his character has evolved from a career-minded and determined commandant to become a jaded individual haunted by shadows from the past. The dark humor that lighted the tense mood in “Alex” was largely eliminated in Camille and replaced with guilt and impatience.

He [Camille] has been a complete idiot: he is behaving as though he has no faith in his colleagues, a dangerous thing for a man with precious little faith in himself… In this case he has allowed his intuition, usually his greatest asset, to turn to emotion, to recklessness, to blind anger.

I cannot recommend highly enough this series for anyone who loves noir crime, and it is also the main reason I have decided to make this my first review for the new year.

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5 thoughts on “Book reviews: Irene and Camille

    1. It’s good to hear that Dutch people are going nuts over Lemaitre’s books as well. They honestly are really addictive!

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