This was a bestseller in France and I read it when it came out in English ten years ago. Many hundreds of books later, I still remembered the thrill I had at the risk the author had taken with her unusual murder mystery centered around a blind mute quadriplegic. I know, I know, how can this be? It was almost as if the author, sitting around with friends over several bottles of good wine, had taken a bet to see if she could construct a story about the most unusual of protagonists—one that cannot move nor see nor speak.
I searched for the title again, and decided to have another look…just to see how the author constructed the mystery and how she kept the tendrils of the mystery in my brain after so many years. The voice of Elise, our narrator, is so piquant and particular that we follow her willingly through a series of grisly murders. We think also what it must be like to be handicapped so completely, and how other people relate to the handicapped. These things alone make the book worth reading. The central mystery itself is impossible to foretell—I defy anyone to figure out the ending in advance—but the ending is not as cleverly wound up as the beginning is laid out.
The facts of the mystery are this: over a period of several years, young boys are found murdered and mutilated not far from a quiet suburban French village. Elise, blinded and paralyzed as the result of a bombing in Ireland, is befriended by a disturbed young girl who whispers to her that she knew who killed the boys. Unable to speak, Elise can only listen and postulate about the identity of the killer as more clues accumulate. Another child is killed, and Elise herself becomes a target, but even she does not know why.
I think the author, Brigitte Aubert, deserves kudos for maintaining momentum through this novel, and for trying something completely new. As I say, it is difficult to get this book out of your head, so if you try it, be prepared to find yourself thinking about it for years. After its success in France, the author apparently wrote a follow-up novel which was also translated into English, called Death from the Snows, also with Elise as a main character. I haven’t read this one yet, but I am interested to see how the author proceeds with a new mystery involving our unusual heroine. Brigitte Aubert is a well-known thriller writer in France, but only a few of her many books have been translated. While this book has flaws, it is remarkable and memorable.
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